Rhinacanthus beesianus

Rhinacanthus beesianus

The name of this shrub, Rhinacanthus beesianus, a member of the Acanthaceae family, was something of a mystery to me for several years. It grows in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and originally had 'Pseuderanthemum species' on its name plaque, with a note that the seeds from which it was grown were collected in China (in the Yunnan Province). I eventually saw it again, growing in the Mt Tomah Botanic Garden, with the Rhinacanthus name on its plaque, and the information that it had been originally discovered by plant hunter George Forrest in Yongping (Yunnan Province, China) in 1906 for his sponsor, AK Bulley, owner of the Bees Ltd Nursery in Cheshire, England, and that the seeds of the plant in the Mt Tomah garden were collected in 1996 from the same region. George Forrest was an intrepid Scottish adventurer who introduced to cultivation myriad plants he came across during his travels to China in the early 20th century, including many Rhododendron, Jasminum polyanthum, Pieris forrestii and Primula malacoides.

Rhinacanthus beesianus (back of border) in the garden of Anne Prescott in Sydney

The shrub grows quite tall - around 2m or higher - and has large attractive quilted leaves which form a glossy background to other plants in a border. Its clear white flowers, shaped like scalloped shells, begin to appear in March or April and continue for several months. The flowers are delicately perfumed. My plant has self-seeded a bit - however, it is so popular amongst my gardening friends that I am able to give all of these away and it hasn't yet become a nuisance!

Like all the members of the Acanthus family, it is easily grown. It seems to look at its best in full sun but will also cope with part-shade, though may have a less dense form and fewer flowers there. It doesn't bloom well in full shade, in my experience. Most species in this genus hail from woodland habitats in tropical regions. My one in the sunny spot associates well with the shrubby Salvia which bloom in autumn. It needs pruning in mid-August to keep it shapely, and benefits from being thrown some general-purpose fertiliser at that time. I originally imagined this plant would be frost tender, so I was surprised to see it growing at Mt Tomah; however, it did have some overhead tree shelter there.

Flowers in February, March, April, May.

 Out now in my Sydney Garden.