"Thank you, Brazil!"

Many of the plants that thrive in Sydney come from Brazil.
Sunday, 05 November 2023     

White Justicia carnea (centre) with Arthropodium cirrhatum (at left) and hydrangeas in my November garden

I have never been to Brazil, but my garden is full of plants from that country. It has intrigued me for a number of years how well so many plants from there do here in Sydney. When I finally gave up my dream of having an English cottage garden, because cool-climate plants just didn't thrive in my part of Sydney, I started growing instead things that other, wiser gardeners recommended to me as 'good doers'. My mother passed on a number of such plants from her garden, a large proportion of which were from - you guessed it - Brazil. Her garden in turn had been created mainly from cuttings passed onto her by friends. Mum loved the brilliant colours of many of these plants and created a vibrant and flourishing garden with them. What I noticed even as a novice gardener was how well these plants consorted together to create a picture of lush profusion.

Whilst I don't really understand the intricacies of the similarities and differences between the climates of Sydney and Brazil (which has quite a wide range of climate zones), the fact remains that it seems much of the Brazilian flora thrives here, allowing us to create gardens that do not need a lot of fussing and cosseting, because the plants are easygoing, seem to have no pests or diseases to speak of, and enjoy our heat and humidity in summer and the mildness of our winters. Right now, the Sydney skyline is dominated by the purple haze of Jacaranda trees - one of the quintessential Brazilians that has made itself at home here. Yes, it's true the fallen petals can be mushy and slippery, and the tree self-seeds enthusiastically, but is there anything else that says 'late spring in Sydney' than a Jacaranda in full bloom?

At a shrubby level, Mum loved the plumed-flowered Justicia carnea (which she called 'jacobinia'), which is also in full bloom in my garden at the moment (pictured at the start of the blog). It comes in white and various shades of pink, and if deadheaded occasionally will keep flowering until autumn. Other Brazilian Justicia that do well are the winter-blooming Justicia floribunda (syn. Justicia rizzinii) with its fiery little flowers all through winter and spring; Justicia brasiliana, with its fan-like pink flowers in late summer; and low-growing Justicia scheidweileri with its silver-marked foliage and burgundy flower spires from April to November. These plants belong to the family Acanthaceae, and another Brazilian member of that family is Megaskepasma erythrochlamys, the so-called Brazilian red cloak, which has flamboyant crimson spires of flowers in autumn. Other good Brazilian members of the Acanthaceae clan are Ruellia macrantha, with gorgeous purple-pink funnel-shaped blooms from winter until spring, and Ruellia makoyana, which has similar but smaller flowers on a low spreading groundcover with attractive foliage. Most Acanthaceae plants grow well in shade.

Most cane-stemmed Begonia species hail from Brazil and these were a stalwart in Mum's garden, filling shady corners and dripping with their waxy inflorescences from late spring until late autumn. There are many cultivars of these, and one of Mum's favourites was salmon-flowered 'Irene Nuss'. The old-fashioned 'white' and 'pink' varieties cannot be beaten for toughness and low maintenance. Some rhizomatous Begonia also come from Brazil, and Mum grew numerous types of these in containers on her front steps and as groundcovers in areas of little light. The bedding begonia (Begonia Semperflorens-cultorum Group) is also a Brazilian native, and these annual plants provide long-lasting colour in shady areas or in containers. Another terrific Brazilian shrub for shady spots is the blue ginger, Dichorisandra thyrsiflora, with its beautiful clustered flower heads are vibrant purple-blue and appear atop of spiralled, ginger-like stems of leaves in late summer and autumn.

Another favourite shrub of Mum's was the Abutilon and the cute-flowered orange and yellow species Abutilon megapotamicum is indigenous to Brazil. Like all Abutilon it flowers from March to November - and it is a wonderful companion to Justicia floribunda in winter and spring.

Salvia splendens comes from Brazil and is one of my favourite Salvia. Though it is often grown as an annual, it is a perennial in Brazil and can last for several years in our Sydney gardens. The original species had red flowers but these days there are pinks, purples, white and salmon hues, and they can form plump bushes in sun or, usefully, in part shade, flowering almost all year. Nicotiana is another perennial/annual genus that comes from Brazil, and I have various species in my garden, self-seeding like the Salvia!.

Mum loved bromeliads and many of these tough plants are from Brazil, including some of the most floriferous types of the genus Aechemea. These do very well in Sydney and include the silver-banded Aechmea fasciata with its tousled pink inflorescences that last for months; the pink and blue matchstick blooms of Aechmea gamosepala and the bold red and purple flowers of Aechmea weilbachii from May to September. Aechmea caudata has stunning long yellow and orange flowers in August and September. The enormous Aechmea blanchetiana with its orange to gold leaves and red and yellow flower spikes is probably the most striking of all in this genus. The popular Queen's tears bromeliad, Billbergia nutans, is also a Brazilian plant as is the brilliant red-centred Neoregelia carolinae bromeliad.

A number of excellent foliage plants for shade also come from Brazil, including the beautifully patterned Calathea zebrina and Calathea lancifolia. Philodendron 'Xanadu' (now correctly known as Thaumatophyllum xanadu has recently been identified as a native species of Brazil. It is such a useful plant for dry shade, with its interesting lobed foliage. Ctenanthe burle-marxii is a well-behaved, low-growing version of Ctenanthe, which generally spread too much to be recommended for gardens. Its species name acknowledges Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, who did so much to champion the rich native flora of his homeland in the many public and private gardens he created.

The brightly coloured forms of iresine herbstii, which can be beetroot-pink, purplish-brown or variegated yellow and green, also do well in shade though they can also grow in sun. Foliage plants for sunny spots also are amongst Brazil's offerings - for example, Alternanthera dentata with its dark purple-brown leaves is an excellent filler. The cultivar 'Little Ruby' is an excellent compact form.

There are some wonderful climbing plants that also hail from Brazil. Where would we be without the passionfruit vine? It grows so well in Sydney, though seems to exhaust itself after a few years and need a replacement. The Bougainvillea is also a Brazilian plant - too big for small gardens but wonderful where it can be allowed to ramble, providing months of colour. There are compact forms around nowadays, luckily. A more restrained Brazilian climber that has just finished blooming in my garden is Clytostoma callistegioides (the violet trumpet vine). It provides a pretty frame for the other pastel flowers of late spring.

Finally, no mention of Brazilian plants would be complete without mention of the Hippeastrum bulb. My favourite is Hippeastrum papilio, the butterfly amaryllis, which has white flowers with striking burgundy markings with a touch of lime. These bulbs multiply quickly in Sydney gardens and make a striking display in spring.

All in all, we Sydney gardeners have much to thank Brazil for!

 Reader Comments

1/4  Janice - 2069 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 November 2023

Thanks Deirdre, more appreciation of my plants from Brazil is needed ! Janice 2069. I think they do need to be applauded! Deirdre

2/4  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 November 2023

When travelling through Brazil and indeed most of S America I was fascinated to recognise so many of the plants I grew in my own garden.Indeed well over half my garden hails from Brazil. I grow many of the Brugmansias (always handle with gloves) too but they do need consistent moisture so have not been happy in our recent dry spell.Where would our gardens be without these colourful sub tropicals from this amazing continent. Im thrilled I can grow so many in Dural to provide colour all year How wonderful to see the plants in their home country! I forgot to mention Brugmansia so thanks for reminding me. They do like moisture and my one usually blooms after a rainy spell - at any time during the year! Deirdre

3/4  Ann - 2263 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 06 November 2023

Is it my imagination or does the Jacaranda look like a galloping horse with purple wings Yes I think I can see it, Ann! Deirdre

4/4  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 November 2023

Very interesting to know so many plants come from Brazil, and are suitable for growing in our gardens. A number flourish in my garden, but I have no luck with Dichorisandra, which is a shame, as I like its beautiful blue flowers. It seems that most of my garden is composed of plants from Brazil. Thank you for sharing your wonderful knowledge. Thanks, Margaret - sorry about the blue ginger! Deirdre

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