Wednesday, July 8

Enjoying the beauty of a new flowering shrub

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The flowers will attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

MY last column on the sweet mock orange was well received and today I wish to present another rare red flowering shrub, mostly found overseas. Flowering Maple is originally from Brazil, which actually has similar environmental conditions to ours in Sarawak – warm and humid tropical weather.

I discovered this new flowering shrub in bloom in Sarikei a few months ago, but I have often seen them in Christchurch, New Zealand. I have not seen them growing in Kuching, but there could be planters out there who would like to share their experience.

We might still have some difficulties obtaining the planting materials locally at present. However, we can try to get the seeds online.

Background

This shrub from the Malvaceae family has several species and variants. The most popular one is also known as Flowering Maple or Brazilian Bell Flower, while our nickname is Lantern Flower.

The foliage consists of green heart-shaped slender pointed ends from the bending branches. It can grow to over seven feet tall with a circumference of about four feet across.

When under the right conditions, the shrub would bear a profusion of flowers resembling Chinese lanterns that we see during the Lunar New Year celebration.

This vigorous semi-evergreen shrub bearing pendant bell-shaped red flowers is attractive for the red calyx protecting the yellow petals. They also have hairy stamens like that of the hibiscus flower. The flowers are also a great attraction for birds such as hummingbirds and butterflies.

The hairy stamens are like those of the hibiscus.

Planting tips

This flowering shrub is best grown in evenly moist rich and well drained topsoil. Provide a sheltered location when growing outdoors, especially during the hot dry season. It is good to provide shade in the afternoon.

The plant can be grown in a pot, in planting beds, or along the fencing borders of the housing lot. The starting material can be seeds or fresh cuttings taken from the newly matured softwood stems.

As mentioned above, we have to prepare good topsoil with compost to ensure good drainage after heavy rain. The depth of topsoil of around 10 to 15 inches would be good.

Plant with basal fertiliser dressing for a good rooting system and general growth to give it a long-term flowering season before pruning for good formation.

As a shrub with trailing branches, it is good to provide support or other stocky stemmed plants to provide the weak limping plant something to rely upon.

My sister, who has some experience planting this flowering shrub, told me the plant may die off without obvious causes at times when not given a good environment with water and heat monitoring.

I tend to think that this would occur if the soil and root system are not healthy enough as some nematodes and soil borne fungi might damage the plant. Always reserve some new rooted plantlets from cuttings for such an occasion.

It is good practise to do crop rotation to avoid soil contamination problems. Also it is better to replace with new topsoil and be careful when using manure as that might bring in pathogens. If available, try to use burnt soil for good nutrients. It should also be relatively free from pests.

Physalis alkekengi is another popular lantern flower. It is also known as bladder cherry, Chinese lantern, or Japanese lantern. This species is Asian in origin and is easily recognised by the big, bright orange to red papery covering of the fruit inside. This plant comes from the Solanaceae family and is very popular for decoration and landscape use.

Our local variety is not colourful as it produces pale green lanterns, which when we were children were fun to pick and play with.

It is not easy to find bright red lanterns, which bring so much joy to the home gardener. Do give the plants a try and let me know how things go.

Send me an email if you have questions, comments, or suggestions. Happy gardening.