Mag­nif­i­cent mus­saen­das

The hardy shrubs bring colour to the gar­den for months

Life & Style Weekend - - GARDEN - GREEN THUMB with Ma­ree Cur­ran Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­ree@ede­nat­by­ron.com.au

JAN­UARY is a great time for any gar­dener who loves trop­i­cal plants. You will find a good se­lec­tion of trop­i­cal trees and shrubs in your lo­cal gar­den cen­tre, in­clud­ing one of my favourites, the mus­saenda. Th­ese beau­ti­ful shrubs be­long to the Ru­bi­aceae fam­ily along with other favourites in­clud­ing gar­de­nias, ixo­ras and pen­tas. They are na­tive to the trop­ics, from West Africa through the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent, South-East Asia and south­ern China. There are more than 200 known species, but only a few are used in land­scap­ing.

The ap­peal of the mus­saenda lies in its ex­tra­or­di­nary in­flo­res­cence, the flow­er­ing part of the plant. The flower it­self is a tiny sim­ple yel­low star, only about 5mm across, but the bracts sur­round­ing the flower are stun­ning – ex­tra­or­di­nary pen­du­lous bunches of soft, beau­ti­fully coloured “flow­ers’’, with each

“petal’’ up to 10cm long. The leaves are mid-green, deeply veined and pointed, with a soft, vel­vety feel.

Be­cause the shrubs are usu­ally de­cid­u­ous here in north­ern NSW, the ef­fect is dra­matic as they quickly grow from bare stems, usu­ally cut back hard in late winter, into mag­nif­i­cent spec­i­mens 1.5–2.5m tall, and cov­ered in th­ese great bunches of colour. Once es­tab­lished, the shrubs look ab­so­lutely spec­tac­u­lar for many months, usu­ally from about Septem­ber through un­til May. So you will have colour for most of the year, apart for a few months in winter when they are dor­mant.

Dona Aurora is showy, with huge white pen­dant masses sur­round­ing deep golden yel­low flow­ers, and is the mother of most of the hy­brids. Dona Luz, com­monly known as the Bangkok Rose, is peachy pink, some­times with a deep pink to red edge. Cal­cutta Sun­set is much brighter, with yel­low to or­ange bracts. Par­aluma is an­other lovely deep pink form. Look out this year for a new re­lease, Snow­fall, which is a low, spread­ing va­ri­ety with bril­liant white bracts. Bred in Queens­land, it grows about .5m tall with a spread of about 1m. It’s best in semi-shade.

Mus­saen­das pre­fer a sunny to partly shaded po­si­tion with some pro­tec­tion from strong winds. Be­cause they grow so quickly dur­ing the warmer months the branches can be a bit soft and prone to dam­age in ex­posed sites.

They are not par­tic­u­larly fussy about soil or po­si­tion, but do ap­pre­ci­ate a good mulching and plenty of feed­ing once the leaves emerge in spring. A good prune in late winter will help pro­mote growth and re­sult in much bet­ter flow­er­ing.

A healthy plant will be largely free from pests and dis­eases, although mealy bug can be a prob­lem if con­di­tions are hot and dry. Con­trol this if nec­es­sary with Eco-Oil, and wa­ter a bit more fre­quently.

They are cer­tainly wor­thy of a home in your gar­den, as they are hardy and will grow and flower pro­fusely for years.

PHOTO: CON­TRIBUTED

The white mus­saenda’s tiny flower, a sim­ple yel­low star, sur­rounded by bracts.

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