Central Queensland News - - GARDEN - GREEN THUMB WORDS: MA­REE CURRAN Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email ma­[email protected]­nat­by­

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.

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. There’s also Snow­fall, a low, spread­ing va­ri­ety with bril­liant white bracts. Bred in Queens­land, it grows about 50cm 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 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.

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

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