Beau­ti­ful bloomer

Cape prim­roses are cute enough, but there’s also one with a gi­ant leaf

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

Cape primrose is not the same primrose you would find in the English coun­try­side in spring. This ro­bust flow­er­ing plant is from the genus Strep­to­car­pus, and is a close rel­a­tive of African vi­o­let (Saint­pau­lia io­nan­tha), glox­inia (Sin­ningia speciosa) and nod­ding vi­o­let (Strep­to­car­pus caulescens), which are all pop­u­lar in­door plants.

Al­though they en­joy the same grow­ing con­di­tions, Cape primrose is dis­tinct from its close rel­a­tives. Best known are hy­brids, de­vel­oped for their large, at­trac­tive, veined leaves that form a rosette for the crown­ing glory of the plant, which are its stems of large, nod­ding, trum­pet-shaped blooms.

Flow­ers can ap­pear any­time in warm cli­mates, and are usu­ally seen in spring and au­tumn in tem­per­ate zones. They mostly come in shades of vi­o­let but there are also pink, red, white, yel­low, near-black, mul­ti­coloured and striped forms, and some va­ri­eties have frilled or dou­ble flow­ers. Be warned, it will be hard to choose a favourite!

Look for Cape primrose in flower at gar­den cen­tres (search the in­door plant sec­tion), but for the broad­est se­lec­tion of va­ri­eties and colours, visit spe­cial­ist African vi­o­let so­ci­ety shows and grow­ers. You can use leaf cut­tings to prop­a­gate more plants (see overpage). GROW­ING TIPS Cape primrose plants en­joy a pro­tected spot away from di­rect sun­light, yet re­quire bright, in­di­rect light for con­stant growth. They are usu­ally grown as in­door or pa­tio plants. A brightly lit, east-fac­ing win­dowsill is ideal. They can be grown in all ar­eas, but do best in mild tem­per­a­tures. LEFT TO RIGHT The gi­ant sin­gle leaf of col­lectable Strep­to­car­pus gran­dis; a reg­u­lar Cape primrose with del­i­cate mauve flow­ers.

Choose a pot­ting mix suited for African vi­o­lets. Get­ting watering right is crit­i­cal. En­sure they are wa­tered spar­ingly but just enough to keep the mix slightly moist. They don’t mind dry­ing out a lit­tle, as they can then fully utilise the mois­ture around their fine root sys­tems. Ap­ply any liq­uid fer­tiliser that’s high in potash (such as African vi­o­let fer­tiliser) about once a month and you will be re­warded with flow­ers. Lots of them!

In op­ti­mum grow­ing con­di­tions, these are long-lived in­door plants. To keep them look­ing good, re­move dead leaves and spent flower stems. Re-pot in spring into a slightly larger pot if the plant out­grows its con­tainer. Keep away from heat­ing or air con­di­tion­ing, and move away from win­dows if tem­per­a­tures be­come cold (es­pe­cially below 5°C) or ex­tremely hot. COL­LEC­TOR’S PLANTS

If you ven­ture onto the web­sites of on­line nurs­eries that spe­cialise in African vi­o­lets or visit en­thu­si­asts’ spe­cial dis­plays at a col­lec­tors’ plant fair, you may find some ex­tra spe­cial strep­to­car­pus plants.

My favourite is the gi­ant Cape primrose (S. gran­dis) – it is high on the must-have list for any­one with an ap­petite for the truly un­usual. Africa has al­ways been rich in in­cred­i­ble flora that ap­peals to col­lec­tors and, true to form, Zim­babwe is the home

of this amaz­ing gi­ant species. It has suc­cess­fully colonised spa­ces where many other plants sim­ply couldn’t thrive. Plants cling to life on moss-cov­ered logs, rocks and cliff faces nes­tled within the un­der­storey of tem­per­ate shady forests.

Un­like many Strep­to­car­pus species, the gi­ant Cape primrose is uni­fo­li­ate – that is, it pro­duces just one large leaf, up to 70cm long. Uni­fo­li­ate plants are usu­ally mono­carpic, mean­ing they die af­ter flow­er­ing, and this is no ex­cep­tion. It takes about two years to ma­ture, then de­vel­ops a tall, multi-stemmed flower stem with sev­eral nod­ding bell-shaped blooms in a del­i­cate shade of mauve. Af­ter flow­er­ing, tiny seeds are dis­persed over sur­round­ing moist sur­faces, where they ea­gerly ger­mi­nate into new plants, and the par­ent plant dies. This is the best way to prop­a­gate this plant.

Grow­ing this species at home re­quires spe­cial tech­niques. Place the young plant to­wards the side of the pot or hang­ing bas­ket where the large, hand­some leaf can be en­cour­aged to hang grace­ful­lly over the side, so it won’t stop mois­ture reach­ing the roots. The roots re­sent be­ing both too wet and too hot, so a cool, shady cor­ner is needed to en­sure a per­fect start for a young plant. Al­though these plants are shade lovers and thrive in­doors, they ap­pre­ci­ate fil­tered morn­ing or af­ter­noon sun for a lit­tle warmth, but not too much, as they are best grown when tem­per­a­tures are a mild 21°C.

Choose a mix that is suitable for

African vi­o­lets (they are cousins, af­ter all) but add about 50 per cent per­lite so the root sys­tem has good drainage and air cir­cu­la­tion, and doesn’t be­come wa­ter­logged. Avoid the temp­ta­tion of stand­ing them in a wa­ter-filled saucer as this quickly causes the roots to rot.

Al­though short-lived, the gi­ant Cape primrose is truly worth all the ef­fort of grow­ing it, so you can en­joy a beau­ti­ful and rare species at home.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.