Odd plants add variety to garden

August 21, 2011 

You are in your garden with a friend, and she asks, "What is that? I've never seen anything like it."

You tell her it's called flapjack. See the flat, round leaves that resemble a pancake? It's also known as paddle plant or desert cabbage. A native of South Africa, this tough resident of the dry, rocky terrain likes a hot, dry climate. My flapjack has basked in this summer's extreme heat. It's in a pot that's moved indoors when it starts to rain and when the weather turns cold.

Odd and unusual plants are the conversation pieces of a gardener's garden, balcony, deck or patio. They are often tropical plants requiring special care. Many do not have a dormancy period, as do our perennials. Their lives are often short; the gardener who wishes to keep the species going will propagate by leaf or stem.

Nearby to the flapjack, is another odd plant within the same family, Kalanchoe. The K. daigremontiana is on my short list of favorites. This "Mother of Thousands" lives up to its name by doing its own propagating.

Along the margin of its mature leaves, tiny plants emerge. These can be picked off and placed in sandy soil in a clay pot where they begin to grow in three to five days.

RICE PAPER PLANT

Unusual plants are often pass-along plants. I gave my friend several "Mother of Thousands" plants and a rice paper plant (Tetrapanax) that had escaped into the woods. They do escape; that's how I acquired mine many years ago from a Bluffton gardener who had too many huge rice paper plants. These fast-growing plants from China can reach 15 feet tall and produce suckers to form a small forest of rice plants. Mature plants have clusters of creamy white flowers in early winter. This plant is an old Southern favorite and gives a tropical look used in front of a wall or in the back of a large garden.

'JEWELS OF OPAR'

Another favorite and plenty odd, is a pass-along from a generous gardener whose garden has been open many times to the public. My garden is dotted with identification tags that say Annemarie Kinsky. My favorite is "Jewels of Opar" (Talinum paniculatum), partly I suspect, because of the name, but the flower's no slouch either. The stalks, rising above flat, green leaves, produce pink flowers that soon become shiny red "beads." It's very jewel-like and fun too, when, after winter dormancy, it appears here and there and nowhere where it was last seen.

OTHER GEMS

Other conversation pieces in my garden are the nail plant (Solanum), a relative of the eggplant, that has eggplant-like blossoms that form orange furry seeds, and small nail-like apertures protruding from large, toothed leaves. Another is hoja santa, an edible herb native to Mexico that is used in cooking. The large leaves are stuffed with a rice mixture, rolled up and cooked.

For my garden friends next year, I plan to add a few more "ooohs" and "ahhhs." The name "Curly-Fries" got me. It's a hosta and said to be a great attention-getter for its very narrow and stiff ruffled leaves that start out chartreuse in spring, and then turn yellow. It bears lavender flowers in late summer.

Having just kept more than 200 potted plants alive through a record-setting hot and dry spring and summer, I've great praise for my Crown of Thorns plant that kept getting skipped when the water can grew heavy and didn't seem to mind.

That's why I've ordered from Logee's Nursery a new plant introduction, "Red Jillian" (Euphorbia milii). This Thai giant hybrid has the largest flowers ever seen on a Crown of Thorns, 4 to 6 inches across.

For husband, Larry, and also from Logee's, I'll get a dwarf everbearing mulberry. It yields several crops of berries each year even in the first season, and he can add it to his potted fruit grove on the back deck.

If you're in the area, you might like to stop at the Hilton Head Island Greenery to view the very attractive cacti and succulent garden they've planted. Some plants are in flower; all are thriving in the heat and humidity.

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service