Three Neat Plants

Polanisia dodecandra late July 10

The growing season is going strong and plenty of cool plants are strutting their stuff, so it’s a good time to choose a few candidates for Three Neat Plants. First up, redwhisker clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra). Gee – doesn’t that common name make you want to rush out and buy it? Personally, I prefer “dwarf cleome.”

Polanisia dodecandra late July 10

It sure looks like the common cleome (Cleome hassleriana), or spider flower, and it’s definitely dwarf, reaching about 2 feet maximum. Both plants have kind of a funky smell, too. Apparently, the main botanical difference between Polanisia and Cleome is the way the seedpods are attached – a minor detail from a gardening perspective. It’s really the flowers that are the best feature.

Polanisia dodecandra late July 10

I usually have the best luck germinating cleome seeds by setting the pots outdoors in March and letting them sprout when they’re ready (normally around late April), and that worked fine for dwarf cleome too. I planted out the seedlings in clumps of two or three in late May. They were in bloom before the end of June and are showing no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Like regular cleome, dwarf cleome thrives in full sun but can take light shade. It’s drought tolerant, and it’s native throughout much of the U.S.. Why don’t more places sell this pretty annual? A few sources I could find include Kansas Native Plants, Native American Seed, and Western Native Seed. My seeds came from the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group’s Seed Exchange.

Polanisia dodecandra late July 10

Polanisia dodecandra late July 10

Dwarf cleome is by no means a traffic-stopper, but it’s easy, adaptable, and long-flowering, and it’s a plant I look forward to having around for a long time (which is probably a good thing, if it seeds around as much as regular cleome does).

Moving on…

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' with Knautia macedonica and Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic'

Some years I put a lot of effort into digging up tender plants and trying to overwinter them, but most of the time, I keep just a few things I absolutely don’t want to lose. One bulb that’s always on my must-keep list is ‘Oakhurst’ pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa). I love the foliage, especially when it’s in its glossy, near-black newness in late spring and early summer. Above, it’s with Knautia macedonica and ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana) in mid-June. Below, it’s with ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears in late June.

Stachys Big Ears Eucomis Oakhurst late June 05

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' Phlox drummondii Veronica Aztec Gold Persicaria Taurus July 07

Above is ‘Oakhurst’ with  ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena haageana), drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), ‘Taurus’ fleeceflower (Persicaria amplexicaulis), annual phlox (Phlox drummondii), and ‘Aztec Gold’ veronica (Veronica prostrata) in late June. Below, it’s with Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’) in mid-June.

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' with Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monlo' (Diabolo) mid-June 10

As the season progresses, the foliage gets duller and a bit greener, especially when the weather’s hot. I miss the rich color, but this change usually means that bloom time is approaching. Below, it’s paired with ‘Limerock Ruby’ coreopsis in mid-July.

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' Coreopsis 'Limerock Ruby' mid-July

I love the emerging buds.

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' bud mid-July 10

Eucomis Oakhurst Imperata Hibiscus Plum Crazy Veronicastrum July 22 06

Above is ‘Oakhurst’ in bud with parsley, ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears, blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), ‘Plum Crazy’ hibiscus, and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) in late July. Below, it’s with ‘Red Splash Select’ polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and ‘Black Knight’ pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea) in late July.

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' laye July 10

I love the flowers.

Eucomis comosa Oakhurst mid Aug 05

They start out going straight upward, topping out at about 18 inches. Pretty quickly, though, they start leaning, and since I seldom bother with staking, I’ve learned to like the leaning look. Below is an ‘Oakhurst’ in the company of Diabolo ninebark, Paeonia mollis, and Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) in mid-August.

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' mid-August

And I love the seedheads. So darn, why don’t I have a decent photo of them? Well, this will have to do until I can take some better ones this fall. Below is a clump with seedheads in late August. I managed to keep these stalks upright one year with ring stakes.

Eucomis 'Oakhurst' late August

‘Oakhurst’ pineapple lily is rated for Zone 7 and south. I’ve had the straight species overwinter here in mid-Zone 6 before, so one year, I left one ‘Oakhurst’ bulb in the ground as an experiment, and it didn’t make it. I won’t try that again! Instead, I dig up the whole clump with a shovel, leaving on the soil that comes with it, and slide it into a plastic grocery bag. I put the bag in my basement (which stays around 40 degrees F in winter) and leave the top open. Two or three times over the winter, I add a few cups of water to keep the soil from drying out completely. The bulbs start pushing new growth sometime in May, and I plant them outside again in late May.

Want to try ‘Oakhurst’? A couple of online sources include Sooner Plant Farm and Joy Creek Nursery. You can often find it (or the very similar ‘Sparkling Burgundy’) listed in spring-mailed bulb catalogs, too.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash seedlings late May

The last Neat Plant is actually more of a neat fruit. The plant itself looks pretty ordinary: much like any other squash.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash plant late June

But once the plant starts fruiting, it’s obvious that ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ isn’t any ordinary squash.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late June

How cool is that?

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late June

This squash has been around since the late 1800s (originally sold as ‘Pineapple’), but it’s not widely grown, and there isn’t much first-hand information available about it. Most sources suggest picking the fruits when they’re small and eating them like summer squash. I picked the two below at 3 to 4 inches across, and Mom steamed them. To us, they tasted like a very bland winter squash – nothing like a summer squash – barely edible even with butter and salt.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late June

My ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ plants got hit by borers several weeks before any of my other squash started showing symptoms. I decided not to try to treat them and let the remaining fruits ripen as they could. Below is the biggest one I ended up with, at about 6 inches across.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

A couple of online seed sources include Seed Savers Exchange and Reimer Seeds. But if ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ isn’t that great for eating, why grow it? For the novelty value, I suppose. For the experience of handling the smooth-skinned, knobby fruits. And for the experience of finding interesting ways to photograph them.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

Yugoslavian finger fruits are also a lot of fun to have sitting around the house. One reason I find these things so amusing is that they remind me of the alien blancmanges from Monty Python’s Science-Fiction Sketch. (here be Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 [where the blancmanges finally appear, eventually]). But one couldn’t imagine anything sinister about a squash, of course. That would be silly.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

It’s a curious thing, though: Soon after harvesting the fruits and bringing them up to the house, I noticed that some of my smaller porch critters started going missing.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

But I’m sure it’s just my imagination. Finger fruits couldn’t really be aliens from the planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda. Could they?

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

Uh oh.

'Yugoslavian Finger Fruit' squash late July

Er…that’s it for this edition of Three Nea…… [slurp]

19 responses to this post.

  1. I was all into the plants, Nan, until I got to the image with your pruner. I can’t keep mine clean or rust free–and so feel like a terrible, awful, bad gardener. What’s your secret? Did you expect anyone to ask about this? Huh? :)

    Nope, I didn’t expect that, Benjamin. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve had mine for years and keep them in my back pocket most every day. I’ve scrubbed them a few times with Tecnu to get rid of poison ivy oil but otherwise don’t bother with any kind of cleaning. Maybe it’s the daily use that keeps them looking good?
    -Nan

  2. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on July 31, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Does that dwarf cleome seed around like the original? It is a nice looking plant. You are the second blog that has been extoling the virtues of the pineapple lily. I wish I had someplace to store such things.

    I’m guessing that it *will* seed around, Lisa, and at this point, I’m ok with that. Looks like I’ll be able to collect a lot of seed from it too.
    -Nan

  3. Oh no! I wonder if those fingers would taste better grilled, the way this local farmer whose stand I frequent told me to prepare the pattypan squash? (Slice into 1″ chunks, brush with oil, grill on both sides.) Might be worth a try, to keep them from gobbling up your porch critters… lol.

    By the way, now you’ve scared me about my ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ that’s finally in bloom. This is the third year I’ve had it in the front yard, so maybe I’ve gotten lucky… but Plant Delights did have it listed to zone 6b. Hmm. I’ll have to have that “To dig, or not to dig?” self-discussion this fall… :-(

    Grilling sounds like a good option for preparing the squash, Kim. Maybe the bigger ones would be tastier, but they’re just too neat-looking to take a knife to (unless they really do get aggressive).

    Sorry to alarm you about your eucomis. It happens all too often that I can grow something just fine for several years, then have it die once I find out that I shouldn’t be able to overwinter it here. But I think you have sandy soil, or at least better winter drainage than I do? The winter wet is usually my problem, especially with bulbs.
    -Nan

  4. Nan, great post – especially because now I know that the dark leaved plant that I have had in a pot for 4 years is a Pineapple lily – which has sent up flower spikes for the first time this year, thank you!
    K

    That’s terrific, Karen. The only thing better than learning about a new plant is finding a name for something you already have.
    -Nan

  5. Hey Nan, did you know Sooner Plant Farm is in Oklahoma? I need that darker pineapple lily because you know I love dark purple foliage. I have the straight species, and yes, it does survive here year after year.

    I have the dwarf cleome Senorita Rosalita, but I’ve never seen yours. It would be less expensive to buy the seeds. As for the squash, *that* I’ve never seen.

    Thanks for the heads up on such nice plants. :) ~~Dee

    With a name like “Sooner Plant Farm,” I should have known! I’m glad there’s a source so close to you; you definitely need ‘Oakhurst’. I imagine you’ll be able to leave it outside as well.

    Yep, if you just want a miniature version of regular cleome and would like a lot of it, and if you didn’t mind it being white rather than pink, the dwarf cleome would be a *much* cheaper option.
    -Nan

  6. Posted by Elephant's Eye on August 1, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Pineapple lily is yet another, South African plant. Here the flower arrangers love them, as they look so ‘exotic’. Better go and talk nicely to my solitary plant, since I see how much you love yours. Mine is just the common or garden lime-green species.

    I think the green ones are really pretty too. Hmm…I should think about getting some of those next year for this garden; it’s been too long since I’ve grown them.
    -Nan

  7. Hurray, a new 3 Neat Plants installment. In zone 10 there’s no problem overwintering eucomis but I have trouble with the ungainliness of it in a small garden, usually end up spearing the bulb or cursing all those leaves at some point in their decline, so I keep the bulbs confined to gallon pots and plunge them in for summer and remove the pots in late fall. Looking at your results, I can see my approach isn’t doing eucomis justice yet. Mine were from B&D Lilies in Oregon.

    That’s a good point, Denise. The one flaw with the eucomis is that those broad, strappy leaves, so sturdily upright to vase shaped in early to midsummer, gradually sprawl and smother their companions. One way I’ve found to deal with that is by pairing them with annuals that either die out by late summer or can creep out from under them, like sweet potato vines and nasturtiums. Keeping the clump size to about three bulbs seems to help too; the bigger they get, it seems, the more dramatic the sprawl.
    -Nan

  8. Wonderful combinations! I’m still waiting for my amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’ to bloom–looking good, but added this year, so still young. I like that ‘Taurus’ you have.

    I’ve had eucomis on my wish list and was ready to go for it this year, but our hot, dry April; my vacation in May; and the hottest June on record…not a good year to try perennials that need planting in spring. I’ve had no casualties from 2009 fall planted perennials, but I’ve had casualties from 2010 spring and summer planted perennials. Not enough time to establish roots before the hot weather.

    It was definitely a bad year for spring planting, Cameron. Well, put ‘Oakhurst’ on your list for next year. You’ll love it!

    And yes, ‘Taurus’ is doing well this year. Stunningly, we have not seen ONE Japanese beetle this summer, so the persicaria is at its peak right now, instead of trying to recover from being defoliated.
    -Nan

    • I’m going to just have to make fall my planting season except for tender perennials. We had Japanese Beetles attack the roses but not the persicaria (and I also have polymorpha). Maybe I shouldn’t rip out the roses, but use them as beetle food! My roses looks tattered, torn and terrible from the JBs. It was just too darn hot (triple digits) to worry with the beetles.

      I’m more than ready to do some fall planting myself – if we’d only get some rain!

      Interesting that you mention the JBs not eating your Persicaria polymorpha. Now that you mention it, I don’t think they eat mine either, though they sure do love the P. amplexicaulis cultivars.
      -Nan

  9. Hi Nan. Oh, what beauties. I love all the dark foliage. Just beautiful! I will have to check into the dwarf Cleome because I did not know there was a dwarf variety.

    Glad you liked them, Lona. The Polanisia really is a cutie.
    -Nan

  10. Hi Nan, so much fun to see you three neat plants, thanks for doing them! Your squash looks hauntingly like the gourds sold here in the fall. We have several that have been dried and painted, sitting in baskets and behaving themselves. Perhaps paint alters their personalities? Just saying. :-)
    Frances

    I imagine that a pair of googly eyes and a silly grin would make them much less threatening!
    -Nan

  11. Hi Nan,

    I’ve just discovered your blog through Clark at Galeazza Garden and just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying learning about the plants and looking at your gorgeous photos. And yes, even as a novice gardener, ‘redwhisker clammyweed’ makes me want to rush out and start digging!

    Hi Angela! Thanks for visiting. It’s always fun to get a new reader.
    -Nan

  12. So THAT’s what they’re called. They only sell Yugoslavian finger fruits as decorative gourds here in Italy, and I’ve never seen anyone try to eat one. They don’t even eat delicious pumpkins if they’re round and orange, because they are only for “ALL-o-een”… you know, carving faces and then throwing away. In Italy the pumpkin rule seems to be the wartier and uglier the more delicious, and often times they’re right!

    I think those warted squashes are starting to catch on here, too. I may need to try them for myself next year
    -Nan

  13. I love that pineapple lily! And I was happy to get the tips on starting cleome from seed. I’ve tried twice with no success, but will not give up!

    Hi Ginny! That trick works well with pretty much anything that self-sows, so I figured it was worth a try.
    -Nan

  14. aloha,

    i enjoyed seeing your plant combination, beautiful especially the eucomis, one of my favorites, they are really beautiful accents…i enjoyed your story on your little squash, really sweet :)

    Thanks for visiting, Noel. I can see from your blog that you’re a fellow foliage fanatic!
    -Nan

  15. LOL! Are the porch creatures turning Scottish?
    I think I’m going to have to try the pineapple lily, that foliage is great all season, it really doesn’t look like it greens up all that much.

    Hah – I knew I could count on you to get it! Well, we know now who’s going to win Wimbledon, right?
    -Nan

  16. ‘Oakhurst’ is absolutely stunning! I love its foliage and the blooms too. I’ll try to find it for my garden which is in zone 7b. Thank you!

    It should do just fine in your area with no special winter protection – lucky you!
    -Nan

  17. Love them all Nan but your creative placing of the squash was just plain fun.

    Thanks, Layanee. They’re so goofy-looking, they inspire much silliness.
    -Nan

  18. I read this post yesterday, but got distracted by something so didn’t leave a comment. Squash as far out as that, and your fun photos and narrative deserve applause…so I came back to thank you for the chuckle :) You’re very creative….obviously an artist when it comes to gardening….and I love your sense of humor.
    That Pineapple Lily looks great with everything you’ve planted by it. And it’s pretty in every stage.
    I must admit I wouldn’t be attracted by the name “Redwhisker Clammyweed”, but Cleome I love! I haven’t seen this dwarf variety before.
    It’s so interesting to see the way you’ve placed the plants in your garden..what you’ve paired them with, etc. Always an education to visit with you, Nan :) Thanks!

    You are so sweet, Kerri! I was kind of being sarcastic about the “redwhisker clammyweed” name: I too much prefer “dwarf cleome.” It’s a cute name for a very cute plant.
    -Nan

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