Three Neat Plants

anagallis-monelii-closeup-july-08

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Just look at that blue! Do I even need to explain further why blue pimpernel (Anagallis monellii) deserves a place in the “Neat Plants” hall of fame?

I have to thank Jodi of Bloomingwriter for reminding me about this gem. I tried it many, many years ago and didn’t have luck with it; too much shade, I think. But after reading about it (and an orange version, called ‘Wildcat Orange’) on her blog, I decided it deserved a second chance. I started the seeds indoors in March, and the plants began blooming in early July. Eventually reaching about 1 foot tall, they kept flowering well into October in this full-sun container planting.

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Apparently blue pimpernel is hardy in Zones 8 or 9 and south. Here in Zone 6, I’ll need to start new plants each spring, but it will be worth the effort (and a small effort it is, because the seeds are easy to germinate). If you want to try this warm-weather beauty for yourself, you can get seeds from Thompson & Morgan.

On the other end of the height spectrum is another beautiful summer-bloomer: Abelmoschus manihot. It’s sometimes known as sweet hibiscus, sunset hibiscus, or aibika, but there doesn’t seem to be any very common common name for this one, which is unfortunate, because the scientific name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But if you can get past that, the plant itself is easy to grow.

Closely related to okra (A. esculentus) and hibiscus (A. manihot is sometimes listed as Hibiscus manihot), this heat-lover needs to be started indoors in most areas. It grows quickly, though, so I usually wait until late March to early April to sow the seeds. Set on a heating mat, they sprout speedily- usually within a week. I transplant them to the garden in early June, when they’re about 4 inches tall; by late July, they’re easily 5 to 6 feet tall and starting to flower.

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Full sun is best for these vigorous growers, with average, well-drained soil. Where the soil is moist and very fertile, as in the bed shown above, the leaves can get quite large and somewhat obscure the flowers; plus, the lush stems can be prone to sprawling in summer storms. In normal garden soil with occasional watering during dry spells, the stems tend to be pretty sturdy, and large, maroon-throated, pale yellow blooms are usually easy to see (as shown below). In dry conditions, the plants will be short and bloom sparsely, if at all.

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By early fall, the plants can reach 6 to 8 feet tall. Flowering may continue into autumn if you snip off the developing seedpods; otherwise, the show is pretty much over by early September. It’s easy to collect the rounded seeds when the pods split open. (I highly recommend wearing gloves when you work with the pods, because those hairs can be very prickly.) Or leave the podded stalks undisturbed for winter interest. A. manihot can be perennial in Zone 8 and south; the rest of us need to grow it as an annual. The seeds regularly appear on the list for the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group‘s Seed Exchange, but they’re kind of hard to find from retail sources. You could try Select Seeds or Chiltern Seeds.

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And finally, the weirdest neat plant: prickly scorpion’s tail (Scorpiurus muricatus). Actually, the plant itself is not that interesting: sort of a spreading thing to about 6 inches tall.

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The yellow flowers are bright and pretty, but they’re also tiny and not very abundant.

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So, there’s not a lot to recommend this annual pea and bean relative tail as a garden plant. But look at those seedpods!

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Legend has it that wild-and-crazy folks back in the 18th and 19th (and presumably even the 20th) centuries found it great fun to add these caterpillar-like pods to the salads of their guests, just for a laugh (the pods aren’t tasty). Er…whatever. I can’t claim to have come up with a better use for them myself. They’re just silly and different; who needs another reason to grow them? I started the seeds indoors on a heating mat in March and set them out in late May, in a site with average, well-drained soil and full sun. You can acquire seeds for yourself from Seeds Savers Exchange.

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Hiya Nancy,

    Post fresh from the oven it seems.

    On reading Christopher Lloyd’s “Foliage Plants” this morning, I decided to try his recommendation of Anagallis linifolia from seed.

    Do you have any experience with that? From his verbal description it seems a similar blue to your pimpernel.
    When do we best start those off? Actually, I have no idea where to get the seed from over here. T&M calls it Phillipsii and the other seed merchants call it Coerulea.

    Mind you, like all pimpernels, they will need sun to open up and we had precious little of that all last year :-)

    Do you hold the camera in one hand to take a picture of the other or do you borrow a third hand ? Just wondering. Tripod?

    Hey there, Joco. From what I can tell, A. linifolia is also known as A. monellii subsp. linifolia, so yes, it’s nearly the same as what I grew. This year, I sowed mine about 8 weeks before our last frost date. Next year, I think I’ll sow it 10 weeks before to try for a bit earlier bloom. I see Chiltern Seeds lists “Anagallis Blue” which looks pretty much like A. monellii.

    No extra hands around here, so you’ll notice that it’s always my left one in the photo – with the camera held in the other.
    -Nan

  2. Nan .. Your pictures are so detailed and pretty ! I didn’t know about pimpernel .. what a pretty blue flower. Those seed pods are amazing .. I keep expecting to see a little wiggle from them ! LOL

    Thanks, Joy. Isn’t that the most incredible blue? And yeah, even holding those prickly caterpillar pods feels a little creepy.
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on December 28, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    These are really neat plants Nan. It is that time of year when we begin to think about what we want to have in the garden.

    Yep, it’s about time to starting working on those orders. I’m always happy to help others spend their seed money!
    -Nan

  4. Those blue flowers are amazing. I would also have to grow them as annuals, but it just might be worth it.

    If anyone added those seedpods to my salad they would be rewarded with a blood curdling shriek!

    Hi there, Amy! I agree that being the victim of one of those seedpod-wielding pranksters wouldn’t be much fun. I guess we’re lucky that we have more options for having fun nowadays!
    -Nan

  5. I’ve grown the Wildcat Orange version in pots. It shares the same bright purple eye that the blue version has.

    I love your plant pictures- especially this time of year.

    Ooh, I’ve seen the Wildcat Orange only in pictures, but it looks stunning. I couldn’t find it around here last year but will definitely be on the lookout again this year!
    -Nan

  6. Hi Nan, you are always full of fun facts, but those seed pods in salads, wild and crazy is right! LOL The blue pimpernil is splendid and the okra look alike is something good for some height in the late summer garden. Okra is found in every veggie bed here, I would grow it for the flowers alone, but your ornamental hibiscus seems a better choice. And I got a new grow light to start seeds so the germination rate should soar through the roof with the heat mat too! :-)
    Frances

    Oh my yes, I could definitely see the abelmoschus gracing Faire Garden. You should have no trouble growing it.
    -Nan

  7. Thanks for showing off that scorpion’s tail plant! – I love it and want it even if it is a nothing sort of a thing in the garden. Those seed pods are too cool. I’m putting it on the list right now.

    Hey, Kris! I think it would certainly attract the attention of your visitors. The pods are produced in clusters on the end of straight stems, so they could be fun in small arrangements too, I guess.
    -Nan

  8. Very interesting Nan. I can’t say as I’d try growing the scorpion plant (seed pods look too much like real bugs to me) but the okra like plant is quite pretty and worth a try. Thanks for the info!

    Abelmoschus would grow beautifully for you too, I imagine. It’s a decent substitute for hollyhocks, by the way, for those that can’t grow ‘hocks well (like me).
    -Nan

  9. There is always something to learn here Nancy. That anagallis is quite a true blue. Scorpion’s tails? Not! Nice pictures though and an interesting story. I guess it was worth a laugh to stick some in a salad for the surprise factor. Sick but funny! Happy New Year.

    Yep, the prickly scorpion’s tail is as ugly as the anagallis is lovely – but they’re both pretty cool, in their own ways. Happy New Year to you too, Layanee!
    -Nan

  10. Lovely photos! I love the blue pimpernel, but I always thought it was a weed. I found some orange pimpernel in a flower bed and someone told me to pull it up as it was a weed. I’d like a few more weeds like the blue variety!
    Aiyana

    I have that scarlet pimpernel too, Aiyana. I remember hearing someone say once that if it were harder to grow, it would be prized as a garden flower instead of scorned as a weed. Since then, I’ve been more appreciative of it. I’d be even happier if the blue one decided to seed around like the scarlet one!
    -Nan

  11. Hi Nan: Abelmoschus is a stunner indeed. Thank you for writing about it with such well-deserved enthusiasm. Abelmoschus gently self-seeds for me, getting four to five feet tall by September. The largest ones, true, are started from seed indoors, or planted out as fresh plants got at the nursery.

    One year I grew one in a large pot and then overwintered it in the greenhouse. The next season I had a monster abelmoschus, a true specimen, with ten or twelve stems not the more usual single stem of the annual ones. And all the stems were abloom. Oh golly it was glorious!

    Ooh, I’ll have to try that at work next year. I can easily imagine that a mega-abelmoschus would be spectacular. Thanks for the tip!
    -Nan

  12. I saw this in full bloom in one of the gardens I visited last year and instantly fell in love. Your photo captures the distinct shade of blue perfectly!

    Yes, I’m surprised at how perfectly that blue reproduced. I just ordered more seed to make sure I have the plant again this year; such a pretty thing.
    -Nan

  13. Oops! I got interrupted while making the previous comment and forgot to finish it before sending.

    I grew Abelmoschus esculentus this past year (okra) – the red variety – and loved its foliage and blooms. They’re very similar to what you show here, especially the flowers. The red seed pods were gorgeous, too. We didn’t eat any of it because we don’t particularly like it, but it makes a lovely plant, all the same!

    Thanks for the reminder, Kylee – I haven’t tried that one since I moved to this sunny place. I think I’ll add that to the seed order!
    -Nan

  14. Just want to say hi and that I love your photos!
    Kind regards from a garden geek in Sweden, Lydia

    How lovely to meet a fellow geek, Lydia! I’m so glad you visited.
    -Nan

  15. Three very neat plants indeed, Nan! Your first photo captured that blue so beautifully. What a stunning color! It’s going on my wish list for sure.
    Those caterpillar seed pods are a riot! Apparently some of the ancient gardeners had a good sense of humor :)
    Guess what I got for Christmas? My son and DIL gave me “Fall Scaping”, thanks to a handy hint dropped by my clever husband, bless his heart. I’m so tickled to have it! Incredible color in those wonderful photos to drool over, and loads to learn. Great book, Nan!

    What a great gift, if I may say so. I hope you enjoy it, Kerri. Rob’s color-rich photos definitely are a great antidote to the winter blues.
    -Nan

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