Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
Signs of spring are being disappointingly slow to show up in my part of Pennsylvania, but no matter: I still have plenty of archived photos of cool plants to paw through. This edition of Three Neat Plants features three cold-tender foliage beauties. It’s way too early to think about planting them outdoors but not too early to think about ordering them for later planting. All three of these cool plants grow fine for me in full sun and average, well-drained soil.
First up is an awesome poinsettia relative: Euphorbia ‘Yokoi’s White’. It’s patented as a selection of E. cyathophora, but you may also find it listed under E. heterophylla in nursery catalogs. It was discovered by Dr. Masato Yokoi, a variegated plant specialst who is also credited with the introduction of many other lovely foliage plants, including ‘Summer Chocolate’ mimosa (Albizia julibrissin), ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis), and ‘All Gold’ Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra).
The upright plants have green stems growing to about 2 feet tall, with frosty green leaves broadly edged with a buttery yellow that ages to creamy white. As with the traditional Christmas poinsettia, this selection has non-showy true flowers over bracts that – in this case – take on some orange-red shading. With this species, though, you don’t need to worry about specific amounts of light and darkness to get the red coloration; it happens naturally as the growing season progresses.
‘Yokoi’s White’ is outstanding in containers, but you could try it in a border, too. I highly recommend snipping off the shoot tips once or twice in midsummer to encourage the stems to branch. So far, however, I’ve never followed that advice on my own plants, because I can’t bear to lose any of the foliage, even temporarily. Euphorbia ‘Yokoi’s White’ is available on-line from Glasshouse Works. Once you have it, take cuttings and bring them indoors before frost.
Next is another pretty but underused euphorbia, usually sold as Euphorbia ‘Flame’ or ‘Flame Leaf’. It was relatively easy to find in our region about 10 years ago but now is difficult to track down. That’s partly because “flame leaf” is apparently another common name for poinsettia (E. pulcherrima), so it takes a while to sort through search results when you try to find it on the Web. This one looks nothing like a poinsettia, though I can’t even begin to guess which species it might be. It reaches about 1 foot tall here, with very slender stems and teardrop-shaped green leaves that have wide purple centers.
It has very tiny flowers too, but they’re barely visible. ‘Flame’ is fantastic in containers and in the ground, mingling elegantly with coleus, plectranthus, and other bushy foliage favorites.
Like ‘Yokoi’s White’, ‘Flame’ is rated for Zones 9 to 11 and is available from Glasshouse Works (as ‘Flameleaf’). It’s small enough to easily dig up and bring indoors before frost to grow as a houseplant for the winter.
And one more tender treasure: variegated Malaysian palm grass (Setaria palmifolia ‘Variegata’, also sold as ‘Rubra Variegata’). It’s in the same genus as the weedy foxtails, but it’s anything but weedy for me; in fact, it’s never flowered here before frost. (Apparently the species can be a noxious weed in warmer climates.) The key feature is the fantastically pleated foliage, with a thin white margin and pale midrib.
The multi-stemmed clumps reach 12 to 18 inches tall here. With the reddish purple stalks radiating out from the crown and the leaves held horizontally, the spread is in the range of 2 to 3 feet. It’s a terrific textural accent for container plantings and great in the garden rising out of a lower, spreading companion such as dark ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) or variegated ‘Sweet Caroline Green Yellow’.
Glasshouse Works is a source for this one too (and no, I don’t get a commission from them). They’re also listing an amazing selection called ‘Rubra Aurea’, with yellow leaves. It’s definitely on my wish list for 2009!
While on the subject of ornamental grasses, I have a bit of exciting news to share: the December 2008 issue of Chinese Landscape Architecture – a publication of the Chinese Society of Landscape Architecture – includes a rather lengthy article I wrote on “Ornamental Grasses in American Gardens,” as well as my photos on the cover (which scanned in a bit strangely) and with the article itself (the first page of which is below).
No, I didn’t actually write it in Chinese. I am grateful to editor Jin He-xian and the two other translators for their efforts. I can only imagine how challenging it was to translate my Americanisms into something appropriate for their readers.