Three Neat Plants

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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.

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‘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. 

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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).

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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.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Nan, congrats on the Chinese magazine article. You look pretty cute with the boys in that photo. Your Grasses book is a favorite of mine, highly recommended every time I get a chance. Those are interesting plants, the flame euphorbia looks the most promising for my garden. Love it with both of those coleus.
    Frances

    Thanks, Frances! The Grasses book too has been translated into Chinese. It’s weird to see it look so familiar and yet so incomprehensible. And yes, I think you’d like ‘Flame’; it goes with everything.
    -Nan

  2. Congrats on the Chinese pub clip, Nan, that’s just totally cool. Now as for these plants, that amazing poinsettia would be something I’d embrace yearround too. What an elegant plant! The other euphorbia probably wouldn’t thrive here (some do, some don’t, and I love all of them), and the grass I like the looks of but suspect would be marginal and sulky here. Sigh. More plants I may never get to see til I get brave enough to go on tour of gardens…right after I win that lottery, of course.

    I don’t know, Jodi – I think you might have luck with all three of these, though perhaps ‘Yokoi’s White’ wouldn’t have time to develop the orange-red coloration before frost.
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Sylvia (England) on February 27, 2009 at 6:39 am

    What interesting plants you have Nan. I also like the E. flame best.

    Thank you Nan for a lovely book on grasses, my copy arrived two days ago (after a long wait!) and I am half-way through. Frances’ post was the push for me to order it, between the two of you I may yet grow more grasses! Also I am going to be more adventurous with the grasses I do have, split them and try them in new positions.

    Thank you and best wishes Sylvia (England)

    How exciting, Sylvia – I’m glad you like the book. I guess you have the Anglicized version from Garden Art Press. There’s a French edition as well. It would be nice to have the opportunity to update it to include the many exciting new species and cultivars that have become available in the last six years. Still, I hope you’ll find it useful and inspiring as it is.
    -Nan

  4. Hello there Nan : )
    I am a fan of ornamental grasses .. I haven’t seen that one before. I have to admit I haven’t a euphorbia in my small garden .. I think I am shy of them ? .. I will have to search for one that will hopefully enjoy my garden in zone 5b !

    Really, Joy – no euphorbias at all? You need to fix that this year!
    -Nan

  5. Congratulations on the Chinese article, that’s awesome! I really should try to be a bit more adventurous in the borders and plant some tender things for summer. These three are neat plants, especially that ‘Flame’ Euphorbia. I love dark purple with chartreuse.

    Thanks, MMD. Wasn’t it thoughtful of me to find one source for all three plants? They’re not terribly expensive, even if you use them as annuals.
    -Nan

  6. Nan, What a wonderful tribute to your garden know-how! Congratulations! I’m intrigued by Euphorbia… I see so many unusual varieties in magazines and catalogs. But, I keep hanging back. I wonder why? I need to read more, I guess. Are some varieties hard to keep in bounds??

    It would be easy to become a euphorbiphile, don’t you think? There is such a range of sizes, shapes, and colors, for all kinds of climates and growing conditions. A few – like cypress spurge (E. cyparissas) – spread scary-fast, but for many of them, I can only *wish* they’d grow faster.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on February 28, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Nan, congrats on being published, in Chinese no less. I love the selections you have show above. The Euphorbias are great. I have learned to love a shot of orange in the garden. It takes people by surprise and really draws your eye to where ever it is planted.

    I would have been happy with just the variegation on that ‘Yokoi’s White’, but I agree that the orange-red really increases the “wow factor.”
    -Nan

  8. Now these are 3 foliage plants I’d really like! Not a chance of getting them here-I couldn’t even get a poinsettia for the garden, they all sold out the day they arrived, two weeks before Christmas. That large photo in the Chinese Landscape Architecture mag is another example of your extraordinary eye for color and form-which incidentally is very appreciated in Asia.

    I’m sorry I teased you with plants you can’t get, Nicole. But then, think of all the awesome plants you *can* grow that I can’t.
    -Nan

  9. There is always more to learn over here. I will have to check out that link to Glasshouse Works. So many plants and so little time. Not too many American writers have been translated into Chinese so congratulations on that feat.

    Wait until you see the GW website, Layanee – it’s very enticing! Enjoy.
    -Nan

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