A new year, and a new list of neat plants to blog about. First up, a red-leaved form of rice (Oryza sativa) known as ‘Red Dragon’.
‘Red Dragon’ is a beauty for evenly moist soil, forming upright, 18- to 24-inch-tall clumps of smoky pinkish purple foliage. This annual grass looks much like a dwarf phormium in leaf, but you can easily tell the difference later in the season, when the spikes of flowers and seeds form.
Start the seeds indoors in March; they germinate in about a week with bottom heat. When the seedlings are about an inch tall, transplant them in clumps (about 5 seedlings each) into individual pots; set them out in the garden after your last frost date. Give them full sun. Evenly moist to somewhat soggy soil is ideal. If you don’t have a good spot in your garden, try the plants in pots and water them often to make sure they don’t dry out.
Seeds of ‘Red Dragon’ can be hard to find (I may have some extra to share), but it looks like Avant Gardens is planning to sell plants again this spring. I see that a few places are now offering a strain called ‘Black Madras’, which looks pretty much the same as ‘Red Dragon’ from the pictures; it’s available from Park Seed, among other sources.
‘Wellington Bronze’ seaberry (Haloragis erecta), also known as toatoa, is far more adaptable to average soil conditions than red-leaved rice, though it too does seem to appreciate some moisture. Its small, jagged-edged leaves are a rich brown in full sun.
In shade, they’re more of a brown-tinged green.
‘Wellington Bronze’ grows in relatively compact, well-branched clumps that are usually 12 to 18 inches tall here in Pennsylvania, with tiny, brownish yellow flowers that you’ll hardly notice.
‘Wellington Bronze’ is nice in the garden but especially good for color and texture in containers, developing somewhat of a trailing habit if you plant it near the edge. (In the container above, it’s growing with Carex buchananii and ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine.) It’s technically a perennial, and I think I remember it squeaking through one winter here (mid-Zone 6), but I usually treat it as an annual, sowing indoors in March and setting out in mid- to late May. It also usually produces a few self-sown seedlings each year. Seeds are available from Chiltern Seeds and Plant World Seeds; plants are available from Digging Dog Nursery.
And last, one of the unquestionably anti-social solanums: Solanum pyracanthum. Just look at the stunning bright orange spines that line the stems and the main leaf veins.
The flowers are relatively large for a solanum, and their rich purple color makes a good contrast to the orange.
S. pyracanthum, sometimes called porcupine tomato, forms upright to spreading, somewhat open clumps (to about 30 inches around here), holding its deeply toothed leaves horizontally in a way that shows the spines off perfectly, especially if they’re set against a dark background.
The habit and leaf shape make the plant attractive even if the wicked armor isn’t as obvious when I don’t follow my own advice about the dark background.
Underplanting it with ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnias was another not-so-smart design decision. A ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ sweet potato vine or some other deep purple-leaved trailer probably would have been better.
You definitely want to start off with a small plant on this one, to minimize the chance of painful encounters at planting time, and give it a spot where pets and people won’t easily get near the spines.
The flowers are followed by rounded berries, but so far, I haven’t gotten any to ripen before frost, so I have to hope I can find a new plant each spring (Log House Plants has them on their site). Also, Chiltern Seeds is offering seeds in their 2010 catalog, so I may try to grow my own this year. Solanums are usually as easy to start as tomatoes, so I don’t expect any difficulty. I’ll just have to remember to start only a few; no one really needs more than one or two of these in any garden.