Posted on 9 Comments

Three Neat Plants

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, but there is a strain called ‘Black Madras’ that looks pretty much the same.

‘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.

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 it can be tricky to get them to ripen before frost, depending on where you live. The seeds can require patience, as germination can be slow and erratic, but they are worth the trouble!

Posted on 9 Comments

9 thoughts on “Three Neat Plants

  1. Nice to see you back, Nan, so sorry about those internet trouble. Your three neat plant series are always a favorite, you come up with things we have never heard of or seen, but always want. The Wellington Bronze is going on the list. It might even be hardy here. Thanks once again!

    Hi Frances! It’s one of my favorites too. At the very least, it should self-sow dependably for you. You’ll just have to look very closely, because they blend in perfectly with bare soil.

  2. I am thrilled that you are writing another book. I’m a big fan – do tell us what it’s all about! I also have thousands of photos and am trying to upload them to FLICKR and tag them. I think the only way I would do that is if I lost my DSL (heaven forbid) but how do you ever find the time otherwise?

    Thanks, Risa! I’m planning for the book to focus on combinations featuring 50 or so of the plants I’ve found to be indispensable over the years. I may have to cut down that number, though – I found lots of photos I’d like to use.

    I’m definitely going to try harder to keep up with photo tagging from now on. I figure that it’ll be easier now that I have the system all set up (I’m using Photoshop Elements for mine). It took ages to get this done, and I just found another 1000+ images last night. But if I don’t have to spend an hour searching through my archives every time I need photos for a blog post, it’ll be worth the investment.

  3. 11 days without the internet would drive me nuts, but still it might force to do stuff I should be doing anyway! I will definitely avoid the solanum. Spikey plants and little kids don’t work well together. I’m looking forward to hearing about your new book, I’ve really enjoyed Foliage!

    Yeah, I knew it was bad when I resorted to cleaning out closets. Thanks for sending the picture of your little ones; I can understand why you wouldn’t want to have spines anywhere near those cuties!

  4. I’m impressed that you did all of that photo tagging. I know I should be doing that too … but evidently I’d rather read blog posts and write lists of must have plants. Rice is now on the list (not sure why it wasn’t before – although the Latin name is familiar enough that maybe we did try it…) and there’s a spiny plant I don’t have? Not for long!

    Wow, I’m thrilled to have showed *you* something new, Kris! If you can get plants from the wholesaler Landcraft, they usually carry the porcupine tomato.

  5. Welcome back – internet issues are no fun. I’m looking forward to you new book, as your books are such a visual feast.
    I will definitely be taking a pass on the Solanum. There’s no way I could grow that and not impale myself.
    I did think that first plant was a Phormium. Is it edible? That’s a strictly academic question, as I’m sure the harvest from a single plant is negligible.

    I’m assuming that the rice would be edible, since it’s the same genus as regular rice. I’d estimate that it takes about 5 plants to get one handful of seed, and it’s easy to harvest.

  6. Welcome back. While internet issues can be frustrating you must have such a sense of accomplishment to have ticked so many items off your ‘to do’ list.

    I’m very intrigued by Solanum pyracanthum and might give it a try in my garden. I’ve never seen it in my local nurseries so I’ll be looking into seeds – thanks for the heads up on seed resources. I love the color and texture and I’m assuming from your description that it will deer-resistant.

    Thanks, Debbie. Yep, I feel confident that the solanum is pretty much deer-proof. We featured it in the deer-resistant garden at work this past year. Last year, we used the much-larger S. quitoense, and I think I’ll try to track down S. atropurpureum for this year. These spiny things are great conversation pieces; they’re not great sellers, however.

  7. Ooooo, I love the red dragon. I have perennial called Blood Grass by the friend who gave it to me in my oriental garden area. It ads an unassuming color.

    Sorry to hear about your loss of DSL service. Years ago it gave me fits too. The DSL worked well but the phone lines were a problem. I spent hours on the phone pleading, begging and even yelling to try to get the problems fixed. I now have a cable connection that has been working very well. Good luck with your new provider. Glad to have you back!

    Oh yes, I love blood grass too, especially in the fall. There aren’t many sources of a clear red color like that.

    I’ll be joining you on a cable connection, but through a different company. Even subtracting the holidays and weekends, four work days with no service and no service appointment is unacceptable in my book.

  8. Always something to learn here, Nan. I was internet free for just six hours and believe it or not got a lot done at the desk. Hmmmm…the internet can be distracting with all the gardening information shared. Glad you are writing yet another book. Will look forward to it.

    It did end up being a very productive period in other ways, but I hope I never have to deal with that again. I figure it was the longest period I went without internet access since I first got on in 1989. Wow, that was 20 years ago. I feel old.

  9. Hi Nan! I always enjoy these posts… where you highlight three plants. I ordered one for friends last year (I don’t have enough sunshine) and am anxious to see how it does this coming year! Persicarium (sp)

    It’s great to hear that you enjoy these profiles, Shady. I hope the persicaria does well in your friend’s garden.

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