Three Neat Plants

Phuopsis stylosa flower closeup

I appreciate having instant access to my blog stats every time I log in to WordPress, but I’m not sure what to make of the fact that I get more visitors on the days that I don’t post than the two or three days a month that I do. Talk about an incentive not to post! Nevertheless, a couple of cool plants have been on my mind recently, so I’ll post anyway and risk scaring off visitors for a few days. First up is an oddball perennial groundcover: Phuopsis stylosa.

This plant has a lot going for it, so I have to think that the main reason for its relative obscurity is the lack of a pretty name. I can’t imagine many gardeners begging their local garden center to order “long-styled crosswort” or “creeping crosswort.” If you bragged to your neighbor about your phuopsis, they’d probably think you had some sort of contagious skin disease (along the lines of scabiosa or scrophularia). And its alternate scientific name, Crucianella stylosa, sounds more like an incantation that students at Hogwarts would learn in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class than a plant name. (A swish and a flick of your trowel, and you can instantly apply the cruciatus curse to pesky little weeds?)

Phuopsis stylosa foliage

I’ll admit that poor phuopsis does have one other slight flaw, which would perhaps make its name appropriately announced “pee-yew-opsis”: the foliage has a somewhat skunky odor that can be noticeable from a few feet away. As far as I’m concerned, however, the odor isn’t that objectionable – no worse than that of boxwood, certainly.

Apart from all that, phuopsis really is a nice plant. It grows in dense mats of upright to trailing stems carrying whorls of bright green foliage.

Phuopsis stylosa with Pyracantha 'Harlequin'

From May into August or September, the stems are topped with showy clusters of pink flowers, for a total height of about 8 inches.

Phuopsis stylosa atop low stone wall

The overall effect is that of a very long-blooming, pink-flowered version of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), a close relative of phuopsis. I see that one nursery was even selling phuopsis as “pink woodruff,” which is a great solution to the poor-name problem. Like sweet woodruff, phuopsis can spread at a pretty good clip once established, easily expanding 6 to 12 inches in all directions each year. It thrives in Zones 5 to 9 in full sun but can tolerate partial shade too, and it adapts to a variety of soil conditions. (Though it’s supposed to require well-drained, not-very-fertile soil, it’s thriving here even in my winter-waterlogged garden.)

I can’t find any mail-order sources that currently sell phuopsis plants, but I see that Annie’s Annuals and Perennials has listed it at some point, so it might be worth checking with them. I did find the seeds listed here, and at Chiltern Seeds too. I’ve never tried the seed route, but it may be worth the experiment if you want to grow phuopsis in your own garden.

Next up, something a bit more subtle: the pink Tangier pea (Lathyrus tingitanus ‘Rosea’).

Lathyrus tingitanus 'Rosea' flowers

This annual vine is basically a “something different” in the sweet pea category. I find it to be a vigorous grower to about 8 feet tall, with the usual tendril-climbing stems. It’s not as free-blooming as the usual sweet peas and doesn’t have the great fragrance, but the individual flowers really are exquisite, so it’s a nice addition to the garden.

Lathyrus tingitanus 'Rosea' vines

Give pink Tangier pea a trellis or let it scramble up through a shrub or small tree. If you want to try it, seeds are available through Thompson & Morgan. They’re a bit flatter and more square than those of regular sweet peas, but they’re just as easy to germinate.

Lathyrus tingitanus 'Rosea' seeds

I like to start all my sweet peas by placing the seeds on damp paper towels in plastic bags and setting them in a warm spot, then picking them out and potting them up as they sprout.

For the last cool plant, an agastache.

Elscholtzia stauntonii

No, wait – it looks like an agastache, and it’s in the same family, but it’s actually a shrub: mint shrub (Elscholtzia stauntonii).

Origanum vulgare Aureum Callirhoe involucrata Carex muskingumensis Oehme Elscholtzia June 22 07

It can grow to about 6 feet tall, but for me, it’s been staying more in the 3-foot range. I treat it like a caryopteris, cutting it back to about 6 inches just as new growth starts in mid- to late spring. From then through the summer, the plant is nicely bushy and the mint-scented leaves are tidy-looking: attractive but not especially interesting.

Elscholtzia stauntonii mid Sept 05

Dense spikes of tiny, purplish pink flowers appear at the shoot tips around early September, and the bloom season continues through October, at least.

So, why try to track down mint shrub when you could grow an easier-to-find agastache, like ‘Blue Fortune’? Well, for one, it’s nice having the fresh-looking flowers late in the growing season, when anise hyssop is usually winding down for the year. For me, the biggest plus is that it’s been much longer-lived than any agastache, seemingly not minding the winter wet and never needing deadheading or division (or, in fact, any other maintenance besides the single spring trim).

Mint shrub grows best in full sun. It’s been fully hardy here in mid-Zone 6 and can apparently overwinter as far north as Zone 4, growing down through Zone 8 too. Plants are available through Lazy S’s Farm and Companion Plants; seeds are available through J.L. Hudson.

Written for Hayefield; text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

20 responses to this post.

  1. Wow, I love that phuopsis, now that I do, I will probably not be able to find it!

    It’s worth the hunt, so I hope you are successful. I wish more nurseries would carry it. Maybe they find the scent more objectionable than I do. I suppose it could be off-putting in a garden-center setting, and I can only imagine the effect of opening a mail-order box after the plant has been enclosed and jostled about for several days. You’d want a warning label on the box, for sure.
    -Nan

  2. Three really great sounding plants Nan. I especially like the lathyrus water colored flower form. gail

    Thanks, Gail. That Tangier pea may not be a traffic-stopper from a distance, but it really does lend itself to close-up shots.
    -Nan

  3. Nan, don’t know about your reader stats!! Keep posting, girl!
    The Phuopsis stylosa is now on my list of seeds to look for and I really like the mint shrub. Last year I grew agastache for my new perennial bed. They bloomed in their first year, but then all died when we had a period of heavy rain. Maybe the mint shrub can make it here?
    Lene

    I remember about your poor agastaches, Lene. Mint shrub might be a good option for you. It’s survived in both dry and wet years here.
    -Nan

  4. All beautiful plants and your photos are spectacular. I’m glad you mentioned how you pruned your agastache. I’ve not had luck in the past with it coming back well after the first year.

    Thanks, Phillip. I was kidding about the agastache reference: mint shrub behaves a lot more like a caryopteris.
    -Nan

  5. Because I am always looking for new pink plants for my clients’ gardens, I was drawn to your riveting close up of Phuopsis. Sadly, most of the flowerbeds I create are in urban areas where it is not possible to distance oneself from an odorous plant. Nevertheless, I enjoyed savoring the beauty that your camera found in the Phuopsis flower head. Thanks for the mini-journey.

    Thanks, Allan. I think the phuopsis *could* be a problem in a small garden; it would depend on the person who had to live with it. I had to walk past a yard that had a fresh layer of licorice root mulch today, and I think I’d rather smell skunk.
    -Nan

  6. I’ve been looking for a source of crosswort ever since I read about it in Rob Proctor’s Antique Perennials book with no luck. At one time Barry Glick of Sunshine farms had some seed but no more. It’s difficult to find it but I’ve not given up. Thanks for highlighting it.

    I did find a few wholesalers who list it, so maybe it’s not as hard to find as it appears – at least in some areas.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on March 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    These are all beauties but I love that pea. It looks so delicate.

    I’m glad you liked that one, Lisa. I almost left it out, but it was too sweet to pass up.
    -Nan

  8. I like the shape of the mint shrub over the agastache. Mine is tall and not very full at all. I do hope they come back again this year. I’ve had them three or four years now.

    I love the close up shot of the phuopsis.

    Ooh, I can see that the mint shrub would be lovely if it were taller and a little more willowy. Maybe I’ll try not cutting it back so hard and see if that makes a difference.
    -Nan

  9. I love everything you post, Nan, but I’m about to go on a SERIOUS hunt for Phuopsis.

    Tell me, in the very last photo, what’s the Eucalyptusesque plant in front? A nursery here has a plant this year called Parahebe birleyi, and I can’t find much online about it, but it looks cool. I wondered if that’s what it was, and if so how you liked it. (Photo of that plant here: http://www.pickoftheplanet.com/varieties/parahebe.html)

    The parahebe is gorgeous, Andrew; thanks for sharing the link. The foliage in my photo is from an errant bit of ‘Golden’ edible pea.
    -Nan

  10. I enjoy learning about unusual or less-available plants. I will keep my eyes open as the phuopsis looks like a real possibility in my garden;-) Glad I stopped by today!

    I’m glad you stopped by too, Jan!
    -Nan

  11. Great photos of plants new to me! Thanks.

    Good to “see” you, Marie. Enjoy this beautiful spring weather while it lasts!
    -Nan

  12. I love the phuopsis. I’ve never heard of it – I think you may have started a cross-country scavenger hunt for this plant!

    As for your reader stats, perhaps since we don’t look for a daily post, we don’t see your post until a day or two has passed! I have an excuse today as I’ve been out in the garden for several days to take advantage of the 60 and 70 degree temps to garden like a crazy woman!

    Cameron

    I like your reasoning, Cameron. I think we’re all a little giddy with spring right now.

    You know, if I were really smart, I’d start propagating these plants before writing about them, so I could be sure my fellow gardeners could get them. But oh, no – not a mail-order nursery – nooooo!
    -Nan

  13. I eagerly await your posts so not sure what’s up with those stats. I have grown Phuopsis many years ago, and it was underwhelming here in zone 10, probably because not given enough moisture. The photos of it are always enticing. Love your neat trio of plants.

    Thanks so much, Denise! And I appreciate your input about the phuopsis. I wonder if it was the summer heat instead of the moisture? Or maybe it needs a bit of winter chilling. Well, you can grow so many other wonderful things that you’re not missing much.
    -Nan

  14. Sorry for messing with your stats – but I figure better late than never.
    I’ll bet Phuopsis is deer & bunny resistant. It might be a good companion to plant with critter favorites like Phlox paniculata. Thanks for introducing me to this plant, it sounds like just the ticket for my front garden. Now, to find it…

    Oh, absolutely – I’m happy to see all of you, whenever you drop by. And you’re right – no bunny or deer problems that I’ve seen on the phuopsis.
    -Nan

  15. Those pea flowers are truly exquisite. Thanks for your informative posts on less common plants. Seeing that it is native to southern Europe and North Africa that is something I could try in my climate.

    It does seem to be more heat-tolerant than the usual sweet peas, so I hope it does well for you, Nicole.
    -Nan

  16. I kept working my way through the first few photos, thinking all the while (Pink Sweet Woodruff?)! And then you echoed those thoughts! ha.

    I enjoy your posts entitled Three Neat Plants. Last year I purchased a persecaria (sp) for my friends’ new bed. I’m excited to see what it does this year!

    It’s a fun challenge, Shady, and I think I have plenty of candidates to keep the neat plants coming for a while yet.
    -Nan

  17. If there is an award for ‘Absolute Disaster at Gardening’, then I should get it. But I appreciate all the work that goes into a great garden and yours is… breathtaking!

    Thanks for visiting, Antoinette!
    -Nan

  18. I have Phuosis back in production, stay tuned.

    Barry

    Thanks for the update, Barry.
    -Nan

  19. Three new ones and all worth lusting for. The Phuopsis looks great even without the flowers. Another must have.

    You’re right, Layanee: in leaf, the phuopsis looks like a very refined version of sweet woodruff, and it’s a very bright, fresh green.
    -Nan

  20. I had to chuckle when I read your bit on phuopsis. I’ve had it in the garden for a couple of years, and had some potted up for my plant sale last year – but my dear wife made me put them far away, because they were providing their distinctive fragrance to the whole garage on the eve of the sale. I’m trying again this year, but will probably leave the plants on the driveway to avoid upsetting sensitive noses. In the garden, it’s not much of an issue – I find that the odor is mostly released when you rub against the foliage, so I keep mine away from walkways.

    I don’t blame her one bit, Rob! I bet she could smell them in the house too. You’re right about keeping them off pathways, but they make such a pretty edging that it’s hard to resist putting them there.
    -Nan

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