The growing season is going strong and plenty of cool plants are strutting their stuff, so it’s a good time to choose a few candidates for Three Neat Plants. First up, redwhisker clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra). Gee – doesn’t that common name make you want to rush out and buy it? Personally, I prefer “dwarf cleome.”
It sure looks like the common cleome (Cleome hassleriana), or spider flower, and it’s definitely dwarf, reaching about 2 feet maximum. Both plants have kind of a funky smell, too. Apparently, the main botanical difference between Polanisia and Cleome is the way the seedpods are attached – a minor detail from a gardening perspective. It’s really the flowers that are the best feature.
I usually have the best luck germinating cleome seeds by setting the pots outdoors in March and letting them sprout when they’re ready (normally around late April), and that worked fine for dwarf cleome too. I planted out the seedlings in clumps of two or three in late May. They were in bloom before the end of June and are showing no sign of stopping anytime soon.
Like regular cleome, dwarf cleome thrives in full sun but can take light shade. It’s drought tolerant, and it’s native throughout much of the U.S.. Why don’t more places sell this pretty annual? A few sources I could find include Kansas Native Plants, Native American Seed, and Western Native Seed. My seeds came from the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group’s Seed Exchange.
Dwarf cleome is by no means a traffic-stopper, but it’s easy, adaptable, and long-flowering, and it’s a plant I look forward to having around for a long time (which is probably a good thing, if it seeds around as much as regular cleome does).
Some years I put a lot of effort into digging up tender plants and trying to overwinter them, but most of the time, I keep just a few things I absolutely don’t want to lose. One bulb that’s always on my must-keep list is ‘Oakhurst’ pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa). I love the foliage, especially when it’s in its glossy, near-black newness in late spring and early summer. Above, it’s with Knautia macedonica and ‘Red Majestic’ contorted hazel (Corylus avellana) in mid-June. Below, it’s with ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears in late June.
Above is ‘Oakhurst’ with ‘Strawberry Fields’ globe amaranth (Gomphrena haageana), drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), ‘Taurus’ fleeceflower (Persicaria amplexicaulis), annual phlox (Phlox drummondii), and ‘Aztec Gold’ veronica (Veronica prostrata) in late June. Below, it’s with Diabolo ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’) in mid-June.
As the season progresses, the foliage gets duller and a bit greener, especially when the weather’s hot. I miss the rich color, but this change usually means that bloom time is approaching. Below, it’s paired with ‘Limerock Ruby’ coreopsis in mid-July.
I love the emerging buds.
Above is ‘Oakhurst’ in bud with parsley, ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears, blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), ‘Plum Crazy’ hibiscus, and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) in late July. Below, it’s with ‘Red Splash Select’ polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and ‘Black Knight’ pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea) in late July.
I love the flowers.
They start out going straight upward, topping out at about 18 inches. Pretty quickly, though, they start leaning, and since I seldom bother with staking, I’ve learned to like the leaning look. Below is an ‘Oakhurst’ in the company of Diabolo ninebark, Paeonia mollis, and Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) in mid-August.
And I love the seedheads. So darn, why don’t I have a decent photo of them? Well, this will have to do until I can take some better ones this fall. Below is a clump with seedheads in late August. I managed to keep these stalks upright one year with ring stakes.
‘Oakhurst’ pineapple lily is rated for Zone 7 and south. I’ve had the straight species overwinter here in mid-Zone 6 before, so one year, I left one ‘Oakhurst’ bulb in the ground as an experiment, and it didn’t make it. I won’t try that again! Instead, I dig up the whole clump with a shovel, leaving on the soil that comes with it, and slide it into a plastic grocery bag. I put the bag in my basement (which stays around 40 degrees F in winter) and leave the top open. Two or three times over the winter, I add a few cups of water to keep the soil from drying out completely. The bulbs start pushing new growth sometime in May, and I plant them outside again in late May.
Want to try ‘Oakhurst’? A couple of online sources include Sooner Plant Farm and Joy Creek Nursery. You can often find it (or the very similar ‘Sparkling Burgundy’) listed in spring-mailed bulb catalogs, too.
The last Neat Plant is actually more of a neat fruit. The plant itself looks pretty ordinary: much like any other squash.
But once the plant starts fruiting, it’s obvious that ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ isn’t any ordinary squash.
How cool is that?
This squash has been around since the late 1800s (originally sold as ‘Pineapple’), but it’s not widely grown, and there isn’t much first-hand information available about it. Most sources suggest picking the fruits when they’re small and eating them like summer squash. I picked the two below at 3 to 4 inches across, and Mom steamed them. To us, they tasted like a very bland winter squash – nothing like a summer squash – barely edible even with butter and salt.
My ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ plants got hit by borers several weeks before any of my other squash started showing symptoms. I decided not to try to treat them and let the remaining fruits ripen as they could. Below is the biggest one I ended up with, at about 6 inches across.
A couple of online seed sources include Seed Savers Exchange and Reimer Seeds. But if ‘Yugoslavian Finger Fruit’ isn’t that great for eating, why grow it? For the novelty value, I suppose. For the experience of handling the smooth-skinned, knobby fruits. And for the experience of finding interesting ways to photograph them.
Yugoslavian finger fruits are also a lot of fun to have sitting around the house. One reason I find these things so amusing is that they remind me of the alien blancmanges from Monty Python’s Science-Fiction Sketch. (here be Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 [where the blancmanges finally appear, eventually]). But one couldn’t imagine anything sinister about a squash, of course. That would be silly.
It’s a curious thing, though: Soon after harvesting the fruits and bringing them up to the house, I noticed that some of my smaller porch critters started going missing.
But I’m sure it’s just my imagination. Finger fruits couldn’t really be aliens from the planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda. Could they?
Er…that’s it for this edition of Three Nea…… [slurp]