Tuesday, May 01, 2012


The Acanthaceae family is often overlooked because the plants are sometimes considered to be old fashioned, but they are interesting because they have many different features that are attractive for gardens. 

There are over 250 genera in this large family of vines, shrubs and perennials, and they occur all around the globe in warm and frost-free climates. It is the floral parts that unite a plant family and Yellow Candles Pachystachys lutea, a South American member of the family, displays these characteristics well. The flowers are often clustered in pyramidal spikes and the petals are fused to form floral tubes, with the floral bracts often outshining and outlasting the flowers.

 Another point of distinction is the naturally patterned foliage. The Zebra Plant Aphelandra squarrosa is often sold as freshly rooted cuttings for use as houseplants, but planted outside in the right conditions these plants can achieve impressive proportions. They all have some common cultural requirements. They all enjoy moist well-drained soils, surface mulch in summer, morning sunshine and shelter from gales. Firespike Odontonema callistachyum loves hot, humid weather and can be trained as a groundcover or a wall shrub. In warm temperate climates the plant produces one large display of summer flowers whereas in the tropics it flowers continuously.

 A general technique for pruning Acanthaceae is to lightly clip them to shape after flowering, if they do stop flowering. The clumps of contrasting foliage of two Graptophyllum cultivars like ones with yellow and a bronze leaves planted together, highlights the differences between them. Their slender upright habit also makes them very suitable for hedging, but they need all day sunshine to look their best.

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