Shoofly, don’t bother me: Nicandra physalodes

Shoo, fly, don’t bother me,
Shoo, fly, don’t bother me,
Shoo, fly, don’t bother me,
For I belong to somebody.

nicandra physal

Here we are with another solanum relative, the annual, shoo-fly plant (Nicandra physalodes), native to Peru. I have said before that I love plants in the Solanaceae and this one is no exception. It is an easily grown annual (it may self seed prolifically if it finds your garden to its taste) and can reach 1.2m high and wide in rich soil. Apparently Nicandra is named after a 2nd century Greek poet (Nickander) and the species name ‘physaloides’ obviously refers to the husked seed pods that resemble physalis. I grew the plants from seed in a seed tray and grew them on in cell trays until they were about 8cm high and then planted them in the blue border.

Although I like the plant I have to admit that the flowers are not huge compared to the size of the bulky, leafy plant. But the flowers are undeniably beautiful and rather like nolana. They are about 5cm across and a pretty blue with a white centre but they do not remain open all day. I find they are open from about 11am-4pm, and have exactly the opposite waking hours to the delightful, scented mirabilis (four o’clock plant or marvel of Peru). I also have not tried its insect-repellent features even though I have just had to hang up fly-papers in the kitchen in an attempt to prevent the dipteran aerobatics teams under the light shade driving me to distraction!

Nice though the flowers are, it is the seed pods and their husky coating that are probably the real reason to grow this plant. They are dry and tough and remain long after the flowers have faded and the leaves have gone yellow, though I suggest cutting and drying some stems before autumn to be sure of the best pods. They are wonderful for winter flower arrangements.

The usual plant has green stems but my plants are ‘Violacea’ which has inky indigo stems and staining on the pods. There is also a variegated form that comes fairly true from seed. (All are available in the UK from Chiltern Seeds).

nicandra physal2

As I have already said, this is a large plant; a border-filler. It may seed prolifically but that should not be a real nuisance because the seedlings are distinctive and easy to pull up. In poor soil the plants will be smaller and weedy, though perfectly OK for drying. It is not really suitable for pots unless you water and feed the plants really well.

Geoff’s rating 9/10

Garden rating 7/10

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5 Comments on “Shoofly, don’t bother me: Nicandra physalodes”

  1. sueturner31
    July 25, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    I quite like this in a strange way… I would have to find a bigger area to accommodate it if I did grow it…but I do fancy the seed pods for drying …..and the flowers are a brilliant blue. 🙂

    • thebikinggardener
      July 26, 2014 at 12:41 am #

      it is a bit space-hungry but when you consider the extra value you get from the seed pods I think it is worth the space. The flowers are also really popular with hoverflies too – so that is a bonus.

  2. thelonggardenpath
    July 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    What a gorgeous shade of blue!

    • thebikinggardener
      July 26, 2014 at 12:43 am #

      Yes. Though the flowers are not huge they are such a lovely colour. I usually see something relatively unchanged by breeders and wish there was a different colour but in this case I can’t see how it could be improved much.

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