A nemesia with attitude: Nemesia cheiranthus

In recent years nemesias have become popular container plants, thanks to some sterling breeding work with some of the slightly tender, perennial species. The annuals, including N. strumosa (which is a fabulously colourful annual) have rather fallen by the wayside. But one obscure species has been doing the rounds and is mildly popular on account of its, frankly weird, flowers and its pleasant scent.

Because of what happened to my plants this year I need to just mention that this is a cute and attractive plant but not immensely showy, at least when young and the flowers are sparse. I say this simply because half the plants here got weeded out by someone who though they were weeds (while they were in bloom), despite my rule that if things are in rows or evenly spaced they must be plants!

nemesia cheiri2

Nemesia cheiranthus, from Namaqaland, is a short (30cm), slight, but bushy plant. The species name comes from the Greek for hand or claw (cheiri) and flower (anthos) and it is thought that in the case of wallflowers (cheiranthus) the name refers to the fact that the flowers were/are used in posies though I have always wondered if it was for the claw-like base of the petal, though this is hardly unique to wallflowers. But in the case of this plant the name cheiranthus must surely refer to the shape of the upper petals. The blooms are truly extraordinary and much more extreme in shape than most nemesias.

Being in the foxglove and snapdragon family (Scrophulariaceae or now Plantaginaceae) the flowers have five petals, fused into a tube with five lobes. In Nemesia there are four petals at the top, which are very long and narrow in this species, and one at the bottom which has two lobes and a nectar spur at the back. Most nemesias also have a landing signal on the lower petal but in this species that lower, yellow petal is amazingly shaped with two raised ‘balloons’, resembling those in antirrhinums. The base of the upper petals is boldly marked with purple and a yellow square so it is very clear to any insect where they should get into the flower. They must have to push right in, and effect pollination, in order to get to that angled nectar tube.

nemesia cheiranthi

All this is surmised! But what is fact is that this is a pretty and easily grown annual. The seeds germinate readily and although the seedlings are small and rather spindly at first they soon bush out. It may be possible to sow this, in situ, as a hardy annual in April (in the UK) but as seed in packs is not always generous I would treat it with care. In the wild it grows in sandy soils so well drained soil in full sun suits it best. I am pleased to say that as the season is progressing the plants are improving but I will make sure to deadhead them to promote more flowers, at least until the end of the season when I will leave some to collect more seeds.

So on to scent. Some suppliers say the flowers are scented of coconut. I am not too sure about this but the blooms are nicely fragrant. I think you need a mass of them to really notice, or plant them in a raised container, unless you have been drinking too much at the BBQ and are flat on your face in the border.

There are, reputedly, two varieties available: ‘Shooting Stars’ and ‘Masquerade’ but seed companies often act fast-and-loose over naming species with popular ‘selling names’ so I wouldn’t like to say if they are distinct until I have grown them side by side.


Geoff’s rating 7/10

Garden rating 6/10

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4 Comments on “A nemesia with attitude: Nemesia cheiranthus”

  1. sueturner31
    July 29, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Very interesting plant ….love the strangeness of it


  1. Erysimum cheiri | Find Me A Cure - August 16, 2014

    […] A nemesia with attitude: Nemesia cheiranthus […]

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