Hypericum

hypericum fls jul

Well done if you identified yesterday’s plant correctly. It was a hypericum.

hypericum fls jul2

The flowers were from a plant in the garden that I am pretty sure is one of the ‘Magical’ series. These were. I am pretty sure, bred for the cut flower trade because the flowers, though more or less similar, are followed by ‘berries’ in various colours, that are used in mixed bouquets commercially. The berries in the series vary from pink and red to white. These hardy shrubs are supposed to reach about 90cm high and are hardy, (to USDA 5). They flower in June and July and the berries are attractive almost immediately after. The berries are not fleshy so they are not attractive to fruit-eating birds though when they split the seeds will be eaten by seed-eaters so these are good wildlife plants. Rust, which is often a problem on hypericums, is less of an issue with these hybrids though I wouldn’t guarantee you won’t see some spots on them. This plant in the garden has not been pruned for three years and is 1.5m high and a bit less across and quite a sight. Like most hypericums, this is suitable for all soils and sun or part shade.

hypericum fls jul4

The most common hypericum is probably H. androsaemum, commonly known as tutsan, (from the French, toute saine meaning ‘all health’ though most parts of the plant are toxic so don’t go chomping on it) that has small yellow flowers that develop berries which are red at first and then black. It has aromatic foliage and the leaves were used traditionally as bookmarks – I remember using them for the purpose – perhaps the aroma was supposed to dispel insects that would otherwise eat the binding – I am not sure, but it is sometimes known as bible-leaf because of this use. Hypericum patulum is another British (and Irish) native that is famous, under the common name for the whole genus, as St John’s wort which has some herbal value as a cure (or help) for mild depression.

hypericum 2

I have to confess that I am no fan of hypericums which is a bit strange considering how pretty the flowers are. The five petals contrast with the mass of yellow stamens and they are bright and cheerful. The most common garden plant is the hybrid ‘Hidcote’ (H. cyathiflorum ‘Gold Cup’ x H. calycinum)  which is a good shrub with evergreen leaves and large yellow flowers all summer. It is so easy to grow it is most often seen on housing estates and car parks. ‘Rowallane’ is similar but has larger flowers and is a bit more exotic, and less hardy.

What bothers me about the 450 species and numerous hybrids is that the flowers are all the same, or at least most have flowers of the same colour. I know there are a few with pale yellow flowers and I have one in the front garden that is flushed with some red (see pics below), but they just bore me. When I was a child the Eurasian H. calycinum was a common ground cover plant and it can be effective with its single, large flowers atop arching, 20-30cm stems. It creeps along the soil (it can be invasive) in sun or part shade but rust seems to have become more common and it has fallen from favour.

Another hybrid that seems less popular now than it used to be, is H. x moserianum ‘Tricolor’, a rather low shrub with variegated leaves and moderately sized flowers. It is slow growing and often throws up plain green, vigorous shoots.

Hypericums used to be in the Guttiferae family but were then moved to the Clusiaceae and are now in their own family, Hypericaceae, which I suppose keeps things simple. The species are found throughout the world except the tropics and polar areas.

Below is a hypericum growing wild in Ireland, I think it is H. androsaemum, beside the River Barrow, looking particularly fine with red-flushed new growth.

st mullins7

Just to show that the flowers can be other than plain yellow, here is that red-tinged one in the front garden that is a slightly different shade. Quite nice really I suppose 🙂

hypericum red july3

hypericum red july2

hypericum red july

 

 

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2 Comments on “Hypericum”

  1. Meriel
    July 13, 2016 at 12:22 am #

    A little boring but reliable in dry ground. H. ‘Hidcote’ needs to be pruned hard every spring to keep looking good, so a bit of work. Wild one pretty enough, but seeds madly and difficult to pull out in untilled ground even when tiny. Am starting to be. Sorry I planted H. Calycinium now as becoming invasive and impossible to get out on dry bank. Prettiest flower but swamping heathers. Beware. No rust – yet!

    • thebikinggardener
      July 13, 2016 at 10:02 am #

      Yes I have noticed that too – they are wiry and hard to pull up. You don’t see H. calycinum much these days and I think it is the rust but I think it has a bad reputation for spreading too. It is a shame because the flowers are lovely as you say

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