An annual with issues
The aster family (Asteraceae), which I still prefer to regard as composites, are a useful bunch of plants for gardeners and, as the season progresses, they have an increasingly important role in supplying colour. I decided to re-acquaint myself with emilia this year and this plant is Emilia sonchifolia var. javanica. The plain species is supposed to have pinkish flowers but you only ever see this bright orange version sold.
It is sometimes called flora’s paintbrush, which is a bit contrived but I can see why. Strangely, it is usually sold as Irish poet, more often than not as a cv – ‘Irish Poet’ which is mystifying and inaccurate to boot. I know it is green and orange but where is the white to make it Irish? Unless you wait for the typically groundsel-like fruiting heads.
In fact the uncharitable among you will have been thinking about groundsel already and the weedy nature of the plant is not helped by the species name – derived from sow thistle (sonchus). I find the reference to Java intriguing though and the plant, now a weed of warm temperate areas around the world, is probably South Asian in origin.
I treated the plant as a half hardy annual and planted the seedlings out in May. I had great plans for associations but, as always, it was necessary just to get them in the ground during the planting rush. The leaves, when young, had a purple flush on the reverse but that appears to have disappeared. It was an old pack of seeds and I only raised about a dozen plants – it was one of those packets I have had for years and always gets ignored because I didn’t know if they would grow. But although the packet was about 5 years old I got enough seedlings to experiment with.
Apparently the flowers are edible, though I won’t be trying. The flower heads are about 1cm across and hardly huge but the searing colour gives them presence. The plants have been quite drought resistant and have coped with the recent hot weather well. But.
Those planted in a bed with tagetes ‘Burning Embers’ are fine. Those in a bed with other plants, however, are not well. They are covered in the same fungal disease that affects groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) in the garden. It starts as orange pustules and then spreads to ‘melt’ the whole plant on groundsel. I was going to show a photo but could I find an example today? No. Anyway, it is not a rust but a similar fungal disease (pustula species).
The two groups of plants are not that far apart and although the affected plants are slightly more crowded it is still a fairly open spot and the plants have been dry for weeks. I hope the plants grow out of it because I was beginning to like the plant and intended collecting seed so I could be a lot more generous with it next year.
Tomorrow an annual with no problems!
Not one I’d bother with, I think.