Strobilanthes – arrested development
Last year I bought a plant I did not know well: Strobilanthes penstemonoides. I could tell it was going to be like a penstemon. Being a strobilanthes, in the acanthus family, was less helpful because these are very varied, some have amazing foliage and are houseplants. Strobilanthes dyerianus is popular because of the metallic, purple leaves and it is just one of 350 species. The hardy species are less common and it was certainly many years since I had dabbled with them. There is something about them that worries me. They just don’t look hardy to me, possibly because the flowers seem so like ruellias which are so often seen as ornamentals in ‘holiday destinations’.
But many strobilanthes are hardy and this is one of them. It is Himalayan in origin and seems to be fully hardy. It died back to the base in winter but has slowly built into a slight sprawly plant with narrow, dark green leaves. It is in a rather dry spot (what isn’t at the moment) which has arrested its development. There have been flower buds showing for months but they are now opening. They are narrow and rich purple and small enough to be interesting but large enough to be showy. It is supposed to flower from July till the frost. It should also tolerate some shade, in which case it will probably grow to 80cm high and wide. But my plant is very small at present, only 30cm high and wide. I think it will explode into growth if we get some decent rain. It is beside a double gypsophila which, because of the lack of water, has not bloomed yet so I may have a nice blue and white ‘combo’ if it ever does get its act together.
I couldn’t tell you which Strobilanthes we grow but we have found it perfectly hardy. It dies back each winter and comes again without fail and also seeds about gently. At present it is about 60cm high and won’t get much more than that. The flowers are odd, all facing in different directions, and awkward to photograph.
They are all rather similar and I would not like to differentiate between them. Mine seems to be going sideways rather than up and I like the randomness of the flowers though, as well as being tricky to photograph, it does diminish the overall effectiveness and it is not the showiest of plants. But useful for being so late in the season and for a long flowering period.