Plant of the Month Archives 2017

Clianthus puniceus

December 2017

Clianthus puniceus

Clianthus puniceus was originally discovered on the North island of New Zealand, growing wild in the inlets of the Bay of Islands. It was introduced to this country in 1831, and it is interesting to know that Robert Marnock, designer and first curator of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, grew it in the Pavilions. Referring to his 1838 catalogue it is said that the plant was first discovered by a missionary, and its first flowering was in the Trentham garden of Lord Leveson Gower at in 1834. The common name for it is 'parrot's bill' referring to the shape of the curved keel petals. In New Zealand it is also called the Kaka beak named after the Kaka a New Zealand parrot.

An evergreen small spreading shrub, it flowers well when given some support on a sheltered wall, and is growing beautifully, although out of season! You may see it growing on the wall of the Gatehouse as you go through into the Botanical Gardens, on the right-hand side. It is a beautiful plant with luxuriant, pinnate foliage, and bright red long pointed flowers constructed just like those of a pea, as it is in the Leguminosae (pea) family. With the amount of buds on the plant it looks as if the plant may give us pleasure for the winter months.

Arbutus unedo

November 2017

Arbutus unedo

A couple of years ago the old Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, which grows between the Clarkehouse Road Gatehouse and the cafe, lost a large limb and the subsequent remedial pruning was somewhat unsightly. But very soon the dark evergreen foliage densely clothed the tree and it was once again a handsome sight year round, but particularly in late autumn. This is because not only is it full of clusters of ivory, urn shaped flowers (attractive to bees) but also of the fruit of the previous year developing from yellow to orange to red. These only slightly resemble strawberries, round and rough skinned and are not very palatable ('unedo' is Latin for 'I eat one' - implying only one). However, in Portugal the fruit is made into a liqueur, Medronho. The reddish, shredding bark was used in tanning and the timber made quality charcoal.
As well as being native to the Mediterranean area, A. unedo grows wild in shrubby groves around the islands and shores of the lakes of Killarney, Ireland. It is in the Ericaceae family and indeed the flowers have a heather-like appearance, but the tree does not require acid soil.

Fasicularia bicolor

October 2017

Fascicularia bicolor

You can be forgiven for thinking that this plant is some form of triffid. It is found growing in the Mediterranean climate garden (area L on the map) The famous gardener Christopher Lloyd referred to it as 'an exciting, show-off' plant, and that is exactly what it is. It is one of the few bromelaids that can be grown in Britain, and apparently has now naturalized in the Scilly Islands.

The Bromelaids (pineapple) are a family of monocot flowering plants native mainly in the tropical Americas. We normally grow them as house plants but Fascicularia bicolor is reasonably hardy if it is sited well. It?s home is Southern Chile, South America, where it can be seen to grow in exposed areas near the sea in soil or on rocky cliff faces. The plant forms a crowded rosette of narrow serrated leaves. Its inner leaves turn a vivid fiery red in the autumn, and the purple flowers are borne deep in the centre of the plant.

Ligustrum lucidum

September 2017

Ligustrum lucidum

Rejoicing in the name Ligustrum lucidum 'Excelsum Superbum', the variegated Chinese privet comes into flower now, unlike most trees. The greenish buds appear in spring and slowly change to ivory through the summer, developing into frothy panicles of flower covering the domed crown of the tree.
Fruit does not develop here, but in parts of the USA the species produces huge messy crops of berries which have caused the plant to become invasive. The bold variegation of the leaves, almost evergreen in SBG, and the compact form, make this a most attractive year round tree. It is to be found near the fountain.

At the top of the Asian Garden (Area N, opposite the entrance to the bearpit) grows another member of the genus: shrubby L. quihoui (waxyleaf privet) looking beautiful with long, lacy panicles of white flowers in delicate contrast with the narrow, glossy, very dark leaves.
Both these plants exude the familiar privet scent and are very attractive to bees.

Agapanthus africanus

August 2017

Agapanthus africanus

Agapanthus africanus originates from the Cape Province of South Africa, and was introduced in 1679.

Best grown under glass this planting has survived well in the South African bed in the Mediterranean Garden (area L on downloadable map), in Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

Deep blue, large flowers are seen at the end of July/August, and are followed by magnificent seed heads in the autumn. The lush foliage is evergreen, which makes it an attractive plant for winter interest.

Much work has been done in recent years with hybridisation of species of agapanthus, and there are many varieties to choose from in an extensive range of hardy plants in shades of blue and white.

Callistemon rigidus

July 2017

Callistemon rigidus

Callistemon rigidus is an evergreen shrub in the Myrtaceae family, one of 25 species, all native to Australia.

The spectacular red flowers consist of long, bristle-like stamens, pollen atop, growing densely in a cylindrical shape, hence the common name, stiff bottlebrush. The narrow, lance shaped leaves continue to grow from the flower spike. Prominent woody seed capsules resembling rows of beads pressed into the bark appear after the flowers. These can last for years, dormant until the shrub dies or is exposed to fire. Once established, the plant can withstand waterlogged soil, salt and drought.
C. rigidus was first introduced from Eastern Australia in 1788 and, along with all the callistemons, has been the subject of much debate about its closeness to the melaleuca genus.

In the Mediterranean Climate Garden (Area L) the plant grows in the Australasian section opposite the top of the steps.

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'

June 2017

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'

There is no doubt that the blue poppies are one of those ‘wow’ plants that everyone admires and desires. However, they are not the easiest plants to grow and are notoriously difficult to maintain in cultivation. We are very fortunate that we have a glade of these beautiful plants within the Woodland Garden in Sheffield Botanical Gardens. (Area Q on downloadable map)

The commonest species is Meconopsis baileyi which can be monocarpic in southern counties. It enjoys growing in lime-free moist soil in a cool atmosphere. These requirements mean that it can be seen thriving in Scotland and Cumbria. Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ is the most widely available hybrid between M. baileyi and M. grandis, but there are a number of others, some of which are fertile and others which can only be increased by division. ‘Lingholm’ has larger flowers than M. baileyi (but fewer of them) and is a more reliably perennial plant. ‘Lingholm’ itself is not variable in colour but there are variations among the various hybrids. The Meconopsis Group has done a huge amount of work sorting out the various meconopsis. Because of its variability in colour this plant is now named within ‘The Fertile Blue Group’ together with four other cultivars.

Davidia involucrata

May 2017

Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana
A most spectacular May flowering tree is Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana, completely draped in pale green bracts which become pure white, giving rise to the popular names: handkerchief, ghost or dove tree.
Père David, after whom the tree is named, was a French missionary in China, and the first westerner to find the tree. From Sichuan Province in 1869, he sent herbarium specimens of the flowers to Paris, but no seed. Thirty years later, Veitch's nursery sent Ernest 'Chinese' Wilson, aged 22, to hunt for the tree, and after travelling many thousands of miles and facing extreme dangers, he found a grove of Davidias and sent large quantities of seed to Veitch's. In 1902 he helped to pot up 13,000 seedlings! But unbeknown to them, French plant hunter Paul Farges had independently found a tree and sent seed to Vilmorin's nursery near Paris. One plant germinated in 1899 and it is from this that 80% of Davidias in cultivation are descended, hence 'var. vilmoriniana'.
Acacia longifolia

April 2017

Acacia longifolia
All the plant books say that Acacia longifolia and its nearby cousin, Acacia retinodes, are tender plants, so it is really wonderful and unusual to see them in full flower in Sheffield Botanical Gardens. You would expect to see them in the central dome of the Glass Pavilions. However, both these shrubs/small trees may be found in the Mediterranean Climate Garden (area L on the map). This garden, planted nearly 4 years ago, is giving us some real surprises.
Acacia longifolia, otherwise known as the Sydney Golden Wattle is native to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia where it grows on sandstone. The golden wattle is a fast growing bushy shrub or small tree. The leaves are long, evergreen held on branches smothered in fragrant golden yellow flowers at the end of the winter. The plant was originally collected by Joseph Banks, the botanist, on Captain James Cook’s exploration of Australia in 1770.
Parrotia persica

March 2017

Corylopsis pauciflora
This delightful plant usually puts on its show after the winter flowering shrubs have finished and before most spring ones have started into flower. Ready to come into full bloom with a couple of warm days, Corylopsis pauciflora is an eye catching little shrub at the steps going down to the water garden, opposite a Weigela bed. It is covered in delicate pale yellow, scented flowers, 2 to 3 in each raceme, hanging from slender stems. The leaves appear after the flowers and are at first coppery pink. The other members of this genus have more flowers per raceme, hence the species name 'pauciflora' or few-flowered, but this is only relative.
Robert Fortune introduced C. pauciflora in 1860. It grows wild in scrub and forest edge in Japan and Taiwan, though in Taiwan it is at risk.
Parrotia persica

February 2017

Parrotia persica

Although the Parrotia is grown mainly for its spectacular autumn colour, it is equally interesting to discover at this time of year. It would be so easy to just pass it by it, but if you look very closely the whole plant is covered in the most unusual clusters of small dark red flowers, which give the still leafless branches, a hazy effect of red, which is particularly pleasing on a sunny day. Mature plants also have a flaky bark. There are a few specimens throughout the Garden, but the one showing its full beauty is situated in the Four Seasons Garden (area A).
Parrotia persica also known as the Persian Ironwood, is a large spreading deciduous shrub or tree, originating from the forest region south and south-west of the Caspian Sea, It was introduced to Kew from St. Petersburg in 1841.

Skimmia x confusa 'Kew Green'

January 2017

Skimmia x confusa 'Kew Green'

This is a shrub of so many star qualities: the densely mounded foliage looks good all year round, with pointed shiny leaves, aromatic when crushed; the lovely greenish flower buds in large lilac-like trusses last from late autumn to February when they start to open as creamy blooms exuding a wonderful perfume; it is happy in sun or shade, tolerates urban conditions, looks good as a stand-alone shrub but is also a great foil to a large range of plants.
S. x confusa 'Kew Green' is a hybrid (originating at Kew) between S. anquetilia and S. japonica, 2 of the 4 species of Skimmia - natives of the Himalayas and E. Asia. 'Kew Green' is male and so does not produce berries, but is recognised as a valuable pollinator and attracts butterflies. It holds the Award of Garden Merit and a large clump grows on the AGM Border above South Lodge on the Thompson Road drive.

Return to current Plant of the Month