Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gomphrena 'Strawberry Fields'

 Gomphrena haageana 'Strawberry Fields' (Amaranthaceae)
 I have grown this hardy drought tolerant summer annual/short lived perennial for many years. This variety of Gomphrena flowers for most of the year. It is still in flower in July and at that time of year I usually cut back the plants to near ground level and within a couple of months it is in flower again. It has a semi rhizomatious root system, and you often see a swollen base near the soil surface from which new shoots appear. Usually the flowers start off as an apricot colour and as the summer progresses the colour changes to strawberry red. It is easy to grow from seed sown at any time from spring to mid summer.

The family to which it belongs, Amaranthaceae, includes lots of colourful foliage plants (Iresine, Amaranthus ,Celosia) and some have a similar flower type to this Gomphrena, that is a papery burr which stays on the plant for a long time. A good example is the popular purple leaf plant Alternanthera dentata which flowers in winter, while shedding most of its leaves, leaving behind the flower which persists for months until the weather warms up and new foliage growth commences. I mention this habit because it is annoying when trying to propagate from it, as the resulting struck cuttings appear as a mass of twigs covered in burrs. The Alternanthera seed is sterile, as it is in the very noxious weed Alternanthera philoxeroides, Alligator weed, which reproduces by stem pieces which break off and float in water or which have become attached to boats or vehicles. Unfortunately this Alternanthera, which originated from the Parana river floodplains of northern Argentina is now regarded as one of the worst weeds in the world.

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