Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tweedia caerulea

 Tweedia caerulea syn Oxypetalum caeruleum ( Asclepiadoideae, Apocynaceae)
Neither a shrub nor a climber, Tweedia is hard to place in a garden. It grows as a few lax stems to about 90cm topped with the most beautiful cerulean blue flowers from spring to summer. Though worth growing for that unique flower colour alone, it is the soft as velvet arrow shaped leaves and stems which make it a candidate for inclusion in a garden for the visually impaired, perhaps as an 'edger' spilling over a garden wall where visitors are able to stroke the leaves. In some parts of the world Tweedia is grown as a summer bedding plant. It is frost tender and though mine did not lose its leaves, I kept it in a warm spot out of the cold and a little on the dry side over winter. It is one of those plants which tolerates dry conditions quite well, having milky sap, though it shares this characteristic with a couple of trouble maker cousins, namely the dreaded Moth vine (Araujiia hortorum) and Balloon or Swan plant (Asclepias physocarpa). It originates from southern Brazil and Uruguay
 The colour, pale Cerulean blue, was made famous in the film The Devil Wears Prada when  Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, corrects her assistant Andrea Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, over this far from ordinary shade of blue.

For me the most interesting aspect about this plant is that it celebrates the life of the great Scottish gardener and plant collector John Tweedie (1775-1862). At age fifty he uprooted his wife Janet and their six children from the banks and braes o' bonnie doon and set sail aboard the Symmetry, in May 1825, from the port of Leith bound for Argentina (arriving in August) with 200 fellow passengers, all having been persuaded by the enterprising Robertson brothers John and William Parish, of Kelso to help settle a new Scottish colony at Monte Grande some 30km south of Buenos Aires. (1825 was also the year Britain granted recognition to Argentina as a nation and established diplomatic relations.)
By all accounts the voyage was a bit of a hoot with much merriment and singing from Tweedie's fellow passengers who were all at least half his age and full of enthusiasm for the new life ahead at what became known as the Santa Catalina Farm. The colony was very successful for a few years until civil war broke out and the residents dispersed with Tweedie setting up shop, literally, in Buenos Aires while travelling throughout Latin America on plant hunting expeditions, the booty from which he sent back to Britain to botanical institutions and wealthy patrons, as well as describing and assessing the local flora for his growing band of Argentinean followers. He is remembered for the introduction of species of Petunia and Verbena which were used in the development of modern hybrids we know today as well as for Pampas grass which became hugely popular in Victorian England.
In Argentina, John Tweedie is much revered today for his contribution to botany and horticulture. He became known there as Juan Tweedie and has a street named after him in the district where he lived and gardened. In the English speaking world, which, in Britain at least, still remains hung up on status and class, we await the publication of Northampton University Professor Jeff Ollerton's book: 'A considerable collection of new things: the life and travels of John Tweedie, gardener and plant collector' to give us a greater insight into the life of this famous Scot.
The Santa Catalina farm where he first gardened and apparently grew the most delicious peaches is now an eighty hectare Agricultural College. The pictures below show its transformation from Juan Tweedie's time to the present day.


  1. Hi Ian - Tweedie caerulea is a lovely plant! I'm glad that that there's at least one other person looking forward to my Tweedie book! The current state of play is that it's about half written and I'm hoping to make some serious progress with it next year. But time, as always, is a limiting resource!

    Note that there's a couple of typos of the plant's name: "Tweedia caesulea" and family "Ascepiadaceae" (there should be an l in the later - Asclepiadaceae.

    Best wishes,


  2. Thanks Jeff for your comment and corrections. I look forward to your book at some stage in the future. Ian