Monday 22 January 2018

Puffy slipper flower shows its summer stuff

Slipper flower
Slipper flower

Gerry Daly

The slipper flower is in flower these days, offering heavy swatches of yellow colour and a summery appearance that would be reckless in any other season. The flowers are too delicate for the harsh winds of spring, autumn or winter, which is not surprising as it is native to Mexico.

Slipper flower is also called 'pouch flower' and 'lady's purse', each of these names describing the pouch-like bottom lip of the flower. The upper lip is also pouched but usually not to the same extent. The flowers are held in rounded clusters, attracting pollinating insects over a long distance.

The slipper flower is a small shrubby form. It is not a true shrub, not having enough strength in its stems to be considered a woody plant, but it has fairly stiff stems and is making a comeback after a long absence from the sales benches. This plant was very popular in the 19th century for growing in glasshouses and conservatories. In those times, it was grown in large pots.

It is still seen in gardens from time to time in the mildest areas near the coast, flowering away prolifically as a small bush growing in the open soil.

The shrub gets damaged by winter frost some years and was destroyed over most of the country in those heavy frosts five years ago, but it survived in coastal areas along the east coast. And if it is grown in a pot, it can be brought under protective cover.

Grown in a pot, this little sub-shrub can flower all summer, wave after wave of slipper flowers being produced. The plant has toothed greyish evergreen leaves, often half-withered by frost but sprouting new ones in spring, and these set off the flowers nicely.

The usual colour is bright yellow but there is an orange form called 'Kentish Hero', which is decorative and looks well near the yellow form.

The shrubby slipper flower tends to get a bit leggy and straggling and is best raised from cuttings every year or two to have nice compact plants coming along. When grown in a pot, it must be well watered and well fed or it tends to lose leaves and become patchy. In a greenhouse, it can suffer from greenfly, though not so much outdoors. Pot-grown plants can be placed outdoors for the summer.

More often seen for sale is the smaller non-woody slipper flower, used as a decorative pot plant, its flower head the size of a good-sized cauliflower. It can be used in containers to give a blast of colour in yellow, orange or red, with much bigger puffy flowers, often spotted and speckled.

It is very often used as a temporary house plant.

Sunday Independent

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