Hats off to this butterfly plant

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here’s a winter bloomer that should be added to your list of bird and butterfly attracting plants.

Holmskioldia sanguinea's intriguing
flowers provide color in winter.

The round and fused calyx encircles the tubular corolla of the unusual flowers on Holmskioldia sanguinea, creating a shape that gives the plant its common name, Chinese hat plant.  The calyx of a flower ordinarily is green and often leaf-like, consisting of the sepals that surround the developing bud. This calyx adds to the flower’s color and appeal. And while the corollas are quite small, they hold enough nectar to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Now flowering in Fairchild’s Plot 3a, the Chinese hat plant is a sprawling shrub from subtropical India and Pakistan that likes to send out quite long, whippy branches, and can reach some 6 to 8 feet in height and width.  You can prune it at the end of winter or early spring to keep it under control.

In a 1996 issue of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, writer Sandy Atkins said the plant was named for Theodore Holmskiold, a Danish nobleman and scientist who died at the end of the 18th Century. Once classified as belonging to the verbena family, this plant now is part of the Lamiacae or mint family.

The red form of Holmskioldia.

A Chinese hat plant likes some shade in summer, but not too much or it will not bloom. At home, I grow two Chinese hat plants against a fence, where they receive an occasional runoff of water released when cleaning the pond filters. One shrub bears orange flowers, the other dark red flowers. There is still another form that produces chartreuse flowers. 

The plant has been available through plant sales at Fairchild, most recently at the spring sale.