CHARLES REYNOLDS: Mussaenda shrubs need sheltered sites

·3 min read
Queen Sirikit is a popular pink Mussaenda.
Queen Sirikit is a popular pink Mussaenda.

Mussaendas are medium-to-large shrubs — and even small trees — from Asia and Africa. With at least 100 recognized species and numerous hybrids in cultivation, Mussaendas are popular landscape plants in the tropics. The plants’ appeal, though, isn’t due to their small, star-shaped, warm-season flowers. It’s these plants’ sepals — collectively called a calyx — that are so eye-catching. Depending on species or variety, anywhere from one to five sepals are enlarged, colorful and petal-like. Among the most outstanding Mussaneda plants is M. philippica Dona Auorae, with masses of white sepals surrounding each flower. Hybrids that flaunt eye-popping pink sepals include Queen Sirikit and Dona Luz.

If you’re wondering why Mussaenda plants don’t have a larger presence in Central Florida, it’s because they’re extremely vulnerable to cold damage. Indeed, the only cold-tolerant species I’m aware of is M. flava, which grows 4 to 8 feet tall and bears yellow flowers and a single outsized, white or yellow sepal. All Mussaendas, however, recover from frost and freeze damage in spring. These plants grow best on organically enriched, well-drained sites in sun, though afternoon shade is beneficial. Propagate with warm-season cuttings. Plants are available online.


I’ve been surprised to see windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortuneii) for sale recently. The windmill is a single-trunked, fan-leaved species from warm-temperate areas of China. Renowned for extreme cold-hardiness, the windmill has been grown in Europe for centuries and is also cultivated in Oregon and Canada’s British Columbia. When I came to Florida in the early '70s, windmills were common, but as our climate has progressively changed, the palms have struggled to the point where I’d advise against planting them. Perhaps homeowners in cold pockets could try setting a specimen or two on the north side of a building in a spot that’s likely to be shaded in summer.


Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a high-climbing vine that’s native to Eastern North America but has been planted widely in Europe. This vine fastens itself to wood and concrete, so it shouldn’t be allowed to grow where the clinging tendrils can damage surfaces. Virginia creeper — sometimes used as a groundcover — has leaves separated into five leaflets and can be mistaken for poison ivy only by wholly uninformed folks. In autumn, the foliage — which turns red, orange and yellow – looks glorious adorning pine trunks. Propagate by cuttings. Plants available online.


Climbing aster (Aster carolinianus) is a woody vine that climbs nearby plants using stems up to 10 feet long. Beginning in late summer and extending into winter, this native displays whitish, yellow-centered blossoms beloved by butterflies. Climbing aster thrives on wet, swampy sites but adapts to life in irrigated landscapes. The species grows in shade or part-day sun. Cut plants back hard following the blooming season. Propagate with cuttings, seeds and divisions. Available online.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: WEEKEND PLANTINGS