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Central American foliage has colorful, tropical look
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Plants with names like Sanchezia and Psuederanthemum are probably as unfamiliar to us as they are to our software programs that underline these words with red to indicate they are surely misspelled.
Though you may not know about them, these plants can be landscape assets. Keep your eyes open for them when visiting local garden centers. Mississippi State University has grown them in trials, and I was pleasantly surprised by each.
The plant names are actually the botanical genera. Each has named selections that sound much more enticing. But before I go into that or their virtues, I must tell you they are all related. The plants are members of the Acanthus family and have flowering relatives such as the fire spike, shrimp plant and clock vine. These plants, however, are grown for their spectacular foliage.
Ellen is the variety of Sanchezia that I have, both in our MSU trials and at my home. This plant starts a little slow but is a real star after it becomes acclimated. The leaves are dark green and variegated with yellowish or chartreuse zebra stripes. The center midrib on young leaves is red.
Ellen is a small, soft shrub in the landscape and works perfectly in mixed tropical containers. I did not expect it to tolerate full sun, but it had no problems taking everything July and August dished out. This Sanchezia is a tropical zone 10 plant from Central and South America. Treat it as an annual or protect container-grown plantings indoors.
My Sanchezia are in several dramatic combinations. I used it as an understory planting to Japanese fiber bananas for a Caribbean look. I also placed it in the center of small terracotta containers with dark lavender petunias cascading over the rim.
My favorite combination, however, is with Black Varnish psuederanthum, which is more vigorous than Ellen. Mine have reached 4 feet tall after starting from 6-inch containers in April.
Black Varnish does look almost black and will probably be the darkest maroon or burgundy you've ever seen. In our trials, we are growing it with Gold Edge duranta that is brilliant dark green and golden chartreuse. This planting stands out even from a great distance.
In another area, we combined it with Bengal Tiger cannas, the wispy blooms of the maiden grass, and the iridescent purple of the Philippine violet, another relative. Black Varnish also is a zone 10 tropical from Central America.
Don't let the zone 10 designation prevent you from growing these plants. We grow coleus for its colorful foliage and plant it by the flat, yet it is a tropical. With the Ellen sanchezia and Black Varnish psuederanthum, we are just getting plants that are a little more shrub-like.
Fertile, organic-rich, well-drained soil will give you the green thumb. Try one of these combinations, and you'll feel like you've created a corner of paradise.