Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Giant Potato Creeper

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Hooray!  The Potato Vine has started to bloom!  This isn't just any Potato Vine, either.  It's the giant in the family, Solanum wendlanii, with stems to fifteen feet in a Summer, and sprays of lavender-blue flowers all along the way. 

 

The very first bloom cluster was amid the variegated leaves of one of my Tree Angelicas, Aralia elata 'Silver Umbrellas'.  This Potato Vine is both giant and floppy, and needs to grow through its neighbors if it's not going to be a groundcover.  The Tree Angelica is a good host because it's large enough—ten feet and counting—and the Solanum flowers partner well with its light-green and white leaves. 

 

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The plant is well-equipped for climbing.  Look at the small but sharp curved spines along the bottom of the leaf veins.  And the smaller ones on the green stem at the left.  They don't seem like much, but they make the vine as clawing and clinging as a new kitten—albeit a kitten that's eight or ten feet tall by July.  The spines hook onto your clothing, into your skin (no blood, and not painful), and onto the leaves and stems of anything growing nearby.

 

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If the blooming keeps up for the season, this potato is likely to find a permanent place in my collection.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this spiny flowering shrub:

 

Latin Name

Solanum wendlandii

Common Names

Giant Potato Creeper, Divorce Vine, Paradise Flower

Family

Solanaceae, the Potato family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen scrambling shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 9 - 11

Habit

A very long-limbed shrub that scrambles into, over, and through anything  in its path.

Rate of Growth

Very fast.

Size in ten years

Stems fifteen feet long and more; extent depends on the size of whatever it's climbing through.

Texture

If it's scrambling through a host plant, the effect is almost stealthy: the foliage doesn't show much but the flowers do.  If growing on its own, the growth soon becomes layered and dense, with the large loose heads of lavender flowers hovering on top.

Grown for

the flowers: inch-and-a-half flat lavender disks that fade to white as they age, in large but open heads to a foot across.

 

the speed of growth: In tropical and subtropical climates where it's hardy, this plant could require dedicated control if it's not to overwhelm its surroundings.  As an annual, though, the rate of growth is exciting but harmless: neither the plant nor its seeds will survive the coming Winter.

 

the unusual scrambling/vining habit.

Flowering season

Whenever it's warm.  In the tropics or in a container, almost year-round.  As an annual in temperate climates, Summer and Fall.

Culture

Rich soil and full sun, although it accepts some shade without too much grumbling.

How to handle it

Be prepared to handle the quickly-lengthening growth regularly.  Short downward-curved spines on the stems and the backs of the leaves assist the plant in holding on—to you as well as any nearby plants—making any serious after-the-fact repositioning awkward.  It's usually easier just to prune off errant stems than to attempt to reposition them.

 

The flower clusters are thrilling in their size and profusion, and the blue-lavender color goes with almost anything from orange and red to pale pink.  

 

Even as an annual, the plant can grow ten to fifteen feet, so plan from the beginning.  Are there nearby shrubs for it to scramble through?  Is there enough lattice to tie it up to?  You could also grow it up a stratopheric tripod, although the short spines won't help hold onto anything smooth and vertical, like your tripods poles, so you'll need to tie the new growth to the structure every week, or prune it off as frequently. 

 

Plants that live over a year get woody (and probably slow down, a bit, from the relentless growth of youth), so you might consider keeping a plant in a large container and pinching it back regularly to keep it in control.  I have a pair of first-year plants, each in its own container, and the plan is that they can be trained as tall standards.  Last season's growth will be cut back substantially in very early Spring, to make room for Summer's new growth that, maybe, will weep down dramatically.

 

Overwintering in subtropical (or Winter-greenhouse) situations is made a bit easier because the plant drops its leaves in less than full-on tropical weather.  It's always easier to overwinter a semi-dormant monster than one that's always growing.

Downsides

The speed of growth and the curiously spiny foliage and stems make the plant a challenge to handle after-the-fact.  Be pro-active in tying or pruning.  In climates where it's hardy, the plant could, I'd think, become quite a tiresome weed, with seeds sprouting everywhere and growing, all too quickly, into spiny impenetrable masses.

 

I've not been able to find out why the plant is called "Divorce Vine," but I can imagine that if both spouses aren't on board with the need to control this vine or be overgrown by it, things could get difficult.

Variants

I'm not aware of any hybrids or cultivars, but there are so many other species (and hybrids and cultivars) in the Solanum family that you could grow a different one annually and never run out of choices.  Besides the edible potato itself, and other species with edible fruit, the ornamental solanums include vines, annuals, shrubs and (in the tropics) near-trees.  Garden-worthy features besides typically blue or white flowers in loose clusters can include foliage that's variegated or huge or fuzzy.  Some species are grown ornamentally just for their spines, which can grow from the veins of the leaves—top and bottom—not just the stems.

 

There are more than a few weeds in the family too, and some of the plants, ornamental as well as weeds, are poisonous.  "Deadly Nightshade" (Atropa belladonna) is only the most famous.  All good reason not to be sampling the fruit of any plant, Solanum or otherwise, that you don't truly know to be edible.

Availability

On-line as well as at "destination" retailers.

Propagation

By layering, cuttings, or seeds.

Native habitat

Costa Rica

 
 
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