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

Plow Breaker

erythrina-zeyheri-seedling-640

 

Plow Breaker?  From these beautiful seeds, and this quickly-growing seedling, grows a grassland perennial from South Africa that eats farm equipment for lunch.  OK, probably just horse-drawn farm equipment, but still.  For the name alone, I had to grow it.

 

erythrina-zeyheri-fingers-640

 

It's one of the many Erythrinas, a subtropical family of plants grown world-wide for their flamboyant flowers.  I've grown E. x bidwillii for many years, featuring it in the July bouquet

 

When I saw this picture of Plow Breaker's flowers, and then learned that this plant is an herbaceous perennial, sleeping through the Winter even in the subtropics it prefers, I was hooked. 

 

erythrina-zeyheri-in-bloom-640

 

While there's no way Plow Breaker would be hardy here in New England, I could grow mine in a pot.  I'd stow it in the basement when it's dormant and bring it out into the garden when it's active.  I'll worry later about how big a pot any perennial would need whose roots are so huge and so tough they can destroy a plow.

 

 

Here's how to grow this defiantly self-reliant perennial:

Latin Name

Erythrina zeyheri

Common Name

Plow Breaker

Family

Fabaceae, the Pea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 8 - 10.

Habit

Large rough basal foliage arising from an immense rootstock.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

In-ground: A clump three feet tall and almost as wide.  In containers?  Not yet known.

Texture

Coarse and dramatic; the large leaves can be dense-growing enough to serve as groundcover.  In bloom, almost rudely focal:  The bright red spikes of flowers make the plant visible from immense distances when growing in the rolling grasslands of its native South Africa

Grown for

the showy spikes of flame-red or orange flowers in Summer.

 

the distinctive large thorny green foliage.

 

the famously immense tuberous roots, like giant horseradish but even thicker as well as woodier—hence the common name, Plow Breaker.  The top projects a bit above ground, one reason, no doubt, that the plant isn't as hardy as horseradish.  The roots survive brush fires, which are endemic to the grasslands of its native South Africa.

Flowering season

High-Summer: July, probably, in a container in New England.

Culture

In-ground where it's hardy year-round, plow breaker is self-reliant.  The enormous roots store plenty of water, so this is a very xeric plant.  Full sun.  Faster-growing in good soil, but tolerant of almost anything as long as Winter drainage is good.

How to handle it

In-ground, Zone 8 and up: plant in full sun and out of range of any watering system, should you have one, that would be handling the non-xeric plants that, probably, make up the majority of your garden. 

 

Very easy from seed.  In Spring, pour boiling water over a handful of seeds and let them soak (and cool down) overnight.  Sow very shallowly, leaving the tip-top of the seed almost exposed to light.  Transplant to permanent spots when still young; the plant's roots grow extraordinarily deep, making transplanting impossible.   

 

In containers, Zone 7 and below: Sow as above, transplanting regularly soon after growth has resumed in Spring (but before the large scratchy foliage makes the plant difficult to handle) to larger and larger pots as the roots fill the current size.  Plant in pots that are as deep as possible to give "bottom room" for the enormous roots.  Do not overwater; this a plant that's used to hot and dry weather.  Move indoors before frost, into all possible light.  If the plant seems to want to go dormant and drop its leaves, let it; store it frost-free, watering lightly only once a month (more for your sake than for its).  Move it back into brightest light by March and be alert for the resumption of growth, after which you can water it more freely.  Move outside into full sun only when frost danger is past.

Downsides

Clearly, this is a plant that only you true plant-geeks will want to try in containers.  Because it can resist anything but a backhoe, you can't easily reconsider where you've planted it.  I look forward to being able to appreciate this plant growing outdoors where it's hardy as well as well-sited.  In advance of a trip to its native South Africa, perhaps on a visit to California?

Variants

There are dozens of Erythrina species, hybrids, and cultivars to try, from perennials to large shade trees. Native to most subtropical and tropical regions worldwide, they are deservedly popular around the globe. The flowers are usually but not always orange to vermilion, but pink as well as white flowers can be had, too. Erythrina variegata 'Orientalis' is an unusual tree for the tropics, with its bright yellow leaves veined in green. (Who knows why, but for all the profusion of tropical species with colorful and variegated leaves, very few of them are trees.) I haven't yet been successful in keeping one happy in a container, but will try again.

 

E. x bidwillii is very easy to please in a container, so it's my recommen-dation for the first one to try when you garden north of where Erythrinas would be hardy in-ground.

Availability

On-line, but you might need to be prepared to import seeds from vendors in South Africa.

Propagation

By seed.

Native habitat

South Africa

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required