Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Plow Breaker In Bloom

Erythrina zeyheri spikes overall 052515 640


Time to trumpet, even to crow: My plow breaker is in bloom! Spiny leafless flower spikes began emerging in early May, and are tipped with whorls of astonishingly bright vermilion flowers that seem to drip down from calyces the color of orange sherbert. Erythrina zeyheri is native to South African grasslands, where brushfires are common and taller growth is not. Spikes of flowers this insistently colorful would be visible from great distances.


Given how "telegraphic" the flowers' color is, some of the insect and avian visitors that would, presumably, be so drawn to the blooms' glare and excitement might be stymied on how to enter the flowers: They open straight down, and those insects and birds aren't going to be able to elevate a given flower, as I have below, to get a better look inside. Instead, they must approach the flowers from underneath, looking straight up. 


Erythrina zeyheri finger blossom tip revealed 052515 640


In North and South America, hummingbirds would be ideally equipped to visit such narrow vertical blossoms. But plow breaker is native to Africa, where a family of small birds has convergently evolved to favor nectar-rich flowers with the similar shapes, colors, and orientations. So-called sunbirds—whose males have iridescent plumage that flashes different colors depending on the strength of the sunlight and the angles at which it strikes their feathers—are the favored avian pollinator for this species. 


Now that at least one plow breaker is in bloom where hummingbirds are indigenous, will they visit its flowers? June is still early in my garden's yearly cycle. Pots of tender plants still crowd the stone tables of the terrace, awaiting placement farther out in the garden so that the tables can host dinners July through September.


Erythrina zeyheri overall 052515 640


If any flowering plant demands to be sited in a red garden, Erythrina zeyheri is it. I'll find a suitably elevated and prominent spot in mine, so that plow breaker can attract human visitors from afar—well, about a hundred feet from the house—just like pollinators on the South African veld. We'll see, also, whether the plant is then appealing to hummers. The deck will be stacked high: the flowers' color is bright red, their downward-facing position keeps nectar safe from dilution or contamination from rain or condensation as well as safe from feeders who can't position themselves vertically, and the plant's location will ensure that it is both maximally visible and yet still at a congenial distance from the house. Stay tuned.



Here's how plow breaker looked just before its last repotting, when I had already begun elevating the rootball to expose the extraordinary woody roots that give "plow breaker" its name. 

Here's how exciting plow breaker looks even when "just" in leaf. 

Here's how grow plow breaker.

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