Gynura aurantiaca: Velvet Plant

The extraordinarily large Compositae family has provided horticulture with the widest selection of plants — not only ones grown in Europe as annuals and perennials but also plants of the tropics and subtropics. For example gerberas, for decades popular flowers for cutting; and for more experienced growers pachystegia, mutisia and othonna. Gynura, with its beautifully coloured leaves adds a new aspect of interest to this large assortment of plants with lovely flowers, interesting habit or attractive foliage.

The genus is not a particularly large one, comprising only about 20 species native to Asia and Africa and all very much alike. The species, however, is definitely the loveliest and furthermore commonly available at nurseries.

Gynura aurantiaca is found in the mountain forests of Java, where it reaches a height of only about 1 m (3 ft). It is a twining sub-shrub which turns slightly woody at the base. In the juvenile form the dark green colour of the leaves, which are shallowly lobed, is masked by a thick cover of deep violet hairs. The flowers are not particularly attractive, resembling the less decorative ones of the European hawkweed.

To attain its best coloration gynura requires full sun or at most only a lightly shaded position. It finds the conditions of modern homes congenial; it tolerates both a dry and dusty atmosphere and does not even mind smoke. In winter, watering, which is otherwise liberal, should be slightly limited to bring on a partial rest period. The compost should be a peaty one with an addition of leaf mould and sand. One of the soilless composts would be ideal. The young shoots are the most attractively coloured and therefore the plant should be hard-pruned in spring. Tip cuttings form roots readily, even in water.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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