Pavonia multiflora

The mallow family has provided horticulture with several lovely and valuable species — take Hibiscus or Abutilon, for example. However, it remains a rich, untapped source. There still exist lovely and easily grown plants that, for incomprehensible reasons, have not yet found their place in botanical gardens.

One such example is Pavonia, a relatively large genus comprising some 70 species native to tropical America and Africa. Most frequently encountered in collections is the species, even though generally under the wrong name of Pavonia intermedia. It is a shrub about 1 m (3 ft) high with a stem that is often prostrate, in which case it must be tied to a support. The leaves are approximately 20 cm (8 in) long, deep green, and persistent, remaining on the plant the entire year. The flowers, in terminal racemes, are produced throughout the year. The combination of rosy crimson petals and deep dark blue anthers is truly spectacular, comparable, perhaps, only to the blossoms of certain passion flowers. Many other species are also grown with flowers that are equally striking and beautiful in deep purple, violet, pink as well as yellow, which provide possibilities for obtaining large-flowered and interestingly-coloured hybrids. The fruit is a nutlet often furnished with hooks and spines. In the wild the fruits are dispersed by animals in whose fur they catch. The seeds germinate readily and remain viable for a number of years.

Pavonias should be grown in a warm room without any distinct period of rest. They tolerate full sun as well as light shade, but must be provided with a compost that is kept quite moist and if possible also with fresh air. That is why they are particularly suitable for growing in a larger mixed arrangement as well as on ‘dry land’ in a paludarium. Propagation is by means of cuttings, obtained from prunings when the plant is trimmed in spring, or by seeds. A suitable compost consists of a mixture of peat, leaf mould, rotted turves and sand. Alternatively, use John Innes potting compost.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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