Pedilanthus tithymaloides ‘Tricolor’

To date, European horticulture has not given many foliage plants the attention they deserve. The genus Pedilanthus has not yet become as common as it is in Japan and the United States, for instance.

The genus Pedilanthus comprises some 30 species distributed in tropical and subtropical America. The characteristic they all have in common is the zigzag growth of the stem and the alternate leaves, which only at the upper end of the stem are sometimes opposite.

The species is the only one commonly found in cultivation in Europe. It grows wild in a large area extending from Florida through Central America and the Antilles to South America — to Venezuela and Colombia. In the wild it is a robust plant, commonly reaching a height of 2 m (6 ft), with dark-green leaves and the midrib forming a prominent keel on the underside. The succulent stems and foliage indicate that it grows in places subject to lengthy periods of drought during the dry seasons. As in all plants of the spurge family, the flowers of pedilanthus are cyathiums. This means they are inconspicuous and soberly coloured but surrounded by bright red bracts more than a centimetre (half an inch) long. A flowering specimen is thus truly handsome and the pride of any collection. Commonly grown is the cultivar ‘Variegatus’ with white-edged or variegated leaves. From this were selected plants which developed another, third colour — red.

Pedilanthus grows reliably indoors in a mixture of loam, sand and peat in a sunny spot. It is readily propagated by cuttings inserted in a propagator where they root reliably within several weeks. To prevent the tissues being clogged by the milky sap that oozes from the cut, the cuttings should be immersed briefly in warm water to wash the milk away.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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