Pucker up

Indoors or outdoors, the box-leaf lipstick vine makes a bold statement.

Photos by Mark Leichty

I have killed a lot of plants in my lifetime. There was a time when it was a death sentence for any plant I brought into the house. I am still not great with houseplants, but I’ve learned a lot from my partner Michelle and from my 91-year-old mother, who has always had beautiful plants in the house. In the garden, I have also taken quite a few plants to “the train station.” If you are a Yellowstone fan, you will get that reference.

In the late 1990s, Sean Hogan of Cistus Design Nursery near Portland, Oregon, coined the phrase “zonal denial,” which does not just mean planting houseplants in the garden and hoping for the best. Zonal denial is really about finding plants that create the look and ambiance in the garden you want to achieve, and in that process, you may discover plants that are hardy enough to survive the winter. I am a committed practitioner of the concept; one of those folks in horticulture who passionately believes the USDA climate zone map does not apply to me.

Aeschynanthus is a genus in the family Gesneriaceae containing some 160 species ranging from Sri Lanka and India through southern China and Southeast Asia to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. In their native environment, they are evergreen epiphytes growing on trees or rocks. Aeschynanthus spp. are often commonly called “lipstick plants,” as is the case of A. radicans and its cultivars.

Aeschynanthus buxifolius is a wonderful houseplant, and I have discovered an equally wonderful plant to try in the garden. It was first described in 1903 by William Hemsley of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As its name suggests, the foliage is similar to boxwood. The habit of A. buxifolius is semi-upright to trailing, and it makes a great basket or container plant. As a houseplant, it should be grown in a bright location but out of direct sun. As an epiphyte in nature, it may have few actual roots into soil, but it does root easily from cuttings and grows happily in a well-drained potting soil.

Recent collections from northern Vietnam at high elevations have introduced plants into cultivation that are quite hardy. I have been watching a plant in the Seattle area for the past few years that has seen temperatures fall below 20 °F. Hummingbirds love the bright orange-red tubular flowers. I’ve planted one in my stumpery near Albany, Oregon, where it survived one winter but did not survive 13 °F this past winter. I had to take it to the train station.

Mark Leichty is the director of business development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. mark@littleprinceoforegon.com

January 2023
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