Posted by: gardenshf | August 27, 2012

Picotee Sky Flower, a late-summer bloomer

Rhythms in the garden are everywhere; being in tune with these small wonders is my favorite part of life in the outdoors. The baby green herons at the pond are now fledged, and the dragonflies are in full courtship mode. The crickets continue to sing their song during hot nights, but I have spotted an orb weaver spider stretched across plants in the nursery, a sure sign that summer is waning. Of all the seasons, the end of summer is the most bittersweet.

At the Gardens at Heather Farm, the roses continue to bloom; the tomatoes are ruby red, and the basil is being harvested weekly and made into pesto. Seeds for the fall are sprouting. Late summer and autumn in the Bay Area mean it is time to plant; the warm days and cool nights allow new plantings to settle in without the stress of summer heat.

Coming into bloom in the later part of summer is Duranta erecta Sapphire Showers, whose arching stems are filled with violet flowers edged in white, which cascade down the branches. Following the flowers in autumn are small orange fruits, which are poisonous to humans but loved by birds.

Duranta’s common name, Picotee Sky Flower, likely came from the flower’s color, which looks like a deep blue summer sky. Picotee refers to a flower whose petals are edged with a different color. The genus Duranta is named after the 15th-century Italian botanist Castore Durantes; erecta is Latin for “upright.”

Fast growing, Duranta can reach a height of 15 to 25 feet and a width of 8 to 10 feet. It makes a great screen, or can be pruned as a tree or as a specimen for espaliering. Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the sweetly scented flowers.

The plant likes full sun and regular water. Its natural habitat is tropical, which could make it frost tender. However, we obtained cuttings from a staff member who lives in Concord and has it growing in full morning sun and partial shade in the afternoon. It is a bit protected by a larger tree. There are no real pests or problems with this shrub; however, pruning is a must to keep its shape, since it grows quickly and has an arching habit. It can be spread by suckers if the branches reach the ground. Pruning can be done in the fall, once birds have had a chance to feast on the fruit.

–Patrice Hanlon

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