Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Long flowering Gondwanic hibisci



There are plenty of native hibiscus and hibiscus relatives in South America but I didn't seen any in flower on my recent trip in early autumn. Back home in April I bumped into an African Mallow (Anisodontea capensis) in flower in a local nursery, buying a potted plant as a gift. And in my backyard I have the forever flowering Australian Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii), flowering then and now. Seems I was just unlucky in the New World.

The hibiscus family, Malvaceae, is these days a broad church, including things like the Lime Tree (Tilia) and Bottle Tree (Brachychiton). Even if we strip it back to the mallows and hibiscus-like plants (the original, more narrow, family circumscription) it has more than 1500 species sprinkled all over the world.

Whether broadly or narrowly defined, the family occurs on every continent on Earth except for Antarctica. It tends towards the tropics but extends down the length of South America, to the Cape area of South Africa (where my African Mallow hangs out) and into Tasmania. Mostly, though, you find Malvaceae in lands that were once part of the ancient southern continent Gondwana, and particularly in the tropics.


The two Gondwanic representatives featured in this post, this pink-flowered Anisodontea capensis, and Alyogyne huegelii, both of temperate origin. Anisodontea capensis, the African Mallow or Dwarf Hibiscus, grows on dry slopes in the fynbos near Cape Town in South Africa. It's been grown in the UK as a pot plant for over a century and I presume available in Australia for much the same period.

Like a many of the hibscus relatives it flowers for an extended period, in this case all through summer and into autumn. The Anisodontea Pages describe the flowers as 'pale pink fading to white...with darker veining on the upper side towards the base'. The intensity of the vein colour varies across the year and is weaker in spring. The BBC's Gardener's World site suggests light pink to deep magenta. The one I bought has flowers that I would describe as intensely pink (although a little more so in photograph than in real life).


Alyogyne huegelii is altogether different. It's a less constrained plant, growing fast and spreading and And the flowers are bigger, and they are blue or purple. There are five species of Alyogyne named and described, four in southern Australia and one in the Northern Territory, with another eight waiting formal taxonomic publication. Within Alyogyne huegelii there are local forms and cultivated varieties grown and sold in Australia and North America. The same appears to be true of Anisodontea capensis, with various cultivar names around.

Although not closely related within the Malvaceae family, Alyogyne and Anisodonea have quite a bit in common. Not just that both generic names begin with the same letter and both appear, perhaps gratuitously, in this blog post...

They both have evolved species on gondwanic fragments now in temperate climes, and they both have bewilderingly long flowering seasons. A plant that flowers all through summer and well into autumn if conditions allow, is something to be treasured.


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