Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Canary Island Color Here at the Arboretum


Limonium, commonly known as statice or sea lavender, is in bloom now in the Arboretum’s Canary Island collection.  This plant, a member of the Plumbaginaceae family, originates from the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa better known for the sun and sand of Tenerife and the Gran Canarias than for its unique endemic flora. These islands form one of Spain’s autonomous communities and enjoy a subtropical climate with long, warm summers and moderately warm winters.  


Right now you can see large flowering specimens of tree limonium (Limonium arborescens), a tough perennial herb grown from a woody rhizome, a modified subterranean stem usually found underground which often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes.  The flowers are unusual in that they have lavender sepals, the outermost whorl of parts that form a flower.  In most other plants, sepals are usually green and typically protect the flower in bud and often support the petals when in bloom. Its these sepals that make the Limonium inflorescence so spectacular.

Limonium arborescens (foreground) blooming in the Canary Island exhibit. 



A similar looking and commonly available Limonium is Limonium perezii, known as Perez’s sea lavender; also a Canary Island native.  L. perezii blooms nearly year round but heaviest in summer.  The foliage grows to about 18” on a 2 foot clump, with flower stalks about 2-3 feet tall.  The calyx, the outer papery envelope, is rich purple; the corolla, the inner part, is white.  The plant is drought tolerant and, once established, needs only occasional watering.  It grows best in dry, well-drained locations.  Clumps should be divided every 2-3 years in early spring.

Less widely available are Limonium found in other colors.  L. platyphyllum, native to central and southeastern Europe, has a white calyx with bluish corolla.  Even pure whites and pinks exist.  L. sinuatum, a Mediterranean native, comes in even more colors:  yellow, apricot, orange, peach, and rose in addition to the usual blue and lavender.

Most Limonium do well as cut flowers and their papery nature makes them prized for use as dried flowers.  They keep their color well whether cut or in the garden.


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