Friday, June 12, 2009

Old King Coleus

Burgundy Wedding Train

My daughter has developed an obsession for coleus. We are now overrun with them, and every trip to the greenhouse results in at least two more. Since there are currently 1400 different named varieties, I'm thinking we're going to need more room.

Notice I said "named" varieties. Coleus is the king of the inbred plant families -having made a 180-year long pastime of hybridizing with its cousins.

Also known as the flame nettle (a much more saucy name than 'coleus' don't you think), these colorful plants were native to Java, until a botanist named Karl Blume introduced them to Europe, just in time for the Victorian era (think 1840-1900 more or less).

Remember the Victorians? Paisley carpets, heavy velvet curtains, big Boston ferns, ornately decorated furniture.....and......huge pots of coleus.

Kingwood Torch

Turns out the coleus was the big Victorian equalizer. Greenhouses and elaborate gardens had been only for the wealthy, until the easily-propagated coleus came along. Middle-class citizens could not only afford a plant on the front stoop, but they could share with their neighbor, just by breaking off a spire, and placing it in water.

The coleus proved to be easily hybridized (cross-bred) with itself, over and over again, literally to the point that no one is sure what the original coleus looked like.

Orange King
On the other hand, the 1400 varieties are fascinating, with no two being alike. Colors range from green, red/green, purple/green, yellow, golden, red/pink, orange, pink/green, and thousands of other variations.

Sometimes it feels as if we have 1399 of those varieties on our back porch.

Including this pot of babies - the seedlings come up pure green, and then they get their color spots.

In the front is Alabama, with Rustic Orange Improved behind it (this one is so beautiful, it should have had a much prettier name - maybe "Copper Glow" - that's what I'm going to call it from now on).

Have a little Pink Chaos (to go with all the other chaos out there).

This red and green mix is just like Sousaphones and polka bands: Oompah!

But this one is my absolute favorite with ruffled leaves that almost glow and a name to match its deep color: Tilt A Whirl.

For more coleus (some 1390 to be exact), you can visit:

1 comment:

  1. Wow, very impressive! I might just have to go get me one! :)