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Mystery cardinal flower, cereus, and mukdenia

by Janet Carson | October 10, 2021 at 8:22 a.m.

Cardinal flower lobelia, Lobelia cardinalis is a native perennial that thrives in moist conditions in its native range, but it can be a good garden perennial with regular irrigation. It will grow in full sun to partial shade. The flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds, but bees and butterflies love it too. The native species is a deep, bright red, and is usually in bloom in late summer through early fall.

Today, through plant breeding, you will find several hybrid varieties with various shades of pink or red blooms.

It is not the longest-lived perennial in our gardens, but it can reseed itself.

Night blooming cereus is one of the ugly ducklings of the plant world.

It is a homely, gangly cactus plant that can produce spectacular,

fragrant white blooms that open after the sun sets,

and close when the sun hits them. There are actually several species of plants with the same common name, and they do look similar. The one I see most commonly in Arkansas is Epiphyllum oxypetalum. There are no thorns on the waxy segments of “leaves” –actually stems that function as leaves. Another common name for this group of cactus is orchid cactus for the showy blooms. In mid to late summer through fall, small buds will form on the edge of the “leaves”.

Each day, the buds grow larger. Most gardeners can predict the day the buds will open. I know of many who have had watch parties to enjoy the blooms. Cut some of the flowers before you go to bed and put them in the refrigerator where you can enjoy them for another day or two—it just means you have to stare at your refrigerator! The plants are not winter-hardy so must be brought indoors soon.

Mukdenia – Mukdenia rossii.

Ok, I must be slipping. Several of you have talked about growing and/or killing them for years, and I had never seen or heard of this plant until last week when I spotted it at a nursery in NW Arkansas. Native to China and Korea it is distantly related to Heuchera (coral bells). The leaves are supposed to emerge a coppery color in the spring, then turn green for the summer. Fall color is supposed to be spectacular. The pictures I have seen online look lovely, with small star shaped blush blooms in the spring. It would be a good companion plant with hosta and heuchera in the shade garden. The variety I found was Red-Leafed Mukdenia

which is supposed to keep some red coloring on the tips all season. I did not buy the plant, since I knew nothing about it, but guess what I will be planting next spring?!

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