Generally here in Australia when we speak of the shrub Plumbago we mean the blue flowering Plumbago auriculata, which is a native of South Africa. There are about 15 species of annuals, perennials and shrubs which make up the genus, native to Central America, Southern Africa, Southern Asia and Australia. Our Australian native plumbago, Plumbago zeylanica, is not widely available in nurseries as yet. Luckily we can provide an extra food source for our native butterflies and encourage them into our gardens, by growing the South African shrub which is readily available in most garden centres. Plumbago auriculata does best in full sun unless you live in an area of extreme temperatures, in which case it would probably enjoy filtered sunlight.
It is an evergreen shrub, though in cold winter areas it loses some of its leaves. It has simple 5cm light to mid-green oblong leaves which look attractive even without any flowers; but it is the mass of beautiful flowers that can completely cover the shrub in mid summer, which make it deserving of a place in any garden.
The flowers consist of a 5cm narrow tube, tipped with 5 relatively large petals and can completely cover the bush from early summer well into autumn with spot flowering at other times of the year. The shrub comes in white or blue, but it is the blue which is the most popular.
Even better there are two shades of blue available; quite a light colour and then a deeper sky-blue. Both are beautiful.
Plumbagos are very easy to grow as they are not fussy about soil, as long as the drainage is reasonable. They can handle prolonged periods without the need for extra watering, once they are established, making them quite drought hardy, and they can give months of colour and pleasure without a great deal of attention. They will tolerate areas of light frost and are remarkably cold hardy, though they can look a little ratty in the middle of winter.
The one drawback is that they can grow into quite large shrubs if left untrimmed, 2 m by 2 m and they spread easily via suckers. To keep them in check cut back hard at the end of winter and perhaps a lighter trim in mid summer. Give them some fertilizer if you are feeling generous and they will race away, covering the bush each Spring with fresh light green leaves and then following that with sky blue flowers. Flowers are only produced on new growth so pruning has the benefit of keeping the bush under control and also improving the number of flowers. If you have enough space then leave them to do their own thing Ė they donít need to be trimmed. If space is limited try growing them in a large tub where the arching affect of the branches will spill over and hid the container. Grown like this they are easily kept under control, but donít forget to help them along with the occasional water under these circumstances.
They can be easily propagated from cuttings or by layering. It is also the type of shrub that could be found for sale at market stalls or school fetes as it is easy to grow from cuttings. If there is one growing in a house near you why not introduce yourself and ask for a piece to propagate your own?
The Caterpillars that are commonly found feeding on its flowrs and buds are :
FAQs about Caterpillars
Flowers in Australia
(updated 23 November 2007)