Rhizomes

dwarf cannascannas next to picket fenceAt first glance, it would appear that we humans have it much easier than plants. If we find ourselves in a place we don’t like, all we have to do is pick ourselves up and move to another spot.
Plants, on the other hand, if their environment suddenly changes, may die. This could happen, for instance, if a shade-loving plant were thrust into the sun after the tree growing above it suddenly defoliated in midsummer or, as happened last January, a tropical species was exposed overnight to freezing temperatures.
The other day, near the corner of Stern Avenue and Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, I saw a sight that made me ponder the botanical, in contrast to the human, condition.
The landscape showed signs of neglect and was somewhat weedy. In one planter bed, a man had made himself at home. All his worldly possessions appeared to be crammed into a shopping cart adjacent to where he slept soundly in the warmth of the midmorning sun. In another planter bed only a few feet away, a robust, shrubby perennial displayed numerous flower wands of deep violet blue. And in the parking lot, a row of sweetshade trees (Hymenosporum flavum) showed off fragrant white and yellow-orange blossoms against a background of deep green leaves.
Showing determination
Left to fend for themselves, bereft of family and friends, people often lose their way. Yet certain plants, as it has often been said, seem to thrive on neglect. This is especially true of herbaceous perennials, that class of plants which grow from bulbs, tubers or rhizomes.
What are rhizomes?
The thought of bulbs may evoke onions, tulips or daffodils and that of tubers may make you ponder potatoes. The mention of rhizomes, however, will probably draw a blank, even if some of our most beloved garden staples persist from year to year because of these fleshy, semi- underground stems. Plants with rhizomes include lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus), iris, calla lily (Zantedeschia), and canna. Canna is an under-utilized species whose flowers are orange, red, salmon, yellow or pink and resemble giant irises. Canna leaves are banana-esque and could be green, bronze, green and white striped or, in the case of Canna `Tropicana,’ striped in sunset colors.
In the neglected planter bed on Ventura Boulevard, the shrubby perennial with deep violet-blue flowers is known as Salvia nemorosa `May Night.’ This unusual salvia, which grows several feet tall, blooms virtually throughout the year and spreads with reckless abandon on account of its rhizomes. Should it start to look shabby, just cut it back and it will send up fresh new growth.
Fabulous fuchsias
The clumping gardenmaster fuchsia (Fuchsia triphylla `Gardenmeister Bonstedt’) is to shade what `May Night’ salvia is to sun. Gardenmaster fuchsia is known not only for its death-defying rhizomatous root, but also for its ability to absorb more heat than the average fuchsia.
In the manner of nearly all its kin, gardenmaster fuchsia is eventually discovered by gall mites that pucker and disfigure its leaves. When the plant has gotten about as ugly as you can bear, cut it down to ground level. Within a few weeks, it will send up fresh, dusky, sea green, elegant, oval-shaped leaves veined in maroon. Soon enough it will be covered in bright orange-red eardrop flowers, which it produces all year.
TIP OF THE WEEK: Although Japanese boxwood is generally chosen when a low hedge plant is sought, the common myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a wiser choice for our climate. Myrtle is highly drought tolerant with shiny green, diamond-shaped foliage, while boxwood is more water needy, sensitive to temperature extremes, and susceptible to spider mite and nematode problems. Boxwood also turns orange when infested with the phytophthora fungus. Boxwood is also not particularly long-lived and must be fussed over with proper water and fertilization to keep away pests. Myrtle is pest-free.

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