The heat of this past summer may have finally given way to cooler autumn days, yet two plants continue to make a determined display of blazing orange flowers, reminiscent of the sun.
In fact, both bush lantana (Lantana camara) and cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), from Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, really come into their own this time of year. If you are looking to brighten up a barren slope, I would recommend either of these redoubtable species.
Bush lantana is in full flower from the beginning of summer through the end of fall and cape honeysuckle blooms from midsummer until mid-November. Just lay down some of that brown Netafim drip tubing, with in-line emitters in place, and you will see your slope completely covered within two to three years, depending on how closely you space your plants.
Slopes present the ideal topography for drip tubing since conventional spray or rotary sprinklers create abundant runoff on slopes so that a good portion of the water that is applied ends up on the sidewalk or street. With drip irrigation, runoff is not an issue.
When planting on a slope, make sure that plants are situated to the horizontal and not on the angle of the slope. After digging your hole, you will want to create a berm or hill of earth to the downslope side of each plant so that water does not trickle away but stays in place.
Be aware that cape honeysuckle is an aggressive plant with an extensive root system and a strong suckering tendency. Also, adventitious shoots – that is, shoots that originate from roots – may pop up wherever roots may roam so you may see growth sprouting quite a distance away from the mother plant. Also, wherever a cape honeysuckle shoot touches the ground, roots may form. As you can see, this is an easy plant to propagate, but it behooves you to be aware of its invasiveness.
Speaking of flaming orange plants for the fall season, firebush (Hamelia patens) is also worthy of consideration.
This is a tropical plant with some cold sensitivity but even when burned back to its roots on a cold winter night it invariably regrows the following spring. Its thin, tubular flowers will remind you of honeysuckle, to which it has no relation, being a member of the coffee family.
Firebush stems are red and leaves are attractively elliptical and emerald green. It makes a wonderful informal hedge. Do not prune it if you want it to bloom since flowers are produced on shoot terminals. It will require two or three weekly soakings during the summer to flower up to its potential.
No plant is more drought tolerant than mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), another attractive hedge plant. Native to Greece and the Middle East, resin from mastic was used as the chewing gum of antiquity and the plant is still grown for that purpose today.
In many languages, the word mastic – which means “to gnash with teeth” in Greek and is the root of the English word “masticate” – means chewing gum. Leaves are leathery and lush and mastic endures the hottest summers without a drop of water. In the ornamental garden, it is ideally suited as a compact hedge of around 3 to 4 feet high but, left to its own devices, it will grow into a small tree, around 20 feet tall, and live for 100 years. Each fall, a surfeit of red fruit is produced.
Apparently, not all mastic plants are created equal and those on the Greek island of Chios enjoy protected status because of the high quality of the resin they produce. From July to October, at five-day intervals, incisions are made in the trees that stimulate pellucid resin flow. The resin drips to the ground. After it is collected and cleaned, it is sold at a high price.
The gum has a bitter, turpentine taste at first, but gradually a more delicate lemon flavor emerges.
Mastic has remarkable medicinal properties. It may well be that chewing mastic could control or kill bacteria that cause ulcers. In one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, mastic was successfully employed in the treatment of peptic ulcers.