The Prettiest Shade Plant You've Never Heard Of
It's brightly colored. It blooms nearly continuously. It likes the shade. It's easy to grow both indoors and outdoors. But I doubt you've grown it, because hardly anyone has. Its name is crossandra.
Why don't people know it? Maybe it's because some people call it firecracker flower, not to be confused with firecracker plant. Maybe it's because of its tongue-twisting, botanical name—Crossandra infundibuliformis. Or just maybe it's because I inexplicably left it out of the New Southern Living Garden Book. To atone, I will fall on my samurai sword immediately upon finishing this post.
Crossandra's Blooms and Colors
Crossandra is a tropical, evergreen shrub native to Asia and Africa. It grows about 2 feet tall and wide. In mild, warm weather, it continuously sends up spear-shaped spikes above its glossy, deep-green foliage. Fans of showy blooms emerge from these spears, starting at the bottom and moving to the top, creating horizontal stacks of petals. Bright orange is the most common color, but you'll also find coral, peach, and even yellow blossoms.
Crossandra's Light Needs
I bought an orange one called 'Orange Marmalade' at the garden center this spring. It was blooming then, and it's blooming now in a pot, in light shade on my front porch. It won't take frost, but as I can't bear to part with it, I'll bring it inside to a bright window for winter, and it will keep on blooming.
Crossandra as a Perennial
In frost-free areas like South Florida, people often plant crossandra as a perennial bedding plant in combination with other shade lovers like angelwing begonia, impatiens, caladiums, and coleus. You can do the same in colder climates too if you don't mind buying new plants every spring.
Crossandra in Containers
This is one easy plant to grow, especially in a container. Give it light shade and moist, well-drained, fertile soil. Do not let it dry out—water whenever leaves start to flag. Pinch off spent flower spikes to keep new ones coming. Feed every three weeks with liquid fertilizer according to label directions. Cease feeding crossandra indoors in winter.
Crossandra is a vigorous grower, and roots often become crowded in a pot after a year. Repot into a bigger pot using fresh potting soil in spring. Pests seldom bother it outdoors. Indoors, watch for aphids and mites on the leaves. If you can't find crossandra locally, Top Tropicals is a good online source.
Well, that's the end of this story. Only one more duty to perform. Squire, fetch my sword!