Everyone should have a ribbon bush.
The ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata) grows into a 3-foot sphere that is completely covered with mauve flowers during the months of October and November. It is best grown in full sun but can also take some shade. It is not fussy about soil conditions.
The ribbon bush has two characteristics that, taken together, make it the ideal garden plant. It is short-lived and it self-sows. Because it is a plant with a life span of about three years, you won’t become so attached to a particular specimen that you leave it in the ground long past the time when it has ceased to provide interest, and you won’t worry about it getting too big.
Since it self-sows, you will have plenty of volunteer seedlings to transplant or give to neighbors. The only maintenance the ribbon bush requires is an annual cutting back, after flowers have faded, to a height of 1 foot. If you can’t find it in your neighborhood nursery, call Magic Growers in Pasadena to see where it is currently available.
The ribbon bush belongs to the Acanthus family, which includes several uniquely ornamental plants. Indoor plant lovers should be familiar with Hypoestes phyllostachya, the polkadot plant – named for the pink, red or white speckles that cover its leaves. The polkadot plant may be grown outdoors in dry shade, which is also the proper setting for its cousin, Acanthus mollis or bear’s breech.
Bear’s breech is a perfectly absurd name for one of the lushest garden plants imaginable. It has 2-foot-long, deeply lobed leaves that the ancient Greeks represented in the capitals (upper ends) of Corinthian columns. These leaves should be removed as soon as they lose their luster. The indestructible rhizomes below promptly push up new leaves to take their place. Flower spikes three feet tall will appear in spring and summer.
Also belonging to the Acanthus family are Justicias, which have unusual flowers in a variety of colors. Justicia brandegeana, the shrimp plant, has drooping, prawn-shaped flowers of white and bronze and purple. Justicia carnea produces magnificent plumes of pink, and Justicia californica has tubular red flowers. To keep these plants blooming, remove Justicia flowers as soon as they begin to fade.
Dicliptera suberecta and Ruellia macrantha are related species that are slowly making their way into local nurseries. Dicliptera is a very compact globular shrub with velvetygray leaves and darkorange flowers. Ruellia sends up multiple shoots with glossy leaves and purple trumpet flowers.
There are several distinctive indoor plants in the Acanthus family. Aphelandra squarrosa has large yellow flowers and leaves with fluorescent white veins. Fittonia, known as the nerve plant, has smaller leaves and finer white veins. Pseuderanthemum has waxy, tricolored leaves, and Hemigraphis, with brown leaves, is known as the chocolate plant.
All the plants mentioned here are easy to propagate. Buy one and you’ll never have to get another. Acanthus mollis produces rhizomes that are easy to divide and distribute throughout the garden. The other plants mentioned have semi-succulent stems; if you cut 4- to 6-inch pieces from the ends of their shoots and stick them in moist sand, they will root in a matter of weeks.
Because of their succulence, plants in this family are magnets for snails and slugs. Give them a minimum of water if you want to avoid these pests.
A number of readers have requested methods for keeping their pet dogs and cats away from prized plants. I can identify with their plight as our family recently acquired a frisky puppy that happily tramples flowers as soon as they are planted. All are invited to write of any proven methods for making pets plant sensitive. One thing I do know: Don’t use bone meal in the garden if dogs are in the vicinity! Dogs gleefully dig where bone meal – a phosphorus- rich soil amendment made from slaughterhouse bones – is buried.