Wonga Wonga

wonga wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana)bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides)It happens when you least expect it: an encounter with a plant you have never seen before.
To a plant lover, unfamiliar species are never just faces in a crowd. Each has its own distinctive identity, habitat, and history. Each has properties both known and unknown, with the potential, perhaps, to cure diabetes, cancer and other diseases.
Economic botany focuses on the commercial uses of plants, whether for food, clothing, shelter, or medicine. Ethnobotany encompasses economic botany but adds a cultural dimension, including spiritual practices associated with plants.
Take the wonga wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana), which I happened upon when driving down Sylvan Street, just west of Whitsett Avenue in North Hollywood. In front of a modest house, I see a mass of tubular, trumpet-like flowers with scalloped flares. Its leaves remind me of those on weeping fig (Ficus benjamina). I learn that wonga wonga vine is a cousin of the more commonly seen bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides), whose flowers are either pale pink or white. I have never had much luck with bower vine. It seems that it either gets too much sun, in which case it burns, or too much shade, in which case it barely flowers. But wonga wonga vine has a more robust look, and I learn that it has a reputation for toughness.
Wonga wonga vine, according to some reports, has the drought tolerance of bougainvillea. It is a bit more cold sensitive than bougainvillea but should have no problem making it through a typical Valley winter. It is native to a wide coastal strip that circumnavigates the continent of Australia.
Wonga wonga vine is also known as lance wood or spear wood and is used for making woomeras, spear-launching devices that have been employed by Australian aborigines for 5,000 years. Its botanical name, Pandorea, alludes to its seeds, whose box-like shape resembles the box of Pandora, a mythological figure who supposedly brought all manner of evil, including death — like the woomera killing apparatus — to humanity.
The wonga wonga in North Hollywood is being grown as a hedge, and I doubt that its wood will be turned into woomeras. In Australia, a 2-foot handheld woomera is crafted primarily to catapult spears but has other uses, too, and serves as a primitive sort of Swiss Army Knife. Its hollowed out portion can hold moisture-laden plants, whose water is sucked out as refreshment on a hot day, and other food items. A sharpened stone, at the tip of the woomera, serves as a cutting tool for slicing up food, wild game and wood for kindling. Finally, woomeras may be used as shields against boomerangs and other projectiles.
A noteworthy birthday floral bouquet
On her birthday, my wife received several gifts that included notable floral fare. A bouquet of roses was accented with a type of sea lavender or statice that is seldom found in nurseries, even though it is relatively easy to grow. Florist’s statice (Limonium platyphyllum)produces delicate sprays of papery bluish lavender flowers that can last for months in dry arrangements. As a garden perennial, it may persist for years. Gardeners are more familiar with common sea lavender (Limonium perezii), which possesses larger inflorescences and cabbage leaves. Sea lavenders are durable, water-thrifty plants. Indigenous to the Canary Islands, sea lavenders are halophytes, or salt-tolerant plants, and they have naturalized all along the California coast, sprouting up as volunteers on bluffs overlooking the ocean.
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata)is a staple of the floral trade, and I am curious as to why it has not found its way into our gardens. It would grow fine as a full-sun perennial under average Valley growing conditions, albeit requiring more water than drought-tolerant selections. I have only seen baby’s breath available in seed packets and never as a containerized plant, but perhaps some enterprising nursery will consider growing it. Who wouldn’t want baby’s breath in their garden? They are botanical kin to the Dianthus genus, which includes sweet Williams, Chinese pinks and carnations.
Most gardeners are familiar with white calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica), but fewer may have seen golden calla (Zantedeschia elliottiana). The reason for this is that golden calla, in the manner of other colorful cannas, grow from tender rhizomes that rot if left in the ground after spathes, their colorful and curvaceous, modified leaves that are mistaken for flowers, and foliage disappear. To remedy this problem, lift rhizomes after leaves die back and store them in a cool, dry storage shed or garage until next February. Then you can replant them and enjoy another season of color.
Classic white Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), planted in the garden, should rebloom for several years, at least. Again, to ensure longevity, lift bulbs after leaves disappear and store until late winter when they can be planted out in the garden once again.

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