Thursday, August 20, 2009

One of the greatest pleasures of a life filled with plants is when treasured plants finally bloom. If the plant flowers only once a year, it is an even more special event. Often, the flowering of plants that were acquired as gifts from friends and acquaintances trigger fond memories of times spent with that person. Raphiocarpus petelotii is such a special plant for me.

This plant is, to me, a beauty. It grows to about a foot tall, it's tall succulent stems are topped with an umbrella of deep bronzy purple leaves, with bright wine colored undersides, all covered with bright, long purple hairs. In late summer, into early autumn, the plant flowers, producing dangling butter yellow tubular flowers with striking, bright purple stripes proceding down the throat to the mouth of the flower with two bold, raised dark yellow lines. The flowers are born alone on hanging pedicels the make the flowers seem to "drip" from underneath the dark leaves. All a lovely, and dramatic display to my eye. I delight in the flowering of this plant every year.

It was given to me nearly ten years ago, and with each move, I have carefully transported a cutting along with me, so that my new home would always be graced by this exotic beauty.

The lovely, butter yellow flowers of Raphiocarpus petelotii grace make their
annual appearance!

I find the contrast of the butter yellow tube and the wine-purple stripes set against the foil of the plant's dark leaves a beautiful combination. This is nature at it's best, to me.

The flowers of Raphiocarpus petelotii peek out from among the dark, hairy, red-backed leaves.

Raphiocarpus is a small genus of about 11 species. The name comes from the greek words for "needle" (raphis) and "fruit" (carpus), referring to the plant's long, slender seed capsule. It was formerly included in the genus Didissandra and is closely related to Didissandra and Ridleyandra. Only a couple of species are in cultivation in the US. R. petelotii comes from the Lao Cai Province of Vietnam. It is found in mountainous regions, growing in damp and shady areas among streams and rock crevices. The plant grows about a foot tall, and the stems tend to lose the leaves along their lenght, leaving a dense cluster of leaves at the top of the mature stems. It forms underground smooth rhizomes and produces annual shoots from these rhizomes.
My plant grows well among the low light and cool conditions I give my Petrocosmeas, in my basement, under lights. It likes to stay moist, so I water often, and I grow it sitting on a mat that stays damp constantly, inside a nursery tray on the lowest shelf of my lightstand. I find that it also thrives under raised plastic humidity domes that I also use on my Petrocosmeas. It roots quickly and easily from single leaves put down like African violet leaves to root, or from tip cuttings.
My favorite way to grow Raphiocarpus is outdoors in the summer, in large pots or urns, in a shady location. In this manner, it quickly produces a large "shrub" that has many growths and lots of flowers in late summer. I take cuttings when the weather cools, as this plant is not hardy in my USDA zone 5 garden. These cuttings grow well inside during the winter and I have plenty of plants for potting up and sharing next spring. I makes a great unusual conversation item in the pots on the porch each year and people always want this plant when they see it on the porch. The one caution I would add to growing it outdoors is that slugs can and will devastate a plant in one use slug bate when you pot it up!!!
R. petelotii is a wonderful example of the rare beauties within the Gesneriaceae family. It is sad that this plant is not more widely grown and appreciated, but for me, I am delighted that it made it's way into my home and my heart!