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Golden exotic is pretty lethal

This week continues on the trail of plants seen on my recent jolly to warmer places (Fuerteventura) over the Christmas break.

And whilst I recognised a great many of the plants, usually having either grown them as houseplants or seasonal bedding, there were a few that were new to me.

One particularly wonderful plant we walked past at least half a dozen times each day was begging to be ‘named’.

An evergreen shrubby vine-like shrub, bearing the most exotic looking impressively large golden-yellow cup, or should I say goblet, shaped blooms. The night-time fragrance was exquisite (a combination of coconut, vanilla and banana?) obviously trying to attract nocturnal pollinators. Moths? No. The flowers were far too large. Bats, I assumed. There was also something about it that made me think of the Solanaceae family; tomatoes, potatoes and the like.

Good old ‘Google’ found that it goes under the suitably descriptive names of ‘Cups of Gold’ or ‘Golden Chalice Vine’.

A native of Central America, Mexico, Columbia and Venezuela, its botanical name is Solandra maxima.

Apparently an extract from this plant is used for its hallucinogenic effects in ceremonies of the Huichol people from Mexico, pre-dating the similar use of peyote cactus. And yes, it is of the Solanum family – which includes our own deadly nightshade as well as many other seriously poisonous plants. Such a lethal beauty!

Of course, this would not be hardy in this country. No doubt I could grow it and overwinter it under protection. As I grow older I appreciate plants that grow happily in our climate and do not need the ‘challenge’ of growing exotics. But if I ever move to a house with a large conservatory this is definitely on my list of tender plants to furnish it with!

Another tender plant I have grown before, albeit with winter protection (minimum of about 10C) and one that may be familiar, is the Bougainvillea. Like the Golden Chalice Vine, this woody vine is also native to South America.

The small, white flowers of the bougainvillea are quite insignificant, but each cluster of three flowers is surrounded by vibrantly coloured bracts, leaf-like structures, of purple, pink, magenta red, orange, white or yellow.

The plant is sometimes known as the ‘paper flower’ as these bracts are thin and papery – and although stunningly colourful there is no fragrance at all. Even so, these ‘blossoms’ would be enough to attract pollinating bees who would then find the tubular flowers within – but as most bougainvilleas in cultivation are sterile hybrids they would be propagated by cuttings or layering and not seed, so don’t need pollinating anyway.

Although this is a climbing plant, adorning walls and trellises in warm countries throughout the world, it was also being used as a hedging plant outside our apartment.

But colourful though its blooms may be, it will never attract the range of birds and wildlife that inhabit our large native ‘May’ hedge back here in Manea. It’s good to be home!

• Manea School of Gardening is an RHS Approved Centre with RHS Courses taught at all levels. For more information visit www.maneaschoolofgardening.org or email: msog@btinternet.com

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