SPARMANNIA AFRICANA (African hemp)

7 deg C/45 deg F

This South African plant is easy to raise from seed sown in spring, but may not flower until the second year. In pots it usually grows to about 90cm (3ft) in height by the second year, and often it is more convenient to discard old plants that become too tall, and start afresh. The foliage is large and heart-shaped and of little special interest compared with other houseplants. The flowers, however, are rather unusual. They form umbels in May and June, and are white with a structure similar to St. John’s wort. The central cluster of stamens is prominent and conspicuous and if gently touched spring outwards and back in a surprising manner. The plants grow very vigorously in the modern potting composts and need a fairly large pot. They should be given a bright position and kept nicely moist in

summer. In cool conditions in winter they may drop foliage, but they can usually be cut back and will send up new growth in spring. Some people prefer to use these new shoots for cuttings if facilities are available to root them. Plants so raised will usually flower the same year and make neat specimens. Sparmannias prefer less humidity than many other houseplants during summer and should be placed where ventilation is good. During winter keep the pots on the dry side, especially if conditions are cool. If given conservatory space and planted in a large pot or small tub. the plant can reach an appreciable size, often exceeding 3m (10ft) if there is enough height. and spreading out too. The somewhat hairy foliage and the white flowers with purple-tipped stamens can then look quite attractive. The leaves have also suggested the common name house lime. Pests and diseases are rarely troublesome, which helps to make this a very reliable plant.

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