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Ourisia Coccinea - Hardy Perennial

Author: John Wood

Ourisia Coccinea - Hardy Perennials and Old Fashioned Flowers

Ourisia Coccinea Described.

Ourisia Coccinea - Nat. Ord. Scrophulariaceæ.

A hardy herbaceous perennial from South America, as yet rarely seen in English gardens, and more seldom in good form. As may be judged by the illustration, it is a charming plant, but it has beauties which cannot be there depicted; its deep green and shining leaves constitute wavy masses of foliage, most pleasing to see, and the short-stemmed, lax clusters of dazzling scarlet flowers are thereby set off to great advantage. I have no fear of overpraising this plant, as one cannot well do that. I will, however, add that it is a decorative subject of the highest order, without a single coarse feature about it; seldom is it seen without a few solitary sprays of flowers, and it is never met with in a seedy or flabby state of foliage, but it remains plump throughout the autumn, when it sometimes shows a disposition to indulge in "autumnal tints." Though seldom encountered, this lovely plant is well known, as it is pretty sure to be, from notes made of it and published with other garden news; but it has the reputation of being a fickle plant, difficult to grow, and a shy bloomer. I trust this statement will not deter a single reader from introducing it into his garden; if I had found it manageable only with an unreasonable amount of care, I would not have introduced it here. It certainly requires special treatment, but all the conditions are so simple and practicable, in even the smallest garden, that it cannot be fairly termed difficult, as we shall shortly see.

The flowers are 1½in. long, in form intermediate between the pentstemon and snapdragon, but in size smaller, and the colour an unmixed deep scarlet: they are produced on stems 9in. high, round, hairy, and furnished with a pair of very small stem-clasping leaves, and where the panicle of flowers begins there is a small bract, and less perfectly developed ones are at every joint, whence spring the wiry flower stalks in fours, threes, and twos, of various lengths and a ruddy colour. The panicles are lax and bending; the flowers, too, are pendent; calyx, five-parted and sharply toothed; stamens, four, and long as petals; anthers, large and cream coloured, style long and protruding. The leaves are radical, and have long, hairy, bending stalks; the main ribs are also hairy; beneath, they are of a deep green colour, bald, shining, veined and wrinkled; their form is somewhat heart-shaped, sometimes oval, lobed, but not deeply, and unevenly notched; they grow in dense masses to the height of 6in.

It is said to like a peaty soil, in which I have never tried it. In the management of this plant I have found position to be the main desideratum; the soil may be almost anything if it is kept moist and sweet by good drainage, but Ourisia coccinea will not endure exposure to hot sunshine; even if the soil is moist it will suffer. I have large patches of it, 3ft. in diameter, growing in a mixture of clay and ashes, formed into a bank 18in. high, sloping north and screened by a hedge nearly 6ft. high from the midday sun, and shaded by overhanging trees; and I may also add that during the three years my specimens have occupied this shady, moist, but well drained position they have grown and flowered freely, always best in the deepest shade. As before hinted, there is a sort of special treatment required by this plant, but it is, after all, very simple. It is a slow surface creeper, should be planted freely in frequented parts of the garden, if the needful conditions exist, and no more beautiful surfacing can be recommended; grown in such quantities it will be available for cutting purposes. As a cut flower it is remarkably distinct and fine; it so outshines most other flowers that it must either have well selected company or be used with only a few ferns or grasses.

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Ourisia Coccinea

It is readily increased by division of the creeping roots, which is best done in early spring. If such divisions are made in the autumn, according to my experience, the roots rot; they should therefore be taken off either in summer, when there is still time for the young stock to make roots, or be left in the parent clump until spring, when they will start into growth at once.

Flowering period, May to September.

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