Plant Profile: Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia – Stunning xeric subshrub


Sphaeralcea species occasionally pop up in seed and plant offerings of various nurseries and seed-merchants. Usually the species on offer is the striking Sphaeralcea coccinea – a pretty plant for a sheltered rockery, with a low-growing habit. Of that species perhaps 50% of the seedlings will thrive in colder, wetter climates – the rest will struggle or perish.

Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia is unfortunately no easier to grow, but has a striking subshrub growing habit, which means the plants form spectactular flowering stems up to 1.5m tall.  Some of the plants will do very well and show considerable frost tolerance, whereas others will faint whenever the temperatures or moisture level are anything other than ideal. These are a boudoir plant – not glamorous – just prone to sulking.

Ok, I take that back – they are glamorous. Real diva plants, but well-worth it if you are lucky to get a strong one. I grew a large batch of these a few years ago and some of them were truly exceptional. These are perennial, but tend on the short-lived. Many end up being biennial by flowering themselves into oblivion.

What I never expected was the fragrance which I never expected – a strong sweet honey-like perfume which is really hard to describe. I had these in a greenhouse at the time and it was something special.

These all need sharp drainage, and the long roots tend to seek out moisture from deep sources. Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia is one of those plants that is very hard to grow in an artificial environment – they don’t like being transplanted, and their requirement for sandy/well drained soil with deep sources of moisture is hard to replicate. I found that these can do very well in otherwise tricky environments when grown from broadcast seed. Like many of the desert Penstemon varieties, these can thrive when sown directly to a gravel driveway where they benefit from both the drainage and the inherent microclimate of being placed near a house (or other building).

Try this one yourself – but be aware the seed like to germinate sporadically over several months!

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