A bright sunny greenhouse or conservatory position, preferably with a warm wall, is best for this gorgeous twining evergreen climber, for Araujia sericofera, the Cruel Plant, sulks in shade. I have seen it well grown in a generous hanging basket, which helped control it’s vigour as well as keeping it high up in the brightest light. For when this is happy it flowers prolifically for week after week from mid summer on into late autumn. And what a profusion of fragrantly perfumed, chalice shaped blooms it carries. Each so elegant in creamy white, and in some varieties with each petal delicately traced with carmine.
The foliage itself is clean with large tapered nicely shaped leaves of light green and so this looks good even out of flower. Indeed it makes an attractive pillar grown up a half dozen stout canes from out of a large tub. You could plant it in the border in a larger greenhouse with enough space to let it expand, or it can be pruned to keep it smaller but be careful as the white sap may cause a reaction.
As an added bonus from autumn through till the following spring this plant carries huge seed pods, pear shaped and ribbed these are an unusual attraction and later burst to reveal the mass of silky floss and seeds within. These can be opened and put outdoors from late winter to usefully provide the fluffy stuff for birds building nests. Which is a good idea as left to burst on the plant they can blow about and mess up your whole greenhouse!
It is unlikely the seeds will grow outdoors as this plant is too tender for all but the most favoured spots though I had a couple survive though a few mild winters. Not picky as to compost and seldom prone to pests or disease this is an easy plant to grow from seed flowering in the second or third years. Indeed in warmer places such as the Mediterranean this does become a ‘weed’ however even with climate warming there is little danger of it establishing here.
Remarkably little known it is originally from South America and although introduced as long ago as 1830 it was not until 1975 it was recognised with an Award of Merit by the RHS. So you can have something choice and really quite rare- and fascinatingly educational as well, particularly to boys. For in the mornings the plant can be ‘decorated’ with fluttering moths and butterflies, each held captive by their proboscis tongues until they are released usually before noon (all for more effective pollination). This is why it has been so aptly named the Cruel Plant. Umm, perhaps that’s why it’s never become more popular?
*Araujia Sericifera – Photo by Ettore Balocchi via Wikimedia Commons