Plumbaginaceae is a genus of flowering plants that are native to South Africa. The species is commonly known as the plumbago plant, though today we’re going to be covering plumbago auriculata, or more commonly, blue plumbago, Cape plumbago, cape leadwort, or sky flower.
Blue plumbago is a climbing evergreen shrub. They can be trained to grow like a sprawling vine, or if kept as ground cover they will exhibit more of a mounding shrub habit. They grow happily all year long in very warm climates, and can be equally as happy inside in colder climates as a container plant.
This plant gets its scientific name auriculata from the latin term for “with ears”, which is in reference to the shape of the leaves that are shaped like ears, though others argue that they look like spoons.
Certain plants have relaxed growing conditions, whereas other plants are a little more uptight. In the case of plumbago, this is a plant that is a little more uptight. If you don’t like in a region that has a similar climate to South Africa, then perhaps head over to our list of Amazing Flowering Plants from all over the world. There you will surely find the exact type of plant to match your lifestyle and climate!
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What does Blue Plumbago Look Like?
Blue plumbago flowers are borne at the ends of slender stems. Each flower is comprised of 5 petals that are a broad ovular shape. Flowers emerge in terminal racemes inflorescences in the early spring and bloom throughout the summer in colder regions. When these plants growing in warm climates, flowers can stay in bloom nearly all year long!
Petals are around 2 cm wide and are either pale blue or violet, hence the common name “sky flower”. Certain varieties are slightly different colors. Plumbago auriculata var. alba bears white flowers, whereas plumbago auriculata var. ‘Royal Cape’ bears deep blue flowers.
A plumbago flower is both perfect and complete, meaning that is possesses both male reproductive characteristics and female reproductive characteristics.
The plumbago plant can exhibit both a vine climbing habit and a ground cover shrub habit. Either way that they grow, the certainly need a lot of room!
They are a fast growing plant that can reach up to 6 metres in height and 3 metres wide when growing wild. Cultivated houseplants tend to grow less quickly and less wide spreading. Stems are very slender and long that tend to climb, whereas arching outer stems fall all over each other produce a shrub-like mass.
Plumbago leaves are about 2 inches in length and are borne in the shape of an ear or a spoon. Each leaf is alternately arranged along a stem, and are a glossy green color. Leaves are evergreen, which is a common occurrence for flora of tropical climates.
What are Some Types of Plumbago Plants?
White Cape Leadwort – Plumbago Auriculata var. Alba
The white cape leadwort flower, or white plumbago, is an evergreen sprawling and mounding shrub. This variety produces a white flower on short racemes with 5 lobes and they are trumpet shaped.
Royal Cape Plumbago – Plumbago Auriculata var. Monott
The royal Cape plumbago is a multi stemmed evergreen stem with a very attractive form of arching branches. This is one of the more elegant varieties and is known for producing the darkest shade of blue flower.
Where does Blue Plumbago Grow?
Plumbago plants are native to South Africa, and this should be a quick indicator of where this plant is actually capable of growing naturally. In the United States they can grow in the warmest, driest, and southernmost states of Texas and Florida.
They grow prosperously in USDA growing zones 9 through 11. Though they are capable of existing in USDA growing zones 7 or 8 as well, they tend to exhibit a different growing habit. In zones 9-11 they are evergreen and flowers bloom nearly all year round, whereas in grows 7-8 they must be cut back in the winter when they will go into dormancy, and blooms only last a few months.
How do you Propagate Blue Plumbago?
If you’d like to try your hand at propagating a plumbago plant instead of purchasing a young one from a nursery, this can be done either sexually by seed, or asexually by cutting.
Sowing seeds will result in a genetically different plan, whereas using cuttings will result in a genetically identical specimen, like a clone of the mother plant.
If growing seedlings outside, ensure that a spot that receives full sunlight is chosen, and that the soil has the capability of being well drained.
Seeds should be planted a minimum of a metre apart from one another, as these are fast growing plants that need a lot of space.
If growing seedlings inside, each seedling should have its own pot. The pot should be placed in a south facing window that receives a minimum of 6 hours of sun a day. They will also perform very well inside a greenhouse in more temperate regions.
To ensure proper drainage, place a layer of pebbles at the bottom of the pot before adding your potting mix. Repotting should be done every couple of years as the plumbago plant gets larger.
Propagation can also occur by harvesting cuttings from another plant. Cuttings should be taken in the summertime and placed in a pot of rich potting mix that is mixed with plenty of organic matter and fertilizer.
Choose to take a cutting from a plant that is very healthy looking, and ensure that the cutting has a handful of leaves on it as well. There should not be blooms on the cutting.
The cutting will take root in a handful of weeks, and it can stay in a pot in a sunny window until it is time for it to be planted in the garden in the spring. Ensure that the soil remains very moist during this growth period.
End of Growing Season
If you live in USDA zone 9-11, nothing needs to be done for your plumbago plant at the end of the summer. If you live outside of this range, your plant will not survive the cold winter temperatures.
Living in a very cold region means that the plant needs to be brought inside. This will be done by cutting the plant back and harvesting the rootstock. Place the plant in a pot with rich soil and place in a dark and dry area where the plant can go dormant. Come springtime, it will be ready to be planted back in the earth.
Living in a temperate region means that the plant should be able to survive outside as long as temperatures don’t dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If this is the case, simply cut the plant back and cover the earth with a thick layer of mulch to help insulate the roots of the plant.
What are the Growing Conditions of Blue Plumbago?
Blue plumbago prefers to live in a soil type that is slightly acidic, light, loose, and extremely well drained. Soil can be anywhere from chalk, to loam, to sandy soil. They perform will in moist soil that is rich in organic matter, though they are able to survive in poor soil as well. They aren’t particularly picky about soil.
Plumbago plants have average water level needs. They are a relatively drought tolerant plant, and should be just fine with natural annual precipitation. If there is a particular dry spell, watering regularly will help keep them happy. Young plants have greater water needs than established plants.
This is a sun loving plant, and will perform the absolute best when it receives full sun exposure for a minimum of six hours a day. Though it is able to survive in partial shade, there is a risk of a less productive bloom season.
The most specific growing condition of plumbago plants is the temperature it is able to survive. Though they are able to survive extreme heat without a worry, they are not able to survive frost or winter temperatures. They must be brought indoors if temperatures will drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit regularly.
Plumbago plants respond very well to fertilizer. It is a quick and easy way to extend the bloom life of blue plumbago flowers! A flowering plant fertilizer can be applied every couple of weeks during the spring and summer. Stop applying this flowering plant fertilizer once the plant has completed its bloom season.
When it comes to pruning, not much needs to be done in order to keep the plant healthy. Pruning is more directed towards the preference of the plant owner, and if they’d like it to have a more neat shape, if they would like it to climb, or if they’d like for it to be more of a ground cover plant.
All in all, plumbago plants are wonderfully easy to care for as long as they exist in their natural growing range. They are intolerant to flooding, they are intolerant of full shade, and they are intolerant of frost and winter temperatures.
How is Blue Plumbago Used?
Blue plumbago is a wonderfully ornamental plant. It is the perfect combination of beauty, fast growth, and easy care. Planting a plumbago plant is a wonderful way to brighten up a space that other plants can’t reach!
They are often planted next to stones walls or retaining walls, where they easily climb up the side where their stems cascade like a waterfall of foliage.
They’re also grown as a groundcover plant to help compliment other, taller, showstopper plants, and they can even be used as container plants either indoors or outdoors.
Plumbago plants are very valuable when it comes to the local ecosystem of plant life, insect life, and animal life. They attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds, and moths with their sweet tasting and smelling nectar. Birds often use the dense shrubs as either materials for their nests, are as a way to protect their young when they are first exploring.