Fun Plants, Funky Names

Iresines caught my eye when I was a teenager. I’d look in through the cooling fans of the Floriculture Department greenhouses at Texas A&M at all the cool plants Prof. deWerth had growing in there. He didn’t exactly welcome high school kids into his greenhouse (“Harumph”), so that was the best view I could get.

Click image for larger view.
Old-fashioned Bloodleaf and Chicken gizzard Iresines. Click image for larger view.

I noticed one night that they’d thrown out a bunch of their research plants. I guess the studies were over. There the bloodleafs and chicken gizzards were in the cans in front of me. I confess that I took a few home and I grew them, and that was the beginning of a lifelong love for these unusual plants. They never took the place of my beloved coleus collected in the same manner, but I still have them in our shade garden every summer.

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Jump ahead to this year…
A greenhouse grower friend asked last week if I’d like to have a couple of flats he had left over – a new selection from a major national grower, a yellow and green type called ‘Blazin’ Lime’ chicken gizzard Iresine.

I’ve already decided that’s too much name for any little plant. We have to call it ‘Blazin’ Lime’ because some plant breeder worked hard to develop it. And it’s in the genus Iresine. So we’ll use those names, but “chicken gizzard” will get pulled and saved for the old, less vigorous original with the more rounded leaves.

Blazin’ Lime Iresine, a new selection being tried in select gardens in 2023.

All of these plants trace their roots (and their leaves … and their gizzards) back to their native tropical homes in Brazil. They’re becoming more popular here. You’ll see several selections of the red-leafed types in Texas nurseries, and more will probably be coming along.

• Grow them in mostly shade. If they get any sun it needs to be prior to 9 or 9:30 in the morning.

• I’ve found them to be great in small beds where you want dramatic splashes of color near steps or along walks.

• I especially like to use them in 14- to 20-inch pots, 3 or 5 plants per pot. Some years, however, I can only find one or two plants, so I’ll pot them up individually into 10-inch pots. I can love them any way I grow them.

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• Give them loose, highly organic potting soil, and fertilize them with a high-nitrogen, water-soluble plant food every week or two all season long.

• Pinch their growing tips frequently if you have a strong-growing variety. Usually, I don’t have to do much of that with the standard bloodleafs and chicken gizzards, but somehow I think Blazin’ Lime is going to keep my pinching fingers busy this summer.

My grower friend produced these on special order. He warned me that they won’t be in garden centers this year, so I’ve just given you a headstart look on what may be coming. But as for the other Iresines, have at ‘em. They’re fun plants you ought to try.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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