Monday, March 29, 2010

Cymbalaria - A Delightful Discovery

Charming plants often grow in places where you least expect them, like wall crevices or under your feet.  Look carefully and you'll see what I mean.  This is certainly the case with Cymbalaria.  What a delightful discovery it is.

A genus of plants with about 10 species, Cymbalaria is native to southern Europe.  Perhaps you've noticed it while traveling.  It belongs to the Plantaginaceae family, which includes Anthirrinum (snapdragon), Chelone (turtlehead), Digitalis (foxglove), Penstemon (beardtongue), Plantago and such.  All of which have very interesting flower shapes.

Pronounced sim-bul-AR-ee-uh, it means "cymbal-like", referring to the rounded shape of the leaves.  The best known species are Cymbalaria muralis and Cymbalaria aequitrilobaC. muralis (pronounced mur-AH-liss) means "growing on walls."  The other, C. aequitriloba (pronounced ee-kwee-try-LOH-buh) means "with three equal lobes."  Common names within the genus include Pennywort, Kenilworth Ivy, Climbing Sailor, Coliseum Ivy, Ivy-leaf Toad-Flax and Devil's Ribbon.  Plant names, you see, can be very descriptive, yet leave you wanting to know more.

Cymbalaria grows very low, spreads rapidly and forms a dense carpet.  Height, not including flowers, is usually less than 2".  It spreads 8" or more, depending upon the species.  Small flowers, from white, pink to mauve are produced early to mid-summer, though the blooms may appear in other seasons as well.

Obviously, Cymbalaria is suitable as a ground cover, but it also does well in rock gardens, among stone walls, cascading over terraces, and as an under-planting in container gardens.  For those looking for a lawn-substitute, Cymbalaria aequitriloba is perfect; it tolerates foot traffic very well.  It also grows nicely around stepping stones.

Cymbalaria thrives in partial sun to shade, and in well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Drought-tolerance is another of its virtues.  Hardiness varies by species.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 8" to 15" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant Cymbalaria with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Cymbalaria is a low-maintenance plant, having no serious pests or diseases.  The greatest causes of failure are watering too much or planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

Though not well-known, Cymbalaria is a desirable addition to your garden.   Beside the garden path or tucked into stone walls, it will delight you and your garden visitors.

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