GGW Plant Pick of The Month- Tibouchina

– Posted in: Garden Plants

I’m leaving for California in a few days to visit some very dear friends. This is an annual visit and sometimes I am able to make it twice a year. It is great to ‘get away’ and connect with friends. There is nothing better than engaging conversations over great food and wine.

For me, the added bonus when traveling is the exposure to local flora. On this trip I’ll be returning to Flora Grubb Gardens, and checking out Annie’s Annuals and Berkeley Horticultural Nursery.

On one of my earlier visits to San Francisco I noticed a lovely small ornamental tree that I have since incorporated into my seasonal displays. Princess-flower (Tibouchina) is the GGW Plant Pick of The Month.

Princess flower (Tibouchina) with Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and Picea pungens 'Glauca Globsa'.

Princess flower (Tibouchina) with Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa'

Tibouchina (pronounced tib-boo-KYE-nuh) is a genus of some 350 plants in the family Melastomataceae. They are native to the rainforests of Mexico, the West Indies and South America.Princess-flowers are prized for their large (saturated) purple blooms and velvety evergreen foliage with reddish venation. They bloom throughout the year with heaviest blooming in the summer. In general, plants in this genus prefer rich soil, high light with some relief from the afternoon sun (during the peak of summer) and moist but not soggy conditions.

I have grown Tibouchina urvilleana (image above) as an annual in my central Illinois gardens and as a small patio standard. By season’s end, the plants are 2-3′ high (in the appropriate zone, T. urvilleana is a large shrub or small tree, reaching 10-15′ high). I have found that plants benefit from a monthly feeding of water soluble acid fertilizer. This particular species is hardy in USDA zones 8-12. It is my understanding that freezing temperatures in zone 8 will cause complete die-back but plants typically re-sprout from the base with the return of warm weather. So far, I have not tried to over-winter the plants in the house.

I am excited to try Tibouchina heteromala ‘Purple Glory Bush’ next season. Notice the 18″ flower stalks.

tibouchina_heteromala

Tibouchina heteromala (Image courtesy Annie's Annuals)

Be advised that all species of Tibouchina are considered noxious weeds in Hawaii because of their potential to be invasive.

If this is your first time visiting GGW Plant Pick of The Month and you’d like to participate, here is how it works. Simply post your comments below and a link to your own site, where you’ve posted photos of Tibouchina and comments about your experiences working with the plant. Notes regarding successful planting combinations are especially welcome!

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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joco December 21, 2009, 7:28 am

Hello Adam,
I’ve only just noticed the PPotM category.
This genus looks precious, but not for us in the UK I presume. Still, if the garden centres over here offer it one of these days, I will try one in the greenhouse.The colour is beautiful and the fact that it is considered a noxious weed is encouraging, as that is about the only thing that withstands the pests in my garden at the moment. I will of course first have to paint our house blue and the window frames lime green :-)
Thanks for the introduction to a plant that is totally outside my experience.

Hi Joco. I am glad you are enjoying the Plant Pick of The Month column and Tibouchina. I don’t know about availability in the UK. If available, perhaps you could try growing it as a house plant.

AW

Nell Jean December 21, 2009, 9:29 am

Tibouchina joined my garden this summer. It is possible that it would survive in this climate, planted in the ground. I chose to keep it potted and bring it inside. When temperatures dropped, it stopped blooming but healthy foliage persists. It lets one know when it is thirsty by wilting, which I try to prevent by watering in time.

Tibouchina

Thanks for your comments and the great photos! The irrigation system provided plenty of water for my Tibouchina in the garden. Good to hear of your experience with wilt.

AW

donna December 21, 2009, 12:23 pm

My princess flower was gorgeous until we had our severe freeze in SoCal a couple years ago. It has never really recovered from that…

As I mentioned, I have to treat Tibouchina as an annual in central Illinois. They are worth replanting every year! Sorry to hear about your set-back in a zone where they should be hardy.

Adam

Michelle D. December 21, 2009, 10:01 pm

Adam

I’m afraid that you might be a little disappointed in viewing Tibouchinas in the S.F. Bay area. Two weeks ago we were hit by a terrible freeze and many gardens lost their Tibs even in some of the more temperate coastal areas of San Francisco. T. heteromala is a tad bit more tender than the regular T. urvilleana and those really took a hit. Just this week I was finishing up on a residential design job and had a really challenging time finding Tibs that did not freeze back in nurseries. Ended up bringing some up from Santa Barbara.
Enjoy your bay area garden trip.

Hi Michelle. Thanks for your comments. I arrived in California last week and have really enjoyed my time here (I wrote the post before leaving town). I noticed several Tibouchinas blooming over in Oakland and came across one T. heteromala at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery this afternoon. Perhaps SFO was hit harder than the East Bay. Do you have any suggestions for your readers concerning planting companions for Tibouchina?

Adam

Glad that you have come acquainted with one California’s favorite landscaping plants, Tibouchina. I like pairing this tall vase shaped open shrub with the spiky yellow strap foliage of Phormium Yellow wave. It also looks great with a variety of large leaf succulents surrounding its base, such as Agave attenuatta. Here’s a steep hillside garden that I planted a while ago using Tibouchinia, Brugmansia, ferns, cannas, and phormiums (image).

Happy Holidays.

healingmagichands December 24, 2009, 11:19 am

I have avoided Tibouchina in the past because I tend to apply my rare and precious plant money to things that are hardy and will come back year after year. I do have some pet plants that move into the house for the winter, but space and light are limited here. This darned house has almost no usable windows, so all my plants have to winter over under lights. Very challenging.

However, this post is so inspirational that when I am looking for a few annuals to fill in the blanks, I will certainly consider this species. I absolutely love the colors, but I probably won’t repaint the house to set it off. . . har-de-har-har.

I am really enjoying these plant of the month posts as they are giving me Ideas.

Thanks for sharing! I am pleased to hear you are enjoying the Plant Pick of The Month selections. I am trying to introduce under-used varieties and suggest new planting combinations each month. Happy Holidays!

AW