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Plant of the Week

December 26, 1987|ROBERT SMAUS

Reinwardtia indica

Yellow flax

Shrubby perennial to 3 feet

Please don't write and ask where you can buy this plant, because we frankly have no idea. But this is too good a perennial not to mention, and perhaps this mention will spur some nursery grower into producing it or will turn up someone who already is. If we find a source, we will mention it in a future issue.

This plant is commonly called yellow flax, though it is not related in any way to the flax used to make fibers for fabrics and linseed oil (that is an annual named Linum usitatissimum). It does have similar flowers--five petals in a trumpet shape.

The flowers are a spectacular sunny yellow, all the sunnier because they bloom in the depths of winter, typically in December and January. They bloom the lengths of the stems, which are about three feet long, so for two months this plant is a blaze of yellow.

Though it looks like a bush, this is a perennial, and it should be cut back every year--almost to the ground--after it flowers. If it isn't cut back, the leaves will wither and may develop black streaks, which are apparently a virus that soon spreads into the stems and can kill the plant. If you cut it back in March, this won't happen and new growth will sprout in the summer and bloom the following winter.

Because it must be cut back, it should be planted behind something that looks its best in summer and is dormant or cut back in winter. It needs a space, in full sun, about three feet wide, although it will spread very slowly and, in time, can grow to be a clump about five feet wide.

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