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Plant of the Week

August 06, 1988|JUDITH SIMS

Tecomaria capensis

Cape honeysuckle

Evergreen with bright-orange flowers

A tecomaria has to be seen in mature form, spreading casually over a fence, against a wall or down a slope, before it can be truly appreciated. In nurseries, many tecomarias in 1-gallon containers can look like sticks with unpromising potential.

But once those plants take off, a wall or fence will be the better for it. The leaflets are a handsome dark green, resembling dense rose leaves, the sort of background green that makes plants in front of it look good. Although tecomaria's growth habit can be rangy, the leaflets add a delicate contrast.

Tecomaria blooms from October through winter, although isolated clusters open all year long. No matter how long it blooms, it never seems enough; the flowers are an intense dark orange, almost red, with an exotic, orchid-like form. But tecomaria doles them out rather stingily. It is rare to see a tecomaria covered in blooms like a camellia or azalea.

Water and Drainage

Tecomaria needs good drainage and a fair amount of watering when young, but it is tolerant of some drought once established. Still, it is not a desert plant and should receive a good deep watering every week during hot, dry summers. If the plant is heavily mulched, it may be possible to water once every two weeks.

Tecomaria is an excellent choice for coastal gardens, because it sneers at wind and salt air and grows vigorously in the sun. It will even do well in partial shade, but it doesn't seem to flower as well without its full solar quotient.

A variety of tecomaria called 'Aurea' has yellow flowers, but it is smaller and has lighter green leaves. It is better suited to desert gardens as it seems less affected by heat. There is a hybrid species, available from Desert to Jungle Nursery in Montebello, which has yellow-orange, trumpet-shaped flowers, similar in shape to nicotiana blooms.

Tecomaria capensis can be grown from tip cuttings. Many Southern California nurseries stock tecomarias; those that do not can easily order plants for customers.

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