The Duranta erecta brings images of precious jewels and delicious snacks to mind, writes Elaine Yim
TODAY I have a low-maintenance, fast-growing ornamental shrub with fabulous flowers and showy fruits. Its blooms are cascading clusters of pretty little purple flowers that look like intricately crafted sapphire jewels. But I think the attention grabber is their golden yellow berries that look like chickpeas — kacang kuda or kacang putih snacks that I love to eat. This is bizarre, but very interesting! I mean how often can you get a plant that reminds you of precious jewels and a delicious snack?
THE ATTRACTIVE FEATURES
• It attracts many types of butterflies, birds, wasps, carpenter bees and honey bees.
• It flowers continuously.
• Flowers have a mild vanilla fragrance.
• Scientific name: Duranta erecta.
• Synonym: D. repens, D. plumieri, D. ellisia.
• Common names: Golden Dewdrop, Honey Drops, Pigeon Berry, Skyflower.
• Family: Verbenaceae.
• Origin: Tropical America.
• Category: Ever-flowering scrambling shrub.
The genus “Duranta” is named in honour of Castor Durantes, an Italian botanist from the 16th Century while the species “erecta” is a Latin word meaning upright.
Duranta erecta is native to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean. It grows like a weed in Australia, South Africa and China. It is regarded as invasive in Hawaii, Fiji and French Polynesia.
The cultivars have fascinating names
• Sapphire Showers, Sweet Memories and Geisha Girl with violet-blue flowers, white centre and white edges.
• Alba with snow-white flowers.
• Variegated Dwarf and Gold Edge with variegated leaves.
• Sky Blue with light blue flowers.
• Royal Blue with dark blue flowers.
The Duranta erecta is a fast-growing, spreading and sometimes weeping evergreen shrub that can be trained into a small tree. It can reach a height of three to six metres with a spread just as wide. It used to be a thorny scrambler.
Mature plants have thorns on the stems while young plants are thornless. Nowadays, many cultivars are without thorns.
The oval-shaped leaves have a glossy appearance and are light green in colour. Foliage is dense.
The flowers are borne on pendent inflorescences. Bloom colour may be sky blue, purple or white. They exude a mild chocolaty vanilla fragrance. The flowers develop into drooping chains of golden yellow berries which are the star attraction of this plant. Each berry is fleshy and contains several seeds.
HOW TO GROW
• On the ground or in a container.
• As a small informal hedge.
• As an ornamental bush.
• As a container houseplant.
• Mass planting near a fence or wall.
• As a border plant.
1. Propagation: From seeds or semi-hardwood cuttings. Remove the flesh before you store away the seeds. The best time to take cuttings is when you are pruning your plant. Cut the stems into 12 centimetres lengths and place them in a potting mix. Water and place under the shade.
2. Sunlight: Grow outdoors under the full sun where it blooms best. It can tolerate some light shade.
3. Soil: The medium should be moist but well drained. Use equal parts of black soil and sand.
4. Water: Water regularly and moderately. Do not let the soil become soggy or dry out.
5. Fertilise: Apply a well-balanced fertiliser every two to three weeks.
6. Pruning: Prune regularly to maintain the plant at desired height and shape. Duranta is a hardy plant that can tolerate some hard pruning. Prune close to the main stems for a low and compact bush. As the flowers are produced at the ends of new shoots, pruning back the stems will encourage new shoots resulting in more flowers. It takes some time for the flowers to develop into clusters of golden berries and by then, the stems would have become long and straggly.
It is recommended that you trim off some stems to encourage new shoots and flowers, but at the same time, leave some stems untouched to allow them to grow unchecked for the berries to form. If you can do it well, you will be rewarded with cascading branches of flowers and golden berries simultaneously appearing at the same time.
7. Pest and diseases: It is generally free of pests and diseases.
All parts of the plant are poisonous when consumed, hence should be kept away from children and pets, such as dogs and cats. However, birds are able to eat the berries without harm to them.
If your duranta attracts a lot of
honey bees and big carpenter bees, you may want to prune it in the late evening after the bees have returned to their hives.