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Three season wonder

This article was first published on 04 Jun 2021.

Pentas lanceolata

Pentas lanceolata

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

Pentas lanceolata provides wonderful colour over many months. Plants flower from early summer, through autumn and well into winter under the protection of the Winter Garden glasshouse.

Native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula it grows as a small sub-shrub or woody perennial, as it does in the Winter Garden east wing, but in cooler climates Pentas are often grown as bedding annuals or as house plants. The stems are topped with clusters of small star-shaped red flowers and there are also pink and white forms available. Introduced as an ornamental and potted plant all over the world Pentas can now be found naturalized throughout the tropics and subtropics.

Pentas like a warm sunny spot in full sun or dappled shade but flower better with plenty of sunlight and prefer a rich organic fertile soil. Older shrubby plants form a thick woody base and will reach a height of up to almost 2 metres but more commonly around 1.2 metres. Plants can easily be pruned back to keep them in the space allocated to them and still produce plenty of flowers. If used as an annual the plants are unlikely to get much higher than 30cm.

Attractive as an ornamental plant, Pentas lanceolata is also very useful for attracting butterflies to the garden as well as a range of pollinators and other insects. Used in traditional African medicines, extracts have shown to have antiviral, antibacterial and healing properties.