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Carphalea kirondron growing in Darwin
Carphalea kirondron growing in Darwin, Australia. Image courtesy Sean Caddy, Darwin Plant Wholesalers


Carphalea kirondron

Flaming Beauty

Other Common Names: Giant Pentas
Family: Rubiaceae

Although a common reaction to viewing this spectacular flowering shrub has been to eagerly look for somewhere to buy it, Carphalea kirondron has been rare in the Australian marketplace until recently.

Reaching up to 3m in good conditions, the species produces vivid red flower clusters in profusion in the warm months through to early winter in the subtropics. In the humid tropics, it flowers year-round [1]. It's also reported as being an attractive nectar source for butterflies [2].

Superficially, the blooms resemble those of Ixora. Closer inspection will reveal a small white corolla protruding from some of the long-lasting red calyces. Furthermore, the calyx lobes in an individual flower are not equal in size. This trait is quite common in the family Rubiaceae, to which both Carphalea and Ixora belong, but is not as exaggerated in Carphalea as it is in Mussaenda.

Common names include "flaming beauty" and "giant pentas". There are references to white-flowered and dwarf cultivars in online discussions of this plant, but no nurseries offering them could be identified at the time of writing.

The species is native to Madagascar, and was apparently introduced to the Philippines in 1957 [3], possibly by an attendee at a forestry conference held on the island [4]. It was cultivated in several Asian countries by the early 1980s but somehow became incorrectly known there as Rubia ornamentale. It's still being sold under this name or simply as "rubia".

A recent taxonomic revision [5] has renamed the species Paracarphalea kirondron.

Relative scarcity in Australia is attributed to its difficulty of propagation, either by cuttings or seed [6, 7] and of nursery production [8]. These issues have been addressed well enough to now make reasonable numbers commercially available in Australia, albeit at a premium price.

The plant also appears to be somewhat of a temperamental grower in the landscape, in southeast Queensland (subtropics) at least [9, 10, 11]. It does enjoy heat and humidity [8]. Nevertheless, for gardeners in frost-free regions wanting to add some "wow" to their landscapes, a Carphalea could be well worth trying.

[1] Carphalea kirondron, a flaming red beauty! John&Jacq~s Garden, Malaysia
[3] This date has been repeated widely but the original source has not been identified at the time of writing
[4] In Victorias City: Big Floriferous Rubia, Philippines
[6] Non-indigenous Rubiaceae grown in Thailand in Thai Forest Bulletin (Botany) No.31 2003 (PDF)
[7] Carphalea kirondron Baill. Flora Fauna Web, National Parks Board, Singapore
[8] Personal Communication, Sean Caddy, Darwin Plant Wholesalers
[9] The Gardeners Compendium Karana Downs Garden Club, Queensland (PDF)
[10] 2012 Autumn Plant Exhibition Buderim Garden Club, Queensland
[11] Spectacular Carphalea kirondron 'Flaming Beauty' Garden Express Garden Forums, Australia

More Pictures

Click for larger image.

Carphalea Carphalea
Carphalea kirondron. Brisbane, April, 2016

Carphalea  Carphalea
Carphalea kirondron. Note unequal calyx lobes.

Carphalea  Carphalea
A small Carphalea kirondron shrub. Competition from nearby trees and turf would be limiting growth in this situation. Ixora in the background in the image on the right

More Online Information

Return of Carphalea Garden Delights forum
Flaming Beautiful Flowers The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton (archived in Questia)
Carphalea Kirondron aka Flaming Beauty post at Typicalgardener's Blog, Malaysia
Carphalea kirondron Baill. African Plant Database, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève
Carphalea kirondron Flowers in Singapore

Possible Misspellings: Carphelia, Carphalia, Carfalea, Carfalia



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