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The Queensland Gardening Pages
Information & resources about plants & gardens for Brisbane & Qld

Mussaenda

Family: Rubiaceae

This shrub is sometimes referred to as "Bangkok Rose". It produces a showy display in shades of white, pink, salmon to red, depending on the variety. While the the bushes are not so attractive in winter (when they can loose their leaves if cold enough)they are a valuable addition to a tropical or subtropical garden for their showy display over an extended period in the warm months.


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Where to buy Mussaendas

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This plant should be readily obtainable in most garden centres in the frost-free parts of Queensland. Look out for it especially in the summer months when it will be in flower.

If you operate a nursery supplying Qld that specialises in mussaendas and sell to the public (including online nurseries) you can advertise here. More information: Advertising on this site

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Top: Enlarged sepals are the showy part of the Mussaenda inflorescence.
Below: Enlarged portion of top photo showing partly-opened petals of one flower

More about the Mussaendas

The mussaendas are a group of highly ornamental shrubs suited to tropical and subtropical climates with a bright future, both as landscape plants and as potted floral decorations.

They're members of the large Rubiaceae family, which also contains Gardenia, Ixora, Pentas and Coffea (coffee).

The most distinctive feature of Mussaenda (and some other genera of the Rubiaceae) is that the floral display is primarily derived from the calyx, with some individual flowers within an inflorescence carrying an enlarged petaloid sepal. Some cultivars have all five sepals enlarged. These are called calycophylls or sometimes semaphylls (that is, a structure which signals a pollinator). In many publications, these are erroneously referred to as bracts.

There are Mussaenda species native to Africa, Madagascar, Asia and the Pacific. Commonly cultivated species include Mussaenda philippica, M. erythrophylla, M. frondosa and Pseudomussaenda flava (also referred to as Mussaenda flava, M. glabra, M. luteola, M. lutea or M. incana in various publications).

University of the Philippines Los Baños has been active over many decades in breeding these ornamentals and is responsible for the popular cultivars 'Queen Sirikit', 'Doña Aurora' and 'Doña Luz'. Many more cultivars have been developed in the Phillipines, although not widely available in Australia.

Many are named after First Ladies and other notable women of the Phillipines, hence the Spanish form of address "Doña" in some cultivar names. 'Queen Skirit' was named after the Queen of Thailand to commemorate a visit to the Phillipines.

Mussaenda can produce seed (in a small fruit), but production is poor and unreliable. Seed is significant for the purposes of hybridising but vegetative methods are used for commercial propagation.

Cuttings can be also be difficult to strike, although this varies among cultivars. Alternative means of propagation include grafting, layering and marcotting. Refinement of methods for mass propagation of the more difficult cultivars (cutting type, growth regulators, incubation conditions, etc) could mean a greater range of cultivars available for purchase in the future.

These soft-wooded shrubs can have some tendency to climb, so depending on pruning they can be kept as shrubs, trained as small tree or allowed to scramble through a nearby tree. They are suitable for full sun or part shade.

The major attractions of mussaendas in the landscape is their extended flowering period. They will loose their leaves and go dormant through the cooler and drier winter, but put on a spectacular display throughout the warm, wet months. If conditions are suitable, they can flower year-round. They have poor drought and cold tolerance.

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'Capricorn Ice' PBR and 'Capricorn Dream' PBR are two Mussaenda cultivars developed by Orams Nurseries in Queensland, Australia

Some species and cultivars have proven to be better performers than others outside of the tropics and local breeding efforts may help improve the popularity of mussaendas in subtopical and warm temperate parts of Australia. Orams Nursery, near Rockhampton on the central Queensland coast, have released two cultivars 'Capricorn Ice' PBR and 'Capricorn Dream' PBR.

In addition to their role in the garden, mussaendas have potential as potted floral gifts. Research in the Phillpines investigating appropriate treatment including growth regulators and selection of suitable hybrids is aimed at developing this market. Given that Mussaendas can bloom year-round in suitable climates, there is presumably no daylength requirement. This gives them a particular advantage over Poinsettia as a floral Christmas decoration in parts of the world where flowering must be artificially induced.

As research and hybridisation work progresses, cultivars with new colours, growth habits, climatic tolerances and amenability to propagation could mean that we'll be seeing more of these these flamboyant shrubs in our lives in the future.

Bibliography and Further Reading:
An extensive list of links to more information about Mussaenda, including publications used in preparation of the article above is based, can be found in the resources section, below.

Acknowledgment:
Thanks to Orams Nurseries for additional information and images of their cultivars.

Bracts or sepals?

The showy part of the Mussaenda flower is composed of enlarged sepals, either white or variously coloured. In a "typical" flower, the petals are the showy component while the sepals (which form the calyx) are usually green and relatively inconspicuous in the open flower.

Sometimes the enlarged sepals of Mussaenda are erroneously referred to as "bracts". Presumably, the confusion arises due to a superficial resemblance to Poinsettia (which belongs to a different family). A bract is a leafy structure which is distinct from the flower proper.

Other Information Resources

Mussaendas for South Florida landscapes Informative factsheet covering several species. University of Florida
Mussaenda Fact Sheet Univ. Florida (PDF)
Mussaenda (group) Missouri Botanical Garden
The Mussaenda Hybrids Agriculture.ph Blog, Phillipines
Flowers fit for a First Lady UPLB Research and Extension News, University of the Philippines Los Baños
Doñas grace Florikultura '98 Gives some background to the origin of the Doña cultivars. University of the Philipines Newsletter Vol. XXII No.1, January 1998
Mussaenda spp and cultivars Photos of several varieties (PDF). Department of Botany. University of Hawai`i at Manoa
The Mussaenda Hybrids Photo News, University of the Philippines Los Baños
Mussaenda philippica James Cook University, Qld
Mussaenda hybrida, Bangkok Rose The Florez Nursery blog, NSW
Admiring the Doñas Agriculture Business Week, Phillipines
Mussaenda philippica 'Aurorae' at John&Jacq~s Garden, Malaysia
Mussaenda frondosa,Ticker-tape bush The Florez Nursery blog, NSW
Mussaenda 'Queen Sirikit' National Tropical Botanical Garden, USA
Mussaenda erythrophylla Flowers of India
Lovely white wings of Mussaenda Luteola at John&Jacq~s Garden, Malaysia
Dwarf Mussaenda Pseudomussaenda flava. Flowers of India
A Selection of Ornamental African Plants Suitable for the Miami-Dade Landscape University of Florida (PDF). Includes some useful notes on Mussaenda
Flowering vines: Meet some clambering shrubs that appreciate our support (Includes Some interesting notes on treating Mussaenda like a climber) University of Florida (PDF)

Propagation

Propagation of Mussaenda by Stem Cuttings University of the Philippines Los Baños
Mass propagating the 'Doñas' through Kulob system BAR Research and Development Digest, October-December 2001 Volume 3 No. 4 (Official Quarterly Publication of the Bureau of Agricultural Research, Phillipines)
Mussaenda blooms year-round (Discusses production of flowering plants in pots during the dormant season) BAR Research and Development Digest, October-December 2003 Volume 5 No. 4 (Official Quarterly Publication of the Bureau of Agricultural Research, Phillipines)
Admiring the Doñas (Some information about seed propagation) Agriculture.ph Blog, Phillipines

More Botany, Taxonomy

GRIN Species Records of Mussaenda Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)
Rubiaceae Some good close-up photographs illustrating floral structure. University of Hawaii Botany Dept
Rubiaceae in Flora of China @ efloras.org

Possible misspellings: Mussayenda, Mussenda, Mussyenda, Mussaender, Mussienda, Musaender
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Mussaenda Queen Sirikit

Mussaenda, probably 'Queen Skirikit'

Brisbane, February 2011
Mussaenda shoots breaking

Mussaenda, June 2012. Old leaves have been lost but already showing signs of new growth.

This specimen also has some scale.

Sunnybank Hills, Brisbane, June 2012
Mussaenda, probably Dona Luz

Mussaenda, probably cultivar 'Doña Luz'

Salisbury, Brisbane, early March 2013

Mussaenda, probably Dona Luz

Detail of plant at left

Salisbury, Brisbane, early March 2013

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