Although this year spring is not quite willing to install itself in many parts of Europe and winter seems not to loose its grip, we all are already thinking about our summer plantings and can't wait to assault the local nurseries, planting schemes at hand, in search for the new plants.
Well, if you like me, are not into pot geraniums and plain daisies there is a plant worth knowing : the Lotus Berthelotii, also known as Coral Gem, Parrot's Beak, Cat Claw and Pigeon Beak.... In spite of all this animal related names, the Lotus B. ( no relationship whatsoever with the Nelumbo - water Lotus) is a very interesting plant originate from the Canary Islands, Tenerife and Cabo Verde.
A member of the Fabaceae Family, the Lotus is not fully hardy and stays green only in mild Mediterranean areas. In colder climates it is grown as an annual. It has a trailing growing habit and if it pleases itself in a spot, it can grow to impressive dimensions.
Parrot's beak is a trailing tender perennial or warm weather annual vine that grows to 8" tall but spreads to 2-3' wide or more. Where not winter hardy, it is grown as an annual in containers or hanging baskets. It features soft silver-gray leaves and sharply-contrasting, pea-like, crimson flowers. Leaves are divided into needle-like leaflets (each to 1" long) that are spaced along the stems in attractive whorls (3-7 leaflets per whorl). Stems will spread to 2-3' long or more.
Its claw like flowers come in two colourings a orange yellow or deep velvety red ( which I prefer). Foliage is very light, a nice glaucous and mate blue grey. This was actually the main reason I bought it a couple of years ago. I came across a tiny plant which looked not very impressive at all. But since I was looking for a silvery leaved plant - I decided to give it a try. And boy, what a surprise!
Tiny and frail it seemed at the beginning, but once comfortably installed in a generous pot at the feet of a very young bougainvillea, my Lotus took it very serious and in one season covered the entire container, draping itself graciously over the borders. Mind you this was only one plant!
The grayish leaves were pretty on their own but quite early in the season it covered itself entirely with blooms! It went on blooming for month to end, demanding not more than a sunny spot and generous watering - but this was quite acceptable since it was performing in a pot.
All I can say is that my Lotus was a very hard working plant, easy to live and healthy as a fish. No bugs, no fungus, nothing to be bothered with.
When it eventully started to sprawl on the terrace floor, I gave it a nice trim and it all started again.
So I did after the first winter, when it started to look a bit raggy, but the lotus does not seem to mind the scissors either.
I kept my first lotus for three years, after that it started to battle with the Bougainvilea for living space...
Full sun, well drained soil ( the Lotus dreads heavy, soggy soil in wich case it my rot), moderate watering ( remember it grows on the Canary Islands) and an occasional organic fertiliser will perfectly do the game.
It is a great and unfuzzy plant for covering ugly walls or balcony borders and is an interesting solution as an original ground cover.