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Mussaenda spp. L. 1753
pronounced: mew-say-END-uh species
(Rubiaceae — the gardenia family)
common name: Bangkok Rose
These evergreen shrubs are apparently from west tropical Africa and across the Indian Ocean to the Philippines, where they are very popular, and where most of our garden varieties have been developed. They grow from a couple of metres in height up to about 7 m, depending on variety and cultivar. The opposite leaves are about 21 by 5 cm, with hairs present on both surfaces.
In most flowers, the petals are the showy component, while the sepals (which form the calyx) are usually green, and relatively inconspicuous in the open flower. The opposite is the case with Mussaenda, where the petal section of the flower is tiny, only about 2 cm in diameter, and the showy part is the enlarged sepals. Each flower has a minimum of 5 sepals, at least one of which is greatly enlarged and coloured, usually in the white to apricot range; in some cultivars all the sepals may be enlarged.
The flowers are in terminal clusters. Each flower is composed of a small corolla (creamish white or various shades of yellow and orange) that is 5-lobed and infundibuliform. Some of the flowers have high anthers and low styles and others have high styles and low anthers. This strategy (called heterostyly) ensures that flowers are cross-pollinated, when pollen is transferred from high anther flowers to high style flowers. The fruits are black berries.
I think the shrub with white flowers is Mussaenda philippica ‘Aurorae’, and I think the one with the pink flowers might be Mussænda erythropylla 'Doña Luz', but I am not certain of either of these identifications.
One common mistake about Mussaenda should be mentioned. A very large number of gardening books and websites refer to the showy ‘bracts’. This is incorrect. Bracts are leaf parts (as in Poinsettia), not flower parts, and with Mussaenda they are definitely sepals, flower parts.
These plants usually prefer almost full sun, except for some of the white varieties, which seem to like some shade. Many varieties and cultivars need pruning after flowering, to prevent them from becoming leggy. The more branching that can be encouraged the better, as more blooms will result.
In some parts of tropical Africa the fruits of Mussaenda are consumed as famine food. The root of Mussaenda erythrophylla is chewed in Africa as an appetite stimulant. The bark and leaves of Mussaenda are used medicinally in Samoan and Fijian culture.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009
Page last updated 28th January 2018