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Congea tomentosa Roxb. 1820
pronounced: KON-jee-uh toh-men-TOH-suh
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
common names: Woolly Congea, Shower Orchid, Shower of Orchids
Congea is the Latinized form of an East Indian name for the plant; tomentosa is from the Latin tomentum, a stuffing for cushions, of wool, hair, feather, straw, etc., and –osus, meaning ‘full of’; in botanical Latin, fully covered with hair. This is a very fuzzy plant – fuzzy stems, fuzzy leaves, fuzzy flower bracts. It can be grown as a trailing or climbing vine up to 6 m long, or pruned as a shrub. It is a very spectacular plant, as can be seen in the photographs taken in a Magnetic Street garden in Picnic Bay. It is a native of Myanmar and Thailand, in mixed forests 600 – 1200 m above sea level. It has become naturalized in many places, including the Caribbean Islands, the Hawaiian Islands, southern Florida and southern California.
Branchlets are densely yellowish tomentose when young, becoming greyish. The light green leaves are elliptic, broadly elliptic or ovate, opposite, papery, 15 – 20 cm long, prominently veined, abaxially densely pilose, adaxially densely pilose when young but becoming sparsely pilose to sub-glabrous, the base rounded to sub-cordate, the margin entire, the apex acuminate to acute.
The white with lilac tubular flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, the stamens long exserted, the ovary glabrous, the style exserted. They are borne in the centre of 3 (occasionally 4) showy white petal-like velvety bracts, each about 2.5 cm long, oblong, obovate-oblong or broadly elliptic. The bracts change from pink to lavender and finally to grey as they mature. The plant blooms in late winter to spring with such a performance that the foliage can hardly be seen. Despite the common names, it is, of course, not an orchid.
Propagation is from semi-ripe tip cuttings in summer, or from seed, with bottom heat for both. Whole branches with their flowering clusters are very useful in flower arrangements.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2014
Page last updated 1st November 2016