A passionate affair of exciting and unusual plants
Story and Photos by Richelle Stafne
I love visiting other people’s gardens to see what they are growing. It’s especially fun when I find new and interesting plants, or plants that I had forgotten. Even in my own garden it brings joy to hear someone say, “Ooh, what’s that plant?” Included here are 15 awesome plants that can be grown in Mississippi (USDA Hardiness Zone 7b-9a) in the ground or in containers.
We love our Mississippi Gulf shrimp, but that’s not the only shrimp you can love. Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) is available in several colors. Depending on variety, they are hardy in Zones 8-11, with some of the less-hardy varieties returning from the roots each spring. In the northern limits of hardiness, try growing this unique plant in a container that can be protected in winter.
Although it may feel like winter, the 4th of July will be on your mind when you include red firecracker plant (Russelia equisetiformis) in your garden. Available in other colors such as creamy yellow and coral, the tubular flowers are welcoming to hummingbirds.
Some like it hot! Double your 4th of July pleasure with large firecracker plant; Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ is hardy from Zones 8-11. With varied reported hardiness, other Cuphea to try include bat-face cuphea (C. llavea) in Zones 8 (9)-10 and candy corn plant (C. micropetala) in Zones 8(7b)-11(10b).
Grown as an herbaceous perennial in my garden, butterfly shrub (Rotheca myricoides) is officially hardy in Zones 9-11. Each year it dies back to the ground with a southern Mississippi freeze, but it quickly grows back from the roots in spring to a height of 7-8 feet.
It is likely you will smell banana shrub (Michelia figo, syn. Magnolia figo) long before you see it. I have smelled a single open flower up to 40 feet away. Hardiness is listed as Zones 7-10, although some cold damage may be experienced in the northernmost range.
A Mississippi native, bigleaf magnolia (M. macrophylla) is as much fun for children as adults. The giant, tropical-looking leaves appear to be Mother Nature’s own umbrellas. Fragrant white flowers are often missed due to their location high up in the tree canopy. My own bigleaf loses most of its leaves each spring before a flush of new growth and remains only 3 feet tall after four years.
If funny-looking plants are your thing, you should consider adding a Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contortus’) as a focal point or specimen plant. It is perhaps most interesting in winter after all the leaves have fallen. Known for its twisted and curving stems, this shrub is hardy in Zones 4-8 and does produce edible nuts (commonly named European filbert).
Hummingbird (sphinx) moths are very attracted to white butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium); so much so that I can stand still most evenings and feel the moths flying past my ears on their way to enjoy the sweet nectar of the highly fragrant flowers. This ginger provides a very tropical look to the garden and is easy to propagate by division.
With tubular flowers similar to firecracker plant, firebush (Hamelia patens) is available in vibrant burning yellows, reds, and oranges helping to create a steamy, hot look in the garden. Hardy in Zones 8-11, these shrubs (herbaceous perennials in their northern edge of hardiness) attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Pineapple guava (Acca sellowiana), one of my new shrubs for 2017, was also on my bucket list of Mississippi must-haves. I saw my first one in New Orleans several years ago and was offered my first taste of a flower in the summer of 2017. Both edible flowers and fruits make this slow-growing, evergreen member of the myrtle family a unique conversation piece in the garden.
Two varieties of scarlet bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) are available, making bottlebrush a reality for most Mississippi gardens. ‘Woodlander’s Hardy’ is reported to grow in Zones 7-10 (9) and ‘Little John’ in Zones 8-11.
Plumbago auriculata ‘Imperial Blue’ attracts butterflies and gardeners alike. I will soon be trying this plant again, as I successfully killed my first and only plant several years ago. Hardy from Zones 8b-11, this plant should be winter-mulched for protection in the northern reaches of its hardiness (such as my garden in Zone 8b … OOPS!).
Put a little passion in your February with blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea). Having grown this beautiful flowering vine for more than three years, I can say it is one of my favorite Passiflora. I do however, grow it in a container and bring it indoors each winter, although it is listed as hardy in Zones 7-11.
I have a thing for tropical-looking vines. So it is no wonder that I am once again in a relationship with ‘Brasiliensis’ Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia gigantea ‘Brasiliensis’) after a brief hiatus. I first grew ‘Brasiliensis’ in southern Florida, then Arkansas and Oklahoma. I am now growing my 2017 purchase on an arbor with four other flowering vines.
Princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana) is certainly welcome in my Zone 8b garden, if I could keep it alive. Some sites list it as hardy to Zone 8, but I have doubts, based on personal experience. After returning from the ground two years, my beautiful plant gave up the ghost. If I don’t want to risk a future investment in this royal flower, I will grow it in a container that is moved indoors during winter. ‘Variegata’ is listed as hardy to Zone 8a.
This Valentine’s Day, consider the romantic gesture of giving someone a unique new plant for their garden–an interesting way to start a new tradition of love in the garden.
Nurseries carrying many of the listed plants
plantdelights.com (North Carolina)
The Mississippi Native Plant Society offers a list of native plant nurseries –
Don’t forget to check your nearest public garden – it may offer seasonal plant sales with unique and interesting species.