Fragrant flowering shrub for everyone
Published on: Sunday, June 30, 2019

A flowering plant, especially one that blooms profusely, is the love of everyone.  More so if the flowers emit a relaxing and sweet fragrance that helps to kickstart an average working day, in particular if it is a blue and dreary Monday. 

There are many plants that flower profusely – fragrantly, too – and these are easily available in nurseries for a few bucks each depending on the size and quality of the material.  Your leafy neighbourhood gardens may even have some which can be had after some friendly banter.

Some trees such as tembusu or cempaka, can scent up an entire street if planted in a suitable configuration or density.  Tough fragrant-flowered trees such as the former do make a good wall of green while emitting a pervasive perfume.

Shrubs such as Murraya paniculata are great when used as single potted plants or in clustered or row plantings to benefit from the perfume-like fragrance from the flowers.  The fragrant aroma is unmistakable in instances when such plants are planted as a thick hedge along garden borders, walkways or driveways.

Twiners such as Lonicera japonica or Japanese honeysuckle, and Quisqualis indica (Red Jasmine) are good creepers/climbers.  At the same time they produce very attractive flowers especially the latter which come in shades of red to pinkish white.  

These plants are not only treasured for the lovely fragrance that they yield but also for the fact that they make good vertical gardens or green walls, apart from the more common use as a twister to scramble up some trellises or chain-link fences.


A large potted wrightia plant fully loaded with thousands of white fragrant flowers.


Multi-use wrightias (water plums)

However, there is a variety of fragrant-flowered plant called Wrightia religiosa which is often seen being grown as a shrub in many locations – both public and private.  

Known commonly as a Water Plum, the shrub can also be grown into a tree as tall as ten metres in height if grown closely together.  At the same time, it can be pared and trained into a little bonsai as short as 15cm.  It is incredible to have the same variety of plant in completely different physical form serving absolutely different purposes, thanks to deft fingers and some right horticultural skills. 

Wrightias are basically very hardy woody perennials that emit a milky sap when injured.  Belonging to the family of Apocynaceae, water plums are in the same category as allamandas, frangipanis, oleanders, and a large group of other plants in that they produce a sap when cut.  Nevertheless, they differ greatly in their wood content with some that are so succulent as to verge on herbs.

Such being the case, water plums stand out as being one of the toughest plants in the family.  It is also one of the most malleable in that the plant can literally be moulded and shaped to grow as large as a tree, or as small and dwarfish as a bonsai, depending on the skills of the horticulturist, as well as the purpose for which the plant is intended.  

Such flexibilities allow for unending opportunities for plant enthusiasts to maximise on their creative abilities for maximum results.

This may sound amazing but it is true that there are specimens of the plant in tree form that are nearly five metres in height after just three years on the ground.


Fragrant bloomers with huge touristic potential

The most beautiful thing about growing the wild water plum is the perfumed and sweet-smelling flowers that are produced in huge numbers, especially at the onset of the dry season.  

Incidentally, although flowers are produced in varying quantities throughout the year, the period of most intense flowering is usually around the months of February to May.  

This is the time when large thick masses of cottony white flowers are produced in countless numbers underhanging the branches and twigs.  

This is also the time when the blooms are most visible and aromatic to the extent that the fragrance is capable of perfuming the entire surroundings.

Normally, the major portion of the flowering is over within about two months’ time, but because of the existence of a tremendously large number of flower buds that continue to progressively come onstream, the secondary flowering may therefore continue into the fourth month.  From then on, the flowering continues throughout the year but on a much reduced scale. From a foreign tourist’s eyes, that could possibly ring a bell.


A wrightia plant grown into the form of a tree.

Outdoor cultivation of wrightias

It is a normal matter for water plums to be cultivated outdoors since it is a sun-loving plant.  So that’s what most people think.  That is why such plants are always seen in the outdoors irrespective of whether they are grown in pots or simply on the ground.  

When great numbers of the potted plants are lined up along the fence of driveways, the entire home environment could smell very sweet then the plants are in full bloom.  There is no fear of damage due to full exposure to sunshine when the plants are placed outdoors.  In fact, bright sunshine actually aids in the flowering process.

Similarly, with ground-grown water plums, the effect is the same except that such plants tend to grow faster and larger due to the broader expanse of root space available.


Indoor cultivation of wrightias

Some plant enthusiasts may think that since water plums are sun-loving plants, they should only be grown outdoors.  The fact is that such plants can also be cultivated indoors although on regulated time periods.

As a matter of fact, the plant can take to quite dim conditions, but flowering may be adversely affected if kept in dimmed situations for too long.  The best way is to grow the plants outdoors until the flower buds are fully formed, and when some flowers have initially opened, the entire pot may be placed indoors for periods of a month or longer.

In this way, the plants may still bloom while being placed indoors, and when they have exhausted their flower buds, they may be trimmed and then regarded as an indoor foliage ornamental, or else removed and placed outside for the next cycle of flowering.

Such is the wonderful flexibility of wrightia plants.


A pot of wrightia in bush form.


Minimum hassle with wrightias

Water plums are so flexible in their wants that you can actually grow them anywhere with virtually nothing to worry about.  On its own, it can grow and compete with the weeds in your garden for water, nutrients and light.  It can also grow in sandy areas or even shallow waterlogged locations.  Marginal soils are not a problem as far as the water plum is concerned.

Such news should be greeted with joy considering that most residential areas have extremely marginal soils that are either too light, too heavy or too stony.  And most of them are either prone to waterlogging, bone-dry, or won’t retain an ounce of nutrients or water for your plants.

On a positive note, water plums can be easily grown in all shapes and kinds of containers ranging from porcelain jars to clay pots to plastic drums to metal tins of all conceivable shapes and sizes.  With such a highly varied list of growing containers, it is good that water plums will do just fine if enough water and manure or fertilisers have been worked in.

This should be a real boon to those whose creative minds are always seeking out the easiest ways to get things done which means cultivating tapiocas or bananas should not be far from their minds.  The fortunate thing is that water plums, like roses and orchids, although sounding very complicated and tricky to cultivate, can be extremely rewarding if some minimum inputs and effort are put in.

Water plums may be grown either well-spaced out or else packed closely together to form a dense cluster or even a wall of green, such as along the fences.  In such instances, regularly trimming the new shoots is a must to prevent the plant from reverting into a large bush.  Most important of all, regular trimming also prevents the lateral branches from growing into your neighbours’ space.

Under normal circumstances, water plums need some manure dug into the soil once in two to four months for organic growth as well as production of healthy green leaves for the plant to look good.   Similarly, a high K fertiliser should be applied especially at the end of the year to be in time for the onset of the flowering season.  There may be a few plump aphids here and there but these can easily be got rid of to prevent them from aiming for the juicy shoots.

Apply some water on a daily basis but more of it if the weather is getting hot and dry.

A wrightia grown as a fairly well trimmed bush the ground.


Obtaining more wrightia plants

Planting nice ornamentals is always a challenge to many.  But the greater challenge lies in the ability to grow greater numbers of your favourite plants.

In the case of water plums, the job is much easier as there are multiple ways the plant can be propagated.  One of the easiest ways is to wait for the formation of seeds which come in the form of a fruit pod with numerous seeds inside.  

Water plum seeds are set in much the same way as desert rose seeds which also appear to arrive in a horn-like fruit pod inside which can be found lots of seeds.  When fully mature, the walls of the pod tend to dry up, split open and curve backwards.  This releases the seeds which turn airborne and are aided in its dispersal by gusts of wind.

To obtain a large specimen of water plum from seed may actually take rather long, to the tune of several years.  So it is advisable to use cuttings from healthy stems to grow new plants in the pot or polybags.

When taking cuttings for propagation purposes, make sure that only the woody or semi woody sections are cut and inserted into a suitable rooting medium for a better percentage of success.  Avoid the younger sections for rooting purposes since it is too tender to support new root formation.  Moreover, most of such cuttings tend to dry up even before the cutting has taken root.  Sometimes cut sections of the plant may simply be rooted in water or moist sand, and surprisingly, these produce fairly good results too.

Another method to multiply your water plum plants is to use air layering technique to produce new plants.  This is fully applicable even on those tough hard stems where the bark can still be taken off.  Of course this method represents the fastest way to produce large plants compared to using the method of seeding or cuttings.  By using air layering, tall plants may be propagated rapidly, but they initially need some staking for support to steady it well enough for it to firm up when new roots are produced.

Newly propagated plants need a little bit of extra care.  Such plants should not be shaken up or dislodged or handled in a rough or violent manner in order not to damage the new emerging roots.  Any degree of irresponsibility may result in your hard work going into the drain.  Therefore it is not a bad idea to dote on your favourite plants for bountiful rewards.

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