Unique Garden Plants

10 interesting garden plants that live up to their common names and look great in the lawn and garden.

| Spring 2015

  • The Gas Plant or Burning Bush (Dictamnus albus) is covered with oil glands that emit a strong, spicy fragrance.
    Photo by Fotolia/Arpad
  • The Marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) has a fine velvet texture.
    Photo by Fotolia/Marnel Tomić
  • The Storks Bill or Herons Bill (Erodium) have beaklike seed capsules.
    Photo by Fotolia/emer
  • The flowers of a Poached Eggs plant really do resemble the food.
    Photo by Wikimedia.org/4028mdk09
  • The flowers of the Compass or Polar Plant (Silphium laciniatum) turn themselves so the leaf edges face north and south.
    Photo by Paul Lemke
  • Drumsticks (Craspedia globosa) grows 24 to 36 inches tall.
    Photo by Fotolia/bewolfdesign
  • The Money Plant (Lunaria annua, syn. L. biennis) has circular seed pods that resemble coins.
    Photo by Fotolia/MEDIUS
  • The flowers of the Four O'Clock Plant (Mirabilis jalapa) open in late afternoon and remain open all night, then fade the following morning.
    Photo by Vera Tropynina
  • The Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis) plant can be used as a soap for washing clothes, a shampoo and a skin wash.
    Photo by mauro rodrigues
  • The Shoo-fly Plant (Nicandra physalodes) is reputed to repel whitefly in the garden.
    Photo by Wikimedia.org/Rob Hille

Most of us enjoy looking for new or unique garden plants. It seems that we’re intrigued and fascinated by certain attributes of particular plants that are especially appealing, such as uncommon beauty, unusual fragrance or texture, peculiar traits or adaptations, and myriad other reasons.

Here’s a look at 10 exceptional plants that truly live up to their common names. Several can be difficult to find locally, which is likely the reason many are not grown as frequently as they deserve to be. These plants, however, will definitely reward you for your efforts in tracking them down and growing them. To track down these magnificent plants, check with your local nursery to see if they know of any suppliers who offer them. A Google search will also lead you to numerous online sources.

1. Gas Plant or Burning Bush (Dictamnus albus)

The burning bush plant is highly attractive and quite deserving of a special place in the garden. The entire plant — particularly the older flowers — is covered with oil glands that emit a strong, spicy fragrance. So much oil is produced, in fact, that on hot, windless summer days, the excess oil turns to vapor. When you place a lit match near the plant, the whole plant briefly becomes engulfed in flames. Amazingly, the plant is unharmed. This is because it’s the vapors surrounding the plant that go up in flames, while the plant is untouched. So it only makes sense that this plant is named both a gas plant and a burning bush.

In early summer, this 30-inch-tall perennial plant bears clusters of fragrant, slightly waxy, white flowers on sturdy spikes. Dictamnus albus var. purpureus is a popular lilac-pink-to-light-purple variety with darker purplish veins. The gas plant has attractive, slightly glossy, light green, finely toothed foliage. Rubbing the foliage gently with your fingers releases a delightful lemony scent. The plant is long lived, once established, and is quite hardy (Zone 3), requiring both well-drained soil and full sun.

Unfortunately, this fascinating and beautiful plant is not commonly grown. The reason most likely being because it is difficult to grow from seed, and it resents disturbance. Seed needs to be pre-chilled for three months, and then takes anywhere from three months to a full year to germinate. The gas plant dislikes being moved or divided, and it takes a few years to get established. On the whole, patience is a virtue with this plant, but it is an extremely worthy one to seek out.

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