Shady groundcovers that bloom are much sought after in the gardening world, and Bolivian Sunset holds one of the most beautiful opportunities. The name itself conjures up visions of exotic colors.
Bolivian Sunset is known botanically as Seemannia sylvatica and indeed is native to Bolivia and Peru. It also has another common name and that is hardy gloxinia.
It is cold hardy from zones 8 and higher though everyone can enjoy it as a containerized plant to be enjoyed on the porch patio or deck and likewise indoors. The caveat to all of that would be a desirable shady to filtered light location.
I would have told you that in Savannah, Ga., it seems to always be in bloom but alas a journey through all of my photos shows that I have always photographed it starting in September. Now, in mid to late October, it appears to be in full glory.
As a spreading groundcover in Savannah, ours has spread outward forming a clump about 8 feet wide and deep. The plants themselves reach 12 to 18 inches tall and I would like it even if it never bloomed.
The leaves are lance-shaped, leathery to the touch and semi-glossy. So in a world of typical green leaves, the texture is much welcome in the garden. The flowers, however, are dazzling.
The tubular blossoms are a fiery orange-red with a yellow throat. They are produced in abundance on the multi-stemmed little groundcover. The blooming commences in the fall, late August to September in Savannah and will last until spring if not caught by frost. This is one reason why the plant is much sought after as a house plant.
In the landscape it may die back in zone 8 depending on the winter and then quickly grow back. It spreads by underground rhizomes, which makes me think it may have opportunities in protected areas of zone 7.
Once you find yours, select a site with fertile organic rich soil that drains well. Ours is growing in next to an old 1920 home that, though sandy, has had lots of organic amendments over the decades. But remember the light requirements of morning sun afternoon shade or high filtered light.
When grown in containers, you'll notice it quickly fills the pot with leaves, blooms and a very rhizomatous root system that seems to have devoured your lush potting medium. This means as you choose to repot you can make more plants to give away or use in other locations.
In the landscape it would partner extremely well with hostas and ferns for an absolutely lush and dreamy forest floor. We are growing ours in close proximity to shampoo gingers, Zingiber zerumbet and Emperor hidden gingers for a tropical look.
As you might expect with the tubular flowers, it can bring in hummingbirds if they are still active in your area when they begin blooming. Hanging baskets or containers that are off the ground are more suitable. Here at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, small bees and sulphur butterflies seem to be the most frequent visitors.
Not many groundcovers are as pretty as Bolivian Sunset gloxinia. I hope you'll give it a try in your landscape or in a container that will beautify your home.
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru.)
(c)2017 Norman Winter
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