Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
In late fall, the Palm House, the central section of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, fills up with intriguing and exotic plants. They all come from warmer regions of the world, so they thrive in this protected environment during the winter months.
A new arrival is the flannel bush (Solanum lasiophyllum) from Western Australia, where it grows into a small shrub two or three feet high. We have several plants, all raised from seed sown in spring this year. Look for the flannel bush in the second pot from the left in the shot above. And here is more of a close-up:
Its purple flower is five-cornered and has a cluster of yellow anther filaments in the center, both typical characteristics of the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Indeed, one of its Australian common names is “native tomato,” although the flower most resembles that of some varieties of the potato, another member of this family.
The flannel bush’s silvery leaves, densely covered with fine grey hairs, indicate that it is well adapted to dry conditions. Its hairy coating helps to retain moisture and reflect excess sunlight, and is commonly seen on drought-tolerant plants.
Another adaptation, often seen on plants from arid regions that are prowled by hungry herbivores, is the presence of sharp spines on the stems and on the undersides of the foliage.
It is unlikely that our plants will ever be nuzzled by a browsing kangaroo but they do seem to have made themselves perfectly at home in this corner of the Bronx.