Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket gardening: What’s in a name?

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Plants can have bizarre common names, but these names remain in use precisely because they are memorable and refer to a plant’s visible features.

Clitoria ternatea (even the botanical name is – well – suggestive) is called the butterfly pea.

Quesonia has a tall, triangular crown of flowers which gives it the somewhat cryptic label of pagoda plant. Other shrubs, for more obvious reasons, are called scrambled eggs, Jacob’s coat, Christmas candle, or lobster claw.

Take jatropha podagrica. A mouthful in Latin, this red shrub’s popular moniker is bottle plant, or occasionally gout plant. Why? The epithet gives an instant image of a fat, knobbly stem that, on a mature specimen, actually is shaped like a bottle.

No doubt some botanist painfully afflicted with gout decided to give the shrub this second uncompromising name.

Even more bizarre, the physical appearance of a plant or fruit often leads to other associations. Podagrica is also supposed to be good for gout or arthritis, while the folded kernel of a walnut – which bears an uncanny resemblance to the human brain – was believed in the Middle Ages to cure disorders of the mind.

I digress. The ongoing subject is still red flowering shrubs, and the bottle plant fits the bill very nicely. It produces unusual luminous scarlet flowers with yellow centers, no more than a centimeter across.

However, these tiny florets grow in clusters of twenty or more, at the end of long, fleshy stems that protrude above large, ivy-shaped leaves.

This foliage, which in some species is deeply cut with up to eleven narrow lobes, is dark green above and a dull cream below. Bright emerald pea-like seed pods appear at the same time as the flowers, giving the efflorescence a very distinctive appearance. It flowers more-or-less continuously.

A neat shrub, the bottle plant is rarely more than a meter in height and width; it is thus eminently suitable for a container.

Good soil and plenty of moisture are the main requirements. Podagrica does well in filtered shade and can be readily propagated from seeds that turn brown just before they ripen and burst.

Garden centers rarely have the shrub, so beg a few seeds if you know someone who has one. And, lest they explode, let them ripen in an envelope.

A much more common relative is jatropha multifida, though you would hardly think it comes from the same family. Multifida, which has the Thai name of patavia, is a taller shrub with woody stems and smaller ovate or ivy-shaped leaves.

Its conventional flowers are a deep cerise color, about an inch across, and appear in clusters close to the main branches. Easy to find in plant nurseries, it is good for screens, or against a wall. It prefers the freedom of the open garden to the constraints of a pot.

Jatrophas are members of the euphorbia clan: the typical milky and toxic sap oozes from any cut. But the seeds are rich in oil which can be used as a bio-fuel.

Indeed, one variety, curcas, is said to produce four times as much oil per hectare as the soy bean. With this end in view, the railway line from Delhi to Mumbai is lined with jatropha shrubs. Another strange fact about a strange plant.

The chenille plant, or cat’s tail (acalypha hispida), is another “oddball” member of the euphorbia genus. A constant bloomer, its long, catkin-like flowers have the consistency of velvet (hence “chenille”) and hang down like narrow crimson cat’s tails.

Striking and unusual, it is deservedly popular in Thai gardens, and requires little cosseting. It does, however, dislike wet feet and will flower best in full sun.

Tip of the week: Drying herbs

The word herb applies to any plant valued for seasoning, medicine, fragrance or general household use. Many have the Latin word ‘officinalis’ as part of their botanical name. It means “of medicinal value”.

With some herbs, the bulb is used (garlic or onion); with others, the seeds are of primary value (cumin, pepper, chili). Lavender is prized for its tiny scented flowers.

Harvest leaf herbs such as basil or mint when the flowers begin to open and the oils are at their most concentrated. Cut sprigs or branches, tie them together at the cut ends and hang them upside-down out of direct sunlight.

When the leaves are crisp and crumble easily, strip them from the stems and put them in airtight jars to preserve the aroma..

— Patrick Campbell


Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram


Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Phuket1 hour ago

TAT touts the Phuket Sandbox first month July successes

Protests3 hours ago

Monarchy supporters claim protesters weaponizing Covid-19

Coronavirus (Covid-19)4 hours ago

5.7% of foreign residents in Thailand have received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine

Sponsored1 day ago

Tour Phuket’s Islands with 5 Star Marine

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Travel4 hours ago

Top 5 Diving Schools in Koh Samui

Lifestyle5 hours ago

Best Places for Golf in Koh Samui

Crime5 hours ago

Child pornography group run by Suphan Buri couple busted

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Thailand6 hours ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok restrictions extended, record high infections | August 5

Thailand6 hours ago

Drugs found inside monk’s pillow at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Thailand7 hours ago

Fairy Sweet Village in Pattaya catches on fire, again

Coronavirus (Covid-19)7 hours ago

Thursday Covid Update: 20,920 new cases; provincial totals

Thailand8 hours ago

Phuket’s BigGym allegedly closes 2 branches for good, doesn’t reimburse members

Travel9 hours ago

Phuket’s 5 most stunning villas for rent

News10 hours ago

USA tentatively plans to require all foreign visitors to be vaccinated

Thailand10 hours ago

Bangkok closure order extended until August 31

Best of11 hours ago

Ayutthaya’s 5 most amazing hotels

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism5 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8