When I visited the Rockport City Cemetery, I was impressed by a pair of tree-like shrubs covered in the most brilliant red flowers imaginable. I’d never seen them before, and a little post-trip research convinced me they weren’t native to Texas.
Today, a trip to a well-regarded local nursery with a well-informed staff brought the answer to the question of their identity. The plants were Jatropha integerrima, a member of the Euphorbiaceae, or spurge family. Variously known as peregrina, spicy jatropha, or fire-cracker, the plant is native to Cuba and the West Indies. After traveling first to South Florida, it began spreading: finally reaching at least as far west as Rockport, Texas.
The species first was described in 1760 by Austrian Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817) who botanized numerous Caribbean islands during a four-year expedition beginning in 1755. The star-shaped flowers, generally red but sometimes pink, are produced throughout the year and attract monarch, swallowtail, and zebra longwing butterflies.
In south Texas, peregrina is a perennial or dieback shrub. In other areas of the state, it’s a good summer annual or container plant, since it overwinters well indoors. Reports from as far north as San Antonio confirm that it can come back after spending winter outdoors, although with reduced blooms or stunted growth.
For the coastal areas of Texas, it has a lot of advantages. It’s able to withstand reflected heat, so it works well on patios, and it isn’t much bothered by drought, which makes it a good choice for xeriscaping. Salt tolerant, it’s rarely bothered by insects or disease. Flowering is reduced but not eliminated in shade, and the dark green foliage complements the colors of other flowering plants.
When it finally arrives at our nursery, I could be tempted to bring one home to fill up a large, empty pot that’s been sitting on my balcony. If you don’t have an expansive garden center in your area, don’t despair. This ‘exotic’ beauty also is being sold by Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Comments always are welcome.