Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Plant profile: Lycianthes rantonnetii (Blue Potato Bush)

 Latin name: Lycianthes rantonnetii (pronounced "lie-see-AN-thees rat-oh-NETT-ee-eye")
Common name: Blue Potato Bush, Paraguay Nightshade
Originally from: Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay
Blooms: Absolutely covered in purple flowers that have a little yellow eye. Flowers a lot. Relentlessly? Shamelessly?
Light: Full sun to part shade
Water: Drought tolerant
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 4-6' x 4'-6'
USDA Zones: 8b-11
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed by the steps

Lycianthes rantonnetii is a species of flowering shrub in the family Solanaceae.  Cultivated as ornamental the world over, you might deem it boring and decide to pass it over. But you'd be wrong.

The blue potato bush is one of about 150 species in the genus Lycianthes, which are found mostly in tropical regions of the Americas, with others in the Asia-Pacific region.

The species is named after Barthélémy Victor Rantonnet, a 19th-century French horticulturalist, who thought at first that it should be lumped in with the nightshades (Solanum) - the same genus as potatoes, hence the frumpy common name: Blue Potato Bush.

Unfortunately, after that got sorted out and it was moved to the genus Lycianthes the Potato Bush name had stuck. Several other little-known Solanum species probably should be included with Lycianthes but there you go.

I got this plant as a freebie left on the street by a random Craigslister. It consisted of two twigs and a few rumpled leaves, so not much hope was given to it. However, tough as an old boot, it sprang to life and is now a handsome flower-covered shrub 6' tall. It looks ratty in the dog days of summer, but a quick sprinkle of rain and pow: loaded with flowers again.

You can train it into a little tree, or let it be shrubby. It's easy to prune an doesn't care much when you do it. The flowers don't have a scent but aside from that it's a great little plant that handles all sorts of abuse cheerfully.

Oh, and boring? More like dangerous. Like most nightshades all parts of this plant are poisonous so keep your kids and dogs out of the flower beds people. A source of psychoactive alkaloids, they will cause a nasty upset stomach and worse.

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