Friday, February 02, 2007

Persian Shield: A Rising Star


“Persian Shield: A Rising Star”

By Becke Davis

Five to ten years ago, if you had mentioned “Persian Shield” to a home gardener, a landscape contractor or a professional nurseryman, odds are their response would have been a blank look. At that point, Persian Shield was mainly used as a houseplant or as a specimen in tropical gardens -- a relic from Victorian times. Today Persian Shield is a hot topic at flower shows and in garden chat rooms, and both the media and the garden industry are taking notice. A survey taken on one garden website resulted in no negative ratings for this plant. As an added benefit, deer and rabbits are said to ignore it.
Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus, sometimes listed as Perilepta dyeriana) is now recognized as a stunning addition to containers and window boxes, as well as a colorful accent in the mixed border or flower bed. Although Persian Shield does sometimes produce small, delicate violet-blue flowers in late spring to early summer, its distinctive foliage is the feature that catches the eye. In fact, some garden experts recommend removing the flowers since they use up energy that could be better spent on producing healthy foliage.
The narrow, pointed leaves of Persian Shield are six to eight inches long, and combine dark green veining with an iridescent silvery purple, pink to lilac luster that produces a metallic variegation. The underside of the leaves is a dark, purple-to-maroon color. The effect of this shimmering blend of colors has been compared to a stained glass window. It is difficult to describe the coloring accurately because the colors seem to change as the light shifts. The colors tend to fade in full sun, but they grow more intense in shade.
A member of the plant family Acanthaceae, Persian Shield is a tropical plant believed to originate in Burma and Malaysia; it is hardy only in zones 9-11. It prefers an acidic soil but is somewhat adaptable to alkaline soils. A slow-release fertilizer, something like a 12-6-6 ratio, can be beneficial, and when using Persian Shield as a container plant, be sure to incorporate water-absorbing polymers into the planting mix.
Whether planted indoors or out, Persian Shield requires rich, consistently moist soil with good drainage -- it is NOT tolerant of drought and should never be allowed to completely dry out. As an indoor plant, Persian Shield is also intolerant of dry air and will shed leaves under those conditions. When planting Persian Shield outdoors in hot summer weather, place it where it will have partial shade and protection from the afternoon sun. Persian Shield can reach a height of 3 feet and a width of 3-4 feet -- even more where the climate is ideal, but it tends to become leggy and benefits from pruning to keep it more compact.
In addition to its own exciting coloration and luminescence, Persian Shield tends to bring out the best of the plants it is combined with. Purple and black plants are popular choices to plant with Persian Shield, as are plants with silvery foliage. Adding Persian Shield to just about any plant combination will make it more memorable and exciting. Come up with your own plant combination ideas or try combining Persian Shield with some of the plants listed below, many of which are also tender exotics.
Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ (Red Japanese maple)
Alocasia spp. (Alocasia or taro)
Artemisia spp. (Wormwood)
Aspidistra elatior (Cast iron plant)
Athyrium nipocium var. pictum (Japanese painted fern)
Begonia ‘Dragon Wings’ (Begonia)
Brugmansia (Angels’ Trumpets)
Caladium spp. (Caladiums)
Calathea spp. (Prayer plant)
Canna ‘Black Knight’, ‘Pretoria’, ‘Red Futurity’, ‘Red Wine’ (Canna lily)
Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ (Clematis)
Costus curvibracteatus (Spiral ginger)
Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ (Dichondra)
Ficus ‘Sylvie’ (Variegated rubber tree)
Heuchera micrantha (Alumroot, i.e. ‘Palace Purple’)
Hibiscus ‘Lord Baltimore’ (Hibiscus)
Hosta ‘Sum & Substance’
Impatiens wallerana (Impatiens, Dazzler and Showstopper series)
Ipomaea batatas ‘Blackie’ (Black sweet potato vine)
Ipomaeae ‘Marguerite’ (Gold-green sweet potato vine)
Kaempferia spp. (Peacock gingers)
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (Red fountain grass)
Perilla frutescens (Beefsteak plant)
Plectranthus argentatus (Swedish ivy)
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Toto’ (Compact black eyed Susan)
Scaveola ‘New Wonder’ (Scaveola)
Solenostemon scuttelariodes (Coleus - red, black, purple, yellow, green)
Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s ears)
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Queen’ (Purple Queen tradecantia)
T. zebrina (Tradescantia)
Xanthosoma violacea (Elephant ear)

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File Name: Persianshield
Word Count: 720

Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine
Photo by Becke Davis

SOURCES:

“Persian Shield,” The Plants Database, http://plantsdatabase.com

“In My Garden: Try Tropicals for Summer Beauty,” by Skip Richter, May 27, 2004, National Gardening Regional Reports: Lower South, http://garden.garden.org/regional/report/arch/inmygarden

“Persian Shield Plant,” by Sheri Ann Richerson, April 30, 1999, Suite 101.com, www.suite101.com/article.cfm/tropicals_and_exotics

“Dark and Sultry in the Summer Garden,” by Sally Ferguson, Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, 222.horticulturist.com/mastermag7/dark.htm

“Persian Shield Finally Attracts Attention,” by Norman Winter, MSU Horticulturist, February 21, 2000, Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center, published by Southern Gardening

“Rooting Persian Shield” and “Plants to Combine with Persian Shield,” Tropicalesque Garden Forum at Garden Web, http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/tropesque

“Purple Plants,” by Valerie (no surname listed), June 30, 2000, revised November 10, 2003, http://home.att.net/~larvalbugbio/purpleplants.html

“Persian Shield,” Master Gardener Landscaping, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, http://mgonline.com/persianshield.html

“Persian Shield,” www.emilypostcompost.com/persian_shield

Magnolia Gardens Nursery catalogue, www.magnoliagardensnursery.com

Top Tropicals Plant Catalogue, http://toptropicals.com

“Persian Shield: A Unique Alternative for Container Gardens,” “Reiman’s Pick,” Reiman Gardens press release/newsletter, Iowa State University, www.reimangardens.iastate.edu/about_the_gardens/press_release

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