Crossandra - A bit of brilliant color
By Marcia Kauffman - Victoria County Master Gardener
Nov. 30, 2017 at 10 p.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2017 at 6 a.m.
I love autumn. I love the colors, the food and the smells that all go with this season. When growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, I looked forward to observing the handiwork of Mother Nature out my bedroom window. As I looked over the hills, I could see the brilliance of colors: oranges, yellows to deep reds in the trees.
In south Texas, we enjoy the fall colors by planting the shades of autumn: bright yellows to deep oranges and various shades of red.
The plant crossandra, Crossandra infundribulifroma, fills this palette - and transitions well into the winter months.
Crossandra is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It is related to the Mexican petunia and yellow shrimp plant.
• Flowers Spring - Fall
An evergreen shrub that grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet, the span of the shrub can be as wide as 2 feet. It flowers in a variety of colors: peachy pink, salmon, orange, yellow and red.
The flowers are abundant in the spring and continue through the fall. The glossy, oval or lance-shaped leaves are medium to dark green.
• Common Name: Firecracker Flower
It is also known by its common name, the firecracker flower. The seed pods found in the slender tubular part of the flower tend to explode as the flower dries, scattering seeds around the plant to create new seedlings.
Crossandra is a versatile plant that grows as an annual in northern areas, an evergreen blooming perennial in frost-free areas and can also be an indoor, colorful flowering houseplant.
The soil for this plant should be slightly acidic or neutral, moist and drains well. It prefers lots of organic matter like compost for best blooms.
• Moisture and Fertilizer
The gardener should water only when it starts to dry out, not letting it dry out completely. On a routine basis during its active growing time, regularly use a general all-purpose fertilizer like 15-5-10.
• Light and Temperatures
Although it is considered a tropical plant, in south Texas the crossandra will grow best in a partially-shaded area that receives only a couple of hours of morning sun.
It does not like temperatures below 55 degrees. This can discolor or kill any new growth. If the growth appears to have died, check the roots. If the roots are still alive, the plant can be repotted and will grow again. When the flowers die, snip off the spent blooms for a more continuous blooming shrub.
• No Pests or Diseases
A gardener does not need to deal with any pest or disease problems with crossandra. This is quite a plus when choosing between plants for the landscape.
• Complementary Plants
There are other fall color plants that complement crossandra. Consider those with fall foliage like coleus and croton, or those with fall blooms like chrysanthemums (mums) and snapdragons.
I love working in the Master Gardener greenhouse at Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) learning how to produce more little plants. At home, I usually have my window sill lined with various starts of plants.
This plant propagates best from cuttings. In the early spring, take a cutting of a stem with a leaf and dip it into rooting hormone. Then put the cutting into the soil in a pot. With time, the next thing you know you have created a new plant.
Used inside and out
After the heat of the summer, I am ready to add a spark of color to the landscape before the trees lose their leaves creating bleakness outside. The crossandra is a plant comfortable both inside and outside this time of year.
In each location, pinch or cut off the spent flower. This will encourage a fuller, bushier-looking plant. Inside or outside, it should be regularly watered and fertilized when actively growing. Used outside, this perennial is great for borders and pots for a bit of bright color.
If you use it as a houseplant, find a sunny location for the best growing environment. Don't forget to snip off the dead flowers as well as water and feed regularly.
Other special features
This is a not only a colorful plant for your flower bed, but it also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. And best of all, it is deer- and rabbit-resistant.
During my many strolls through local nurseries trying to grab a bit of color for my fall garden this year, I had noticed this particular plant for its brilliance. It appeared to be one with just a colorful, delicate flower, but now I know crossandra is a hardy addition to any bed for a bit of brilliant color -- or good used as an indoor plant. Try it in oranges and red to transition into the winter holiday season.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or email@example.com.