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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Congo Cockatoo, Impatiens niamniamensis,Balsaminaceae

Flowers don't come much gaudier than this - primary colours straight out of a child's paintbox. It reminds me of some of the more lurid boiled sweets I used to buy in the sweetshop on my way home from school.

Impatiens niamniamensis comes from tropical Africa, from montane regions of Cameroon, extending through central and East Africa where it's used medicinally to treat migraines and painful joints. It makes a spectacular house plant, with one significant drawback - it seems to be extremely susceptible to pests like whitefly and red spider. The only way I've been able to cultivate it for any length of time without it resembling the contents of Pandora's box is to frequently root new plants from clean cuttings.

The flower has a very long, curled nectar spur and I've found a few sources that suggest that it's pollinated by birds - bright red flowers are often associated with bird pollination.

A big specimen in full flower makes a fine spectacle, resembling a tree full of parrots. There was a time, when I set out in gardening, when I was primarily interested in species with subtle, muted colours but these days I'm increasingly drawn to flowers whose colours are so hot you could warm your hands on them; maybe it's a symptom of advancing years..........