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Exotic Love Adds Color To Trellises
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Don't feel bad if you feel like you have missed Exotic Love; it happens to the best of us. Before you start thinking naughty, the Exotic Love I am referring to is a vigorous vine with almost indescribably beautiful flowers. It is also known as Spanish Flag and Star Glory and is native to Mexico.
The lattice tunnel at the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs usually has hyacinth bean for the annual Fall Flower and Garden Fest. This year the crew decided to plant the tunnel with Exotic Love. Botanically speaking, Exotic Love is Ipomoea lobata sometimes referred to by its old name of Mina lobata. This means it is related to sweet potato vine, morning glory and the cypress vine.
It is suppose to take 135 days from planting until the gardener is rewarded with flowers. Who knows what went wrong, but there were no flowers on the tunnel for this fall's big celebration, which attracted 1,000 more visitors than last year. Was it the extreme summer temperatures and drought? Did we create a nutrient problem? Visitors wrote on their comment cards, bring back the hyacinth bean!
As if to taunt us, the tunnel erupted into glorious bloom a few days after the event that would have made the 4,000 visitors want a tunnel like this for their garden. The tunnel is loaded with thousands of 6 to 8 inch long spikes of flowers that show red, orange, yellow and cream all at the same time. It becomes apparent why it is called Exotic Love.
There are several flowering stems on each branch, but flowers are borne only on one side of the stem. The flowers have a long vase life lasting several days and prove to be a delight to hummingbirds.
Sure we miss-timed the tunnel or the Creator gently reminded a bunch of scientists He is ultimately in control. Considering this vine produces these flowers in one season from seed makes me wonder why it is not more widespread.
With arbors, trellises and towers becoming the rage, this is a great plant to select. Plant seeds into well-drained, fertile soil after the soil has warmed. Soaking the seeds overnight helps the germination process that takes place in 10 to 16 days. Space plants 18 inches apart. This is a vine that needs plenty of sun and a sturdy structure on which to climb. The vines are capable of growing 10 to 20 feet and will be there a long time. Mulch after planting.
To keep the vine growing, vigorously feed with light monthly applications of a slow-released balanced fertilizer. Keep well- watered, particularly during the long bloom cycle that should start in late summer. As typical with several other plants in this family, watch for spidermites, and treat early if needed.
In the landscape, this vine can definitely be considered as a quick cover for arbor, lattice or trellis. Initially you will want to give it a little training help by tying, but then invite the neighbors over and watch it grow. Sweet Cream or French Vanilla marigolds would make a great lower level companion plant. Citronella is a pale yellow and white form, but it is hard for me to see why anyone would choose this over the typical species.
Now is a good time to be thinking about Exotic Love because it make take you awhile to locate seeds for next spring plantings, and some of you gardeners might need to ask for an arbor for Christmas.