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Make Gardens Purr-fect With Cat's Whiskers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Visit garden centers on a regular basis because you never know what will show up. This summer I discovered a plant called Cat's Whiskers that I never dreamed would be so captivating.
The blossoms are tropical and exotic looking. The blooms may be white or bluish-purple and have long stamens reminiscent of yes, a cat's whiskers. It is not just a couple of whiskers, because the bloom opens up in a long spike full of flowers and stamens.
Cat's Whiskers is in the mint family and is known botanically as Orthosiphon stamineus. Its origin is tropical east Asia, but it grows like it loves Mississippi. Typical of a mint, it needs regular water and has a vigorous growth. Those of you who live in fear of mints on the rampage will be happy to know it is a zone 9 through 11 plant. However, I suspect it might have returned from these past couple of mild winters.
Cat's Whiskers are excellent for the backyard wildlife habitat as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all like to take turns feasting on the nectar. Full sun is recommended, but mine bloom very satisfactorily with several hours of filtered light combined with spotty direct sun.
To find happiness with the Cat's Whisker, prepare the soil by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and work to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. While tilling or turning, mix in one pound of a slow- release, 12-6-6 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space.
This shrub-type plant reaches about 2 feet in height and spreads to 3 feet. It doesn't just have one series of blooms as you get more stems and more blooms on new growth. Besides the regular watering which seems to be up to us this year, Cat's Whiskers also need monthly feedings with a complete and balanced fertilizer. Simply put, you want to keep pushing the plant to keep it growing and blooming.
Cat's Whiskers offers a lot of opportunities for combination plantings. Two or three clustered together with ferns, cannas or elephant ears would make a nice planting. Try growing some at the bottom of the umbrella plant (cyperus alternifolius).
You and your gardening friends will like this plant because it can be grown from seed and is very easy to propagate by cuttings.
There is one other attribute about Cat's Whiskers that I'll share. If you do a web search using the botanical name, you will see that Java tea, which is used to help pass kidney stones, is made from this plant. From the descriptions of those who have passed kidney stones, it makes me want to keep the plant handy.
Try the Cat's Whiskers if you get a chance. It has a lot going for it!