Ixora

The brilliant red blossoms of Ixora coccinea may remind people of the more familiar geranium.

Vibrant scarlet clusters of tiny tubular blooms grow 4 to 6 inches in diameter on Ixora coccinea. Each tubular bloom has four petals, and blooms all winter and summer. Maybe that is why the plant garners more questions and attention than any other shrub in the garden.

The brilliant red blossoms may remind tourists of the more familiar geranium. Densely packed branches on Ixora shrubs grow to 6 feet in height when planted in the ground. If they are potted, they remain much smaller, only 2 feet in height. Carl Linnaeus named it after the Sanskrit word “isvara,” which refers to the Hindu god Shiva, who is both creator and destroyer.

Ixora has become a mainstay of tropical gardens. It is no wonder. It survives drought, salty winds and even seawater incursions.

Imagine it in the dark jungles of Malaysia or Mexico popping out that brilliant scarlet blossom among the dusky green leaves. Its actual origin is probably India.

Ixora is commonly called “flame of the forest” or “burning love.” Burning love can be taken as love so hot it flames up or burning until it becomes embers and dies out, creation and destruction. Ixora coccinea may be easily forgettable as a name, but burning love is not. It is certainly a shrub trove viewed with a lover.

Growers who hybrid plants produced ixora in pink yellow, salmon, orange and rose, There are 525 different species. Ixora is considered part of the coffee family. If hybridding has not canceled their bird-loving fruits, they form purple drupes, beloved by butterflies and birds.

Pliant blossoms stand out against the verdant dark green leaves. The thick leaves are smooth edged and can be tiny but provide a dark green background. If they turn yellow it is because of a lack of acidic soil. Keys soil is very alkaline and rated at 7. Try some 4-8-8 fertilizer. Ixora needs nitrogen, magnesium, ferrous oxide and manganese. Avoid watering it in the winter. Ixora is resistant to disease and insect infestations.

Ixora has a long history of folk medicine uses. It makes a tincture or poultice. It was used in Ayurvedic and Indian medicine practices. The flowers were used to treat women with cramps and infections. It also is said to treat hypertension. Its roots treat diarrhea and dysentery. Its leaves are used to cure nausea, boils and hiccups. (I love that it works for boils and hiccups.)

I wonder how folk medicine practitioners find out how to apply remedies. How do they know what part of the plant to use?

I am beginning to believe Friar Laurence when he says in “Romeo and Juliet” that there is a cure for everything found in the plants of his gardens. Friar Laurence had a potion for inducing a “death-like sleep” in Juliet, but he also gave Romeo a vial of fateful poison.

Science is currently investigating its effect on cancer in rats and mice.

Growers propagate ixora by taking cuttings. Often when the plant has suffered severe hybridding, its seeds are no longer viable.

Plant this versatile shrub in a sunny spot in the yard and it will reward you daily with colorful blooms. These make lovely vase cut flowers as well.

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