Barleria Cristata


Barleria cristata can take a lot of abuse.


Underdog of the plant world

I’m all for the underdog. The trouble is underdogs don’t make it very often, which is why I’ve got a soft spot for them.

Take football, for example. Probably one of the best-known tournaments in the world is the FA Cup, in England. I think they even let the Welsh in too.

Anyway, the eventual winners are fairly predictable – it’s quite likely to be Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or any of the usual crowd that hover around the top of the Premier League.

Just about the only time I get excited in the qualifying rounds that lead up to the FA Cup final is when somebody you’ve never heard of beats one of the big teams, causing their victims to become mightily embarrassed

In 2001, Wycombe Wanderers defeated Premiership-side Leicester City, and were only narrowly defeated in the semi-final by Liverpool. Kidderminster Harriers were the last non-league team to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup, in 1994. They defeated Birmingham City and Preston North End before eventually falling to Premiership-side West Ham United. Keep them coming.

I remember back a few years when one of my local teams in the UK, Harrogate Railway Athletic, reached the second round of the FA Cup. They lost, obviously, but it was fun. Not at all bad for a team whose ground consists of a field next to a railway track. Their total seating capacity is zero; it really is just a field.

I’m no boxing fan, but I couldn’t help cracking a quiet smile of satisfaction in 1990 when boxer James “Buster” Douglas, given odds of 42-to-1 by some bookmakers, managed to topple the previously-undefeated Mike Tyson – his first-ever professional defeat.

The plant world has its underdogs too. Weeds. Gardeners can be a pretty zealous lot, often keen to rip anything out of the ground that they haven’t put there themselves. Any uninvited guest in the garden is trespassing by default, and deserves death by uprooting. No trial or jury, just instant justice.

Sometimes the merciless extraction of something growing in a carefully tended flower bed seems a little unjust to me. Perhaps taking just one look and concluding whether or not a plant has a right to exist in our gardens is a bit hasty; maybe the underdog deserves a chance after all.

With this thought in mind, I tried an experiment some time ago. I filled a large pot with potting compound but planted nothing in it. I fed and watered this pot, as I did everything else in the garden, but decided not to take issue with anything that decided to grow there of its own accord.

Admittedly, what appeared more often than not was that rather annoying trailing grassy thing that grows an inch a day, spreading everywhere; the one that serves no other purpose but to irritate gardeners. Also, I got a lot of those tall spindly weeds with tiny purple flowers at the end that almost need wire cutters to hack through, along with Thai-style “daisies” and other assorted undesirables.

I should be able to go on at length with all sorts of impressive sounding names for all these, but to be honest, I haven’t a clue what any of them are called. They were just weeds. They’ve all certainly done their homework in terms of self-preservation, as it seems to be very difficult to eradicate any of them.

But one of the results of this very unscientific experiment was pleasantly surprising. A rather attractive flowering plant eventually emerged, which, following the conventional rules, would have been dismissed as an “undesirable” in the initial stages.

The barleria cristata, or Philippine violet (ang-kaap in Thai) is a small shrub, with twin-petaled flowers on the end of a half-inch tube, in varying shades of mauve. There are a couple of other varieties, one with white flowers and another with a striped combination. It just appears out of nowhere, its seeds presumably spread on the wind.

Many gardeners intentionally plant barleria and use it as a small hedge, or even clip it into strange geometric shapes. It’s quite wiry and forgiving, and, like many other varieties of plant life here, will put up with a lot of abuse. About all it needs to thrive is plenty of sun and some water every now and then. If it’s pruned regularly, it will become a lot bushier.

Barleria plays its underdog character well. It shows up looking a little sorry for itself, pretends it isn’t really there at all and does its best to blend into the background without you noticing. Before you even realize it, barleria makes its home with you long-term, having started out as something that wasn’t even wanted – not unlike a soi dog that somehow seems to become part of the furniture.

As a single plant, barleria is not really that impressive. But put a few of these in the same patch of the garden, and it won’t take long to develop into something a lot more worthwhile.

If you’re not keen on waiting for a few barleria plants to appear in your garden in their own good time, another way of propagating more is by taking a reasonably thick, healthy-looking cutting and sticking it into some potting compost. It will take root quickly.

You can even buy them pre-grown at the local garden center. A few baht will get you an underdog that’s ready to go.

I'm thinking of packing a few of these in a box and sending it to England, addressed to “The National Team”. It really doesn’t matter which sport – it might be the gentle hint that they all seem to need.



home  |  about bert  |  articles by plant  | articles by rant

Phuket Gazette  |  contact bert  | © Bloomin' Bert 2003-2012