Norman Winter Tribune news service
I recently stumbled across a herbal recipe called This is the Life. Not only was it a collection of some of my favorite plants, it was a wake-up call for an old favorite: the Persian Shield.
Known botanically as Strobilanthes dyerianus, it is native to Myanmar and has 8 inch long iridescent leaves in shades of purple, lilac and pink with purplish-maroon undersides. If these colors aren’t gorgeous enough, the foliage will look as if it has a light layer of silver electroplated onto the leaf.
It’s been around for a while, even in Victorian times, but it kind of takes a backseat depending on the whims of the producers. It was selected as an Athens Select plant by the University of Georgia and has won Top Performer and Best of the Zoo awards at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Luckily she’s secured her position as part of the Proven Accents section of Proven Winners, where you’ll also find all the new ornamental sweet potatoes.
The Persian Shield prefers well-drained, organically rich soil. I rarely see it in the full afternoon sun, which looks best in the south. I love planting them in morning sun and afternoon shade so their brilliant colors always remain photoworthy. This spring, wait until all danger of frost has passed before planting, then place the plants on 18- to 24-inch centers. I think we could finally be safe in my part of Georgia. The plants should grow to nearly 3 feet tall and are truly considered maintenance free. Don’t be afraid to pinch if necessary to keep the plants bushy.
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This is not exactly a drought tolerant plant. On the other hand, when I was in the state of Mississippi, those in our show garden endured a lot more than I ever thought possible. Keep plants evenly moist throughout the growing season.
This is a tropical plant that likes summer humidity and does well in the heat. Keep it growing vigorously by fertilizing monthly with a light application of a slow release fertilizer. My choice would be something like a low-nutrient 17-5-17, but that’s no big deal; Just make sure you use a slow or controlled release blend.
Many find it hard to believe that Persian shield belongs to the acanthus family (Acanthaceae) with relatives like Mexican petunias, shrimp plants, firespike and even Thunbergia which we grow as vines.
There are some great combos to plant with the Persian Shield, which is where I started with This is the Life. The recipe includes Truffula Pink gomphrena, Supertunia Mini Vista Pink Star, Plum Dandy alternanthera, also from the Proven Accents section, and of course the Persian Shield. There are also eight other recipes to choose from.
I love how they look with large bananas or in combination with light green or yellow-green foliage. The purple foliage really contrasts with these colors. Another good choice would be to use purple or white Impatiens like those found in the new Soprano series.
Every week someone asks me which plants deer don’t like. Reports say this is one plant that deer will leave alone, so let the celebration begin. If you’re looking for that special plant to make your friends and neighbors go “Holy Wow,” the Persian Shield will do just that.