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Phlox nana var. ensifolia - plant of the month June 2011

Phlox nana var. ensifolia, a dryland plant from New Mexico and Texas  was a popular choice among exhibitors in the 1960s and 1970s, but has been rarely seen of late. It forms an airy pink scented cloud over a mass of grey green stems which needs carefully arranging  to show it off to the best advantage when pot grown, (The plant shown was the Farrer winning exhibit of Joy Bishop at the 2011 East Anglia Show; this had already been in flower for several weeks prior to this, demonstrating the long flowering period of this species). There seems to be confusion over the taxonomy, for although this name is valid in the current RHS database, it is elsewhere listed under the synonym of P mesoleuca, and the varietal tag has been raised to species level, i.e. P. ensifolia..  

Mystique also surrounds the preferred method of propagation. In AGS Bulletin 58:188-9 (dedicated to Roy Elliott after his death), it is reported that he “complained bitterly” of lack of success, for all his cuttings died and the plant was left weakened. In a 1976 Anthology item, the contributor advocated the use of a pair of secateurs, and half a bottle of whisky to steady nerves. After flowering, he cut the top growth hard back to the woody crowns, resulting in new shoots from below soil level in the autumn. These he treated as nodal cuttings. Joy, who has grown this plant for many years, prefers tip cuttings taken before it flowers, and rooted in sand. She is clearly having success with this method, and did not mention the need for Dutch courage.

Diane Clement