Story by Sera Madrigrano, photos courtesy of Proven Winners
If you’re looking for a pretty shade plant that will bloom profusely throughout the growing season; consider browallia. Its showy, trumpet-shaped flowers, in shades of blue, purple or white, will bloom against its emerald, green foliage from spring to the first frost. Browallia is a simply brilliant plant that is not only beautiful but low maintenance.
A mid-sized annual in our climate, browallia grows in a mounding habit of 12 to 16 inches tall with a spread of 10 to 14 inches. In its native climate of Central America (and parts of North America), browallia can reach one to one and a half feet in height. Several more species can be found there, including the grandiflora which grows into a two-foot-tall plant with bright blue flowers and a yellow calyx. The most common varieties available here are – B. speciosa, B. viscosa, B. americana and B. eludens. The “Bell” series are wonderful for hanging baskets, while the “Starlight” and “Troll” series are compact and dense plants great for beds, as are the hybrids “Endless Illumination” and the new “Endless Flirtation” from Proven Winners.
Browallia is a wonderful alternative for Impatiens walleriana. It loves the heat, just don’t place it in full sun, as this plant prefers partial to full shade and eastern exposures. Another bonus, it does not require much, if any, fertilization to thrive.
Botanically speaking, browallia is part of the Solanaceae family, better known as the Nightshade family. This group contains 42 genera and includes many important agricultural plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes (Solanum), chili (Capsicum) and tobacco (Nicotinia). Browallia is also related to Datura, Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) and Lycianthes.
Don’t try this at home
As browallia is a tropical plant, its requirements for care and germination are not easily met in most home environments. In many cases, especially if you are a beginner, you are better off to purchase your browallia at your local nursery. However, if you are determined to try you can start seeds indoors six to eight weeks prior to planting after the last frost. Seedlings should be planted in individual pots and placed in a greenhouse. with temperatures between 21 to 24 C. They should begin to germinate in 14 to 21 days. Plants should remain in a greenhouse, be exposed to a great deal of sunlight and provided with well-drained soil to flourish. They can be planted outdoors in June or when the weather is warm.
The recommended planting distance between plants is eight to 10 inches. Browallia works as a wonderful filler in containers, hanging baskets, borders, rock gardens and in mass plantings in shade or part shade. Humus rich, well-drained and moist soil will keep your browallia happy all season, and you never need to do any deadheading.
As a plant with tropical origins it’s only fault is its intolerance for cold weather. Browallia is a perennial hardy to zone 8A. Therefore, the only care you need to take when planting is to ensure that you do not plant it until all chances of frost or cold weather have passed. If unseasonable, frosty weather occurs, containers should be brought inside. In fact, you can bring your browallia inside over the winter and have a flowering plant all year long! If you do decide to overwinter a couple of plants, cut them back a fair bit.
Plant browallia this year, you will not be disappointed with its performance or its beauty.