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Medinilla, a Showy Tropical Flower

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Medinilla, a Showy Tropical Flower

The Coral Medinilla has orange panicles.

Photo © Jamie McIntosh

Overview:

If you’ve traveled through Southeast Asia, you might have marveled at this tropical beauty growing on tree branches, dangling its vivid 18-inch flower panicles down like clusters of otherworldly grapes. Flower gardeners who live in USDA growing zones 10 and 11 can grow one of the 150 species of medinilla as a tender perennial outdoors, and others can grow this exotic flower as a houseplant.

Latin Name:

Medinilla scortechinii, Family Melastomataceae

Common Names:

Medinilla

Description:

Medinillas bear panicles of flowers that resemble clusters of small grapes, which stand out against attractive dark green foliage. Some medinillas have showy bracts which resemble flower petals.

Medinillas are evergreen shrubs in their native habitat. The leaves contribute to the tropical look of this plant, growing up to 14 inches in length. Leaves are ribbed, and moderately succulent.

Native Regions:

  • Java
  • Malay Peninsula
  • Philippines
  • Sumatra

Size:

The average size of a medinilla shrub is 3 to 4 feet, but see the variety descriptions for examples of smaller and larger species.

Growing Conditions:

Medinilla plants can be epiphytic in the rainforest, which means they grow on trees or shrubs instead of in the ground. In this case the medinilla uses its host for support, but doesn’t draw nutrients from or harm its host plant. Medinilla plants can also grow in well-drained soil. Add coarse grit to mimic the soil of their natural habitat.

Medinillas appreciate acidic soil conditions, although the coral medinilla is somewhat more tolerant of alkaline conditions than other varieties. All medinillas grow best in dappled shade; direct sun can scorch the leaves.

Uses:

You can grow medinilla plants as houseplants, but they make better patio or greenhouse specimens due to their humidity requirements.

Bloom Period:

All medinilla plants bloom in the warmest months of the summer, but bloom time can vary from April through August. This doesn’t mean medinillas crave triple digit temperatures: the ideal growing temperature is 70-75 degrees F.

Care:

Medinilla plants need average moisture and humidity, but they don’t like drying winds. The medinilla is a light feeder, and excessive nitrogen will cause the plant to produce lush foliage at the expense of the blossoms. An occasional feeding with liquid compost will give the plants all the nutrients they need, and help keep the soil in the optimal mildly acidic pH range of 6.0.

Mealy bugs may trouble medinilla plants occasionally. If so, dab the insects with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Spider mites will infest medinilla plants stressed by dry conditions, but daily misting will discourage these pests.

Varieties:

  • ‘Rose-Grape Medinilla’: Easiest to grow for beginners; tolerant of cool evening temperatures
  • ‘Crimson Medinilla’: Glossy red flower clusters
  • ‘Coral Medinilla’: Topping out at 12 inches, a lower growing variety
  • ‘Pink Medinilla’: Large bracts bear pink flower clusters, and eventually dark blue berries. Grows to six feet, so plant in the ground or a large patio container.
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