Ceratotheca triloba: The South African Foxglove

21. August 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Ceratotheca triloba © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Ceratotheca triloba

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – auf Deutsch lesen – I am always on the look-out for interesting new plants. They do not have to be new In cultivation, but new to me. Luckily there is always something new to discover: the plant kingdom is so vast, not one person can know it all. Every so often I have the pleasure in encountering a plant that totally delights me.

Ewald Hügin’s Nursery

Ewald Hügins Nursery © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Ewald Hügins nursery

During a recent visit to Ewald Hügin’s wonderful nursery in Freiburg I spotted an interesting-looking foxglove-like plant: Ceratotheca triloba. Hügin specialises in annuals and tender plants, and always has an interesting range of fascinating plants. Besides numerous flowering exotic plants, the nursery has great exhibits of foliage plants massed together in great pot displays. No flowers are required: the contrast of textures and colours of interesting foliage plants such as sweet potatoes, Coleus and grasses can provide much interest throughout the season.

Coleus, Plectranthus, Ipomaea,... © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Coleus, Plectranthus, Ipomaea,…

Newly discovered treasure

Ewald kindly provided me with two plants of my new discovery to take home. I was over the moon with my new treasures and lovingly took them back to Berlin like a great trophy. The next day, back at the Garden Academy after several weeks’ absence, I was greeted by our constantly changing, colourful displays of summer bedding plants and annuals ideal for pots and containers that welcome visitors at the entrance. Our gardeners take great care in always making sure the displays look wonderful. I love it. Pride of place, in amongst various other tender perennials and annuals were the South African Foxglove plants I had just proudly brought back from the other side of the country. I just had to smile.

Late sowing of annuals

In spring had spotted this unknown plant in the seedlist of Silene, a small Belgian nursery specialised in annuals and ordered the seeds for our greenhouse gardening team to try out and grow on together with other delights such as the beautiful blue Lace Flower Didiscus caerulea and fascinating dusky Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’. We always have a second later batch of seedlings, in order to have strong new plants that customers can buy to fill late summer gaps and replace plants that did not survive the summer holidays. 

Attractive detail of ceratotheca-triloba

The white or soft lilac-pink flowers really do resemble those of a foxglove, though the entrance of the tubular flower is adorned with a flouncy skirt. And instead of having the distinctive dark reddish-brown freckles, bumblebees are guided into the flower by very fine lilac lines disappearing deep into its throat. The soft colour adds a fresh note to any planting.  Attractive felty foliage is carried on reddish stems, and the whole plant, is covered with fine, soft hairs. The flowers are replaced by unusual elongated, seedpods, topped with two pointed little horns.

Bienenbesuch beim Ceratotheca triloba 'alba' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Bee visiting Ceratotheca triloba ‘alba’

Drought-tolerant ceratotheca-triloba

It grows into a bushy, branched plant, that apparently can reach 1,5m or even more. Mine has not yet managed this; I am keen to see what it will do. Sunny, well drained soils are best, and it will tolerate dry conditions. A valuable attribute in these challenging climatic conditions. It looks like it will enjoy a sheltered dry corner, where it may survive the winter and come back for more next year. We will see what happens!

Just to be on the safe side, I will save some of the seed capsules to ensure a good supply of new plants next year. Put it on your wish-list for next year!

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