Duranta: an attractive shrub for hot, dry gardens

Golden dewdrop is the common name for Duranta, an attractive shrub ideally suited for hot, dry Kona gardens. Its current popularity is partly due to its adaptability to many growing conditions as well as the recent introduction of some interesting varieties.

A member of the Verbenaceae family, Duranta erecta is also known as Duranta repens. The standard variety is a sprawling shrub that produces small, light blue flowers on drooping racemes or panicles of about 6 inches long that are followed by a profusion of golden berries measuring less than 1 inch each.

Local nurseries are currently stocking varieties like Sapphire Showers with intense blue flowers and a new Golden Edge with leaves that have yellow edges. A Golden variety with fully yellow leaves as well as the less common white-flowering Alba may also be available locally. Duranta erecta Variegata with white and green leaves was first brought to Hawaii from Tahiti in 1964 and is now widely available.

In other locations, Duranta is often known as sky flower or pigeon berry, but in Hawaii the genus name is the most popular identifier. The name of the genus honors 15th century Italian botanist, Castor Durantes. The species name, erecta, means upright in Latin and the alternate name, repens, derives from the Latin word for creeping. Both species names as well as the common name, golden dewdrop, describe some of the characteristics of the plant.

Native to Central and South America, duranta has been introduced around the world in most tropical and subtropical locales. It has been grown in Hawaiian gardens for many years but new varieties with different growth habits, deeper flower and fruit coloration, as well as wider tolerances, have attracted many Kona gardeners.

Golden dewdrop is a sprawling, sometimes vine-like, tender evergreen shrub or small tree that can get up to 18 feet tall and nearly as wide. It usually grows as a multistemmed shrub with drooping branches. The ovate leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and arranged on the stem in opposing pairs or in whorls. Some mature varieties develop spines. Some do not. The showy flowers bloom year round in terminal, as well as lateral clusters. The individual five-petal flowers are tubular and flare out at the mouth. The fruit is a spherical yellow drupe borne in showy, hanging, grape-like bunches. The combination of blue flowers and yellow-orange fruit makes duranta an eye-catching addition to a garden.

Duranta’s cultural adaptability means it can grow in a variety of locations. Though it grows best in rocky or sandy, hot, coastal areas with full sun, it can also thrive in moister soils at upper elevations. Partly shady locations will produce slower growth and less flowering for most varieties, though Gold seems to prefer partial shade. In ideal conditions, newly planted duranta can grow up to 18 inches a year. The rapid growth rate may slow, however, as the plant matures.

A regular water supply in a slightly acidic soil with good drainage will encourage rapid growth and good plant health. Though duranta can tolerate light wind and some salt exposure, overwatering can cause poor health and disease.

Duranta flowers and fruit also attract local butterflies and hummingbirds. Care should be taken, however, to grow it beyond the reach of young children as all plant parts are poisonous to humans.

Golden dewdrop can be grown from seeds, started from semihardwood cuttings or propagated by air layering. The fruiting body of the plant contains seeds that can be collected, removed from their fleshy coating and dried before planting. Seeds will sprout quickly and new plants will likely resemble the parent. If you want an exact duplicate or clone of the parent plant, vegetative asexual propagation is recommended.

Though duranta has a tendency to sucker and spread if left unattended, this plant seems not to pose an invasive threat here. The owners of both Sunrise Nursery and Anuenue Gardens, who carry many duranta varieties, have not seen any evidence of the plant’s invasive potential actualized.

Another attractive feature of duranta is its minimal need for care and attention. Regular applications of mulch and compost or a balanced fertilizer should serve to encourage continuous blooming. Though some green-leafed varieties may become chlorotic in poor soil, maintaining a slightly acid pH and adding amendments can easily treat this issue.

Duranta seems to be somewhat resistant to disease and insect attack. Occasional pests can include nematodes, caterpillars, mites, mealy bugs, whiteflies and scale. None seems to adversely affect the plant if treated early with low toxic substances like soap and oil combinations.

All local nurseries usually stock several duranta varieties. Both Anuenue Gardens and Sunrise Nursery have the ability to place orders for varieties or quantities not in stock.

If you are seeking an ornamental shrub with loads of features to recommend it for Kona gardens, consider duranta. You won’t be sorry.

Diana Duff is a local organic farmer as well as a plant advisor and consultant.

West Hawaii Today – Features > Duranta: an attractive shrub for hot, dry gardens

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