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Native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Pentas lanceolata grows as a small sub-shrub or woody perennial, as it does in the Winter Garden east wing, but in cooler climates Pentas are often grown as bedding annuals or as house plants. The stems are topped with clusters of small star-shaped red flowers and there are also pink and white forms available. Introduced as an ornamental and potted plant all over the world, Pentas can now be found naturalised throughout the tropical and subtropical regions.
Pentas like a warm sunny spot in full sun or dappled shade but flower better with plenty of sunlight and prefer a rich organic fertile soil. Older shrubby plants form a thick woody base and will reach a height of up to almost 2m, but more commonly around 1.2m. Plants can easily be pruned to keep them in the space allocated to them and still produce plenty of flowers. If used as an annual, the plants are unlikely to get much higher than 30cm.
Attractive as an ornamental plant, Pentas lanceolata is also very useful for attracting butterflies to the garden as well as a range of pollinators and other insects. Used in traditional African medicines, extracts have shown to have antiviral, antibacterial and healing properties.
Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Stephen Bishop.