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Red and robust

A CLOSE relative of the shoe-flower, the chilli-flower is botanically known as Malvaviscus penduliflorus. A native of south-central Mexico, the plant thrives well in South Indian conditions.

Malvaviscus grows to a height of three metres and has dense dark green foliage. The leaves are usually broad and ovate, and are at times three-lobed with toothed edges. It produces a number of bright scarlet-red dangling chilli-like flowers. Unlike the shoe-flower (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), the five-petalled flowers of Malvaviscus never open wide and remain attached to the plant. They last for three days. The calyx is green and copular with five pointed lobes. The corolla encloses a stout staminal tube, which protrudes a bit out of the corolla. The 10-armed velvety stigmas protrude out of the staminal tube.

The chilli-flower hangs down from the leaf axils on three to four centimetre long stalks, which gives it a hanging lantern-like appearance. The flowers are generally borne singly on each axil and each branchlet produces five to 10 flowers. The flowers are sterile and do not set fruits. When adequately fertilised, the plant produces 30 to 40 flowers a day. The bright scarlet-red drooping flowers that stand out among the lush green foliage make the plant look attractive. The plant can withstand heavy pruning and requires adequate sunlight for active growth and flowering.

The chilli-flower is best suited for hedges and is resistant to drought conditions. It is generally propagated using one-year <243>old cuttings. The plant is usually free from insect pests and diseases.

Text and picture by A.K. PRADEEP

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