By Ralph E. Mitchell
As I mentioned last week, we just finished our 2018 Master Gardener Training activity called the “Parade of Plants” where Master Gardener Trainees pick a plant they like and then develop a short ten-minute presentation. An additional presentation highlighted another good plant for any landscape – the Brazilian Red Cloak. This stunning tropical plant produces red flower spikes up to twelve inches tall complete with rich, green tropical foliage.
While the Brazilian Red Cloak is native to Venezuela, it is also now found throughout tropical America. Growing from six to eight feet tall and wide, this evergreen semi-woody perennial plant has large green leaves with especially noticeable venation. These are topped in time by red bracts (the red “cloaks”) which hide and protect the curly white true flowers. The bracts are not true flowers, but retain a brilliant, showy red color long after the white flowers have faded away. While it can make a great container plant – even a houseplant – its real glory is revealed as a landscape plant in the right site conditions. When planted in full morning sun to some afternoon shade, this plant will thrive and grow rapidly. The right site is important – too much full afternoon sun can cause wilting and bleached flowers. Fully mature plants can flower on and off year-round, but most abundant blooming will occur from late fall through early summer. The red cloak is a very vigorous shrub, but can be managed by pruning to keep it bushy and within bounds.
Most red cloaks are used as a specimen plant, an informal hedge, or a screen. As their growth rate is very fast, propagation by cuttings for additional plants can easily expand your stock. While hardy in zones 9b/10, it can get zipped by frost on occasion in some locations. The one specimen in our Demonstration Garden has been damaged a bit by frosts and freezes in the past, but it grows back with little lasting impact. Large containerized specimens can be taken inside for protection during frosty weather.
Securing your own Brazilian Red Cloak may include propagating one from a friend, finding one at a local family-operated garden center , or through on-line mail order nurseries. The Brazilian Red Cloak is a plant to have and behold! For more information on all types of flowering plants suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/01/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf .
Missouri Botanical Garden – Megaskepasma erythrochlamys. (2018) http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=e966
Haehle, R. (1998) Brazilian Red Cloak Can Be Spectacular. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1998-02-06/lifestyle/9802020306_1_plant-shrub-drought-tolerance
Hubbuch, C. The Genus Megaskepasma Family Acanthaceae. Gardening in the Coastal Southeast – http://southeastgarden.com/megaskepasma.html.