Saturday, July 31, 2010

Devil’s Marbles - or Johnny Apple?

Eremophila debilis (Myoporum debile)
This little plant suffers from having too many names!
Johnny Apple is a name of long standing, but only seems to be known by older people these days. It is probably based on the tastiness of the sweet little fruits.
“Devil’s marbles” is a rather new invention, and (I think) a delightful one. It is based on the botanical name “debilis” , which really has nothing to do with any devil, but merely tells us that this is a prostrate plant.
The plants are also called “winter apples”, and are valued for the long-lasting bright pink fruits, which look their best at a time of year when a garden of local native plants might be short of colour.
In summer they have pretty little trumpet-flowers, which are pink in some areas and mauve in others. (Can you tell me what colour they are at your place?)
I photographed this plant at Irongate last weekend. Note the purplish tinge of the foliage, which I suspect to be the result of frost.
Johnny apples are very good value in gardens. They tolerate a variety of soil types, from sandstone soils to heavy black clay. Individual plants live for 10 - 20 years. They are easy to grow from seed or by layering, so replacement of old plants is a simple matter. Meanwhile, pruning increases the vigour and lifespan of the plants, and tidies them up if they are made unattractive by a heavy frost.
They can make a dense groundcover. For this purpose, plant them close (30cm apart), and prune them when they start to meet up, to thicken up their growth.
They never need watering in our climate, but of course will grow faster, especially when young, if given a bit. Like all plants, they also like to be well-watered after pruning.
In the case of severe frosts, the hardy rootstock of a vigorous plant will survive to regrow, even though the foliage may succumb. In our district, it is best to grow plants from seed sourced west of the Dividing Range, as these are likely to be more frost hardy.
New plants are easy to produce for yourself, from seed.
For more on this plant see July 4 2008

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