Plant Collector: Manfreda maculosa

Manfreda maculosa - looking rather more dramatic in the photograph than in reality

Manfreda maculosa - looking rather more dramatic in the photograph than in reality

Manfreda maculosa is a very curious plant, not the least because it has a spectacular flower spike topped with singularly unspectacular flowers. The stem of the bloom can be well over 2 metres tall and is strong enough to hold itself up with staking. It appears in late spring as something of a surprise because the plant itself is low to the ground with just a few fleshy leaves spotted with burgundy. The first time it flowered for us, I waited in anticipation, expecting something showy and exotic. It is neither – browny green tubular flowers with exceptionally long brown stamens, giving a rather ragged appearance. Apparently it is renowned for attracting humming birds to your garden. What a shame we have no humming birds in this country.

This manfreda is also called the Texas tuberose or Spice Lily and it does indeed hail from southern Texas and Mexico so is somewhat tender. It tends to run below ground so when it gets hit hard in a cold winter, it is capable of sending up fresh shoots in spring. I have it planted in a mixed border situation and thin out the surplus runners from time to time. It just sits harmlessly as part of the herbaceous plantings until it gets a rush of blood and sticks out its outrageous flower spike.