Sole survivor – Tecomanthe speciosa

Tecomanthe speciosa - a sole surviving specimen was found in the wild

Tecomanthe speciosa – a sole surviving specimen was found in the wild

Plants cannot come more endangered than our native Tecomanthe speciosa. Only one has ever been found in the wild and that was back in 1945-6 on Manawa Tawhi, the biggest island of the Three Kings group off the northern coast of New Zealand. Blame the goats which were introduced to our offshore islands, as I understand it, to provide food for shipwrecked sailors back in the days when this was a more common event.

I have a fondness for carpets of fallen blooms

I have a fondness for carpets of fallen blooms

Fortunately T. speciosa is not difficult to propagate and it is its use as a garden plant in frost-free areas of the country that has ensured its survival. I usually miss the autumn flowering on our vines because most of it occurs about 10 metres up in the sky where it has clambered its way up to the light on one of our road boundaries. I only noticed it this season because I happened across the flower carpet below and looked more closely. I must admit that I did not realise it put out clusters of blooms on bare wood in its lower reaches too.

Tecomanthe  venusta

Tecomanthe venusta

There aren’t many tecomanthe species, all of which are members of the bignoniaceae family and evergreen. There seems some agreement on the number five, maybe six. There is our T. speciosa, one maybe two from Queensland in Australia (T. hillii is the most recognised) and three from New Guinea. We have two New Guinea forms here. The first is what we call T. venusta (syn dendrophylla).

It is distinctly tropical but shows the same characteristics as T. speciosa when it comes to putting up strong tendrils and flowering in clusters from bare wood.

Tecomanthe montana

Tecomanthe montana

We had T. hillii which was sold commercially in NZ some years ago but it didn’t look like too much of a gem here so we didn’t take care of it and no longer have it. The real gem for us is not even on the usual lists of species but we have it under the name T. montana from New Guinea. It flowers in mid spring and is much finer leafed, finer growing and more floriferous than its larger two cousins we also grow.

Our native speciosa appears to be the giant in the family. The vines on our well established plant are as thick as human limbs. It also has much larger, glossy leaves. The best plants I have seen have been trained and kept pruned along the verandah fronts of houses. You need a very strong structure to hold them and to be consistent on pruning but it does at least get them flowering well at a level where it is visible.

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa

Vines are large as human limbs on our native T. speciosa

On the same botanical survey of the Three Kings that the sole tecomanthe plant was found, another sole remaining specimen of a tree species was found – Pennantia balyisiana.

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One thought on “Sole survivor – Tecomanthe speciosa

  1. Nancy

    I saw a White tecomanthe this weekend looking all lonely growing on the fence at a derelict house in Mangere bridge,but it was growing like a triffid and just about to flower. So it was good to read your post Abby

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