Sarah Coles

Fly Repellant?

Fly Repellant?

Years ago Jessica found this lovely thing in her garden and asked me what it was.  I hadn’t a clue, but eventually we found it’s from Peru, Nicandra physalodes, named after a Greek poet Nicander.   Web pictures show small blooms a pallid mauve shade among a mass of dull green foliage.  In America they wrote, ‘scrawny flowers and not very striking,’ and ‘do not think of cultivating this horrible invasive!!’   We felt outraged! 

Nicandra belongs to the nightshade family, and its other names are Apple of Peru and the Shoo-Fly plant.  Whether it actually shoos flies away I very much doubt and can find nobody saying it does.  But the whole point is that it’s a great flower, so why don’t more people grow it?  I can find its seed in the wonderful catalogue of Chiltern Seeds ( but nowhere else.  

Jessica died a long time ago, but three years ago I found Nicandra flowering in Surrey, and collected seed pods.  Seed germinated easily.  In my garden it’s brilliant for late summer and autumn, and goes on for weeks, a mass of fluted urns, sky blue at the outer petal, then a white ring, then violet at the base showing up the creamy stamens.  Its seed pods, a bit like Chinese lanterns, the same nightshade family, are intriguingly speckled green and black, and disintegrate to lace with age. 

It loves my poor dry chalky soil.  Maybe, thinking of those complaints, too rich a soil encourages foliage at the expense of flowers.  And in Hampshire, unlike the perennial Chinese lanterns, it is not remotely invasive. And, as an admirer of flies, I’m glad to say it doesn’t repel flies either.


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