Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quit monkeying around!

Species name: Ruellia makoyana

Common name: wild petunia, monkey plant

Location: UWO Greenhouse

Today is houseplant appreciation day! Show your house plants some love. If you don't have any, go adopt one from a nursery, grocery store, or greenhouse today!

The wild petunia is just "one of those plants" that no one really seems to know much about, other than it exists. It is native to Mexico and Central America, and is still incredibly common there today (and throughout much of northern South America and the most southern areas in the United States). It is regarded as potentially invasive outside of its native range, but no state (or country) has it listed as a noxious weed or a banned plant. It is becoming a popular plant because you can neglect for a while and it springs right back to life. How it became known as the "monkey plant" I have no idea. I don't think monkeys show a particular affinity for it, nor do I think any part of it looks particularly like a monkey! The other common name, wild petunia, isn't at all reflective of the plant either other than the general shape of the flowers; it isn't even remotely related to actual petunias.

The flowers on these plants are quite prolific, and appear once day length gets to be about 12 hours. If you live in a place where day length is always about 12 hours, then you're all set! If you live in a place where day length in the winter is shorter, you'll have the lovely foliage to look at all winter and spring, and the bright magenta flowers all summer and fall. Some of the species of this genus are used for medicinal purposes, but there is no known use for this plant other than it's pretty to look at. There are no reports of it being toxic, but it's probably best not to test that theory. I wouldn't want you to be the one that ends up being the case study used to report its toxic effects.

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