Hunting for a special plant in Portugal By Kevin Pratt.
This excerpt is from the garden talk “wild flowers of Portugal, Kevin Pratt”
The beautiful Portugal is an overlooked paradise for beautiful wild flowers. Many plant hunters choose China, Nepal and Turkey, flower lovers choose Thailand, Barbados and South Africa. But both the hunters and lovers would enjoy Portugal immensely. My Wife Suzanne and I fell for Portugal’s flora in 2001, Orange orchids, many hardy herbaceous growing wild, accommodating and easy alpines, theatrical flowering trees and spectacular showy shrubs. But we had a purpose for returning in the summer of 2009. I wanted to look for the beautiful herbaceous plant which is common in Portugal and the entire Mediterranean. Our purpose? Hyoscyamus albus the white Henbane. Here in Europe we have a smelly Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) with insectivorous like sticky green leaves and insignificant flowers which become unnoticed in a mixed border. More noteworthy is this native Henbane which has an amazing ability to seed around the garden. Four Species of poisonous Henbane grow in the Mediterranean, H.niger which we have covered, H.reticulatus which is similar to H.niger but with darker, veined flowers. The yellow Henbane H.aureus is mightily attractive, but rather scarce in Spain and Portugal, moral issues prevent me collecting this form even under licence. Hyoscyamus albus the white Henbane is a grey leaved hairy perennial with spreading, somewhat pendulous and arching stems. The flowers are striking, white or creamy white with the most magnificent black basal marking. There is a pure creamy white form which is not half as attractive. In Portugal the white Henbane grows short and stocky in rock or pavement cracks, rarely above 30cm high and is weeded out of cultivated gardens. Here in the U.K. gardens the white Henbane makes a grander height of 60-80cm height and spread thus making a superb border plant. The seedlings off the growing plants are unable to survive our winters so seeding around the garden is never an issue. The plant grows quickly from seed sown in April or May with seed to flowering in about six weeks. I have for the past five years used the plants as summer bedding where they will grow to almost one metre by the end of the growing season.
Seeds can be bought from two British nurseries listed in “The Seed Search, Compiled and Published by Karen Platt, 2002”