During 2015 at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, we are preparing to focus our educational programming around the theme of Myth, Magic, and Medicine of Plants. Over the past couple of weeks, our horticulture staff has been researching plants to support this theme. I dove into the research this week by combing through some of the on-line plant listings from our favorite nurseries. By combing through these lists, I came across one of my favorite annual plants that I have not used in years. It is called “cat’s whiskers plant” or Orthosiphon stamineus. The first time I encountered Orthosiphon was a dozen years ago when a nursery grower in Wilmington, North Carolina recommended it. In the heat of coastal North Carolina, the plants took off and flowered almost all summer. The unique appearance of the flowers had everyone asking about their identity. When searching for medicinal plants this week, cat’s whiskers stood out because in certain cultures, the leaves are dried and used as a tea. Supposedly, the tea has certain medicinal qualities including helping with urination and other cleansing properties.
After using the plant years ago, I have rarely encountered anyone growing it even though it is fairly easy to produce in the garden. This mint relative from southeast Asia earns its moniker from the long, white stamens that protrude from the white flowers. As annuals, they can reach 3-4′ in height within a single season if started as mature plants from the greenhouse. They are rated at being cold hardy down to USDA zone 9 so they will need to be brought inside when growing in colder climates. Although I have never grown cat’s whiskers in a container, several sites say they are just fine to do so. They prefer the warmth of summer and will do well in full sun. If you are in the deep south, they would appreciate a bit of afternoon shading. Giving the plants supplemental nutrition and water through the summer will help their growth and prolong flowering.
I plan on using cat’s whiskers next summer in our six, large Lunaform containers as a focal point around our visitor center. Have you grown cat’s whiskers where you live? If so, how does it do in your area? Also, have you ever had cat’s whiskers tea?