Asystasia bella (syn Mackaya bella) Acanthaceae
I first came across this plant in the grounds of a playcentre in Nelson. The well shaped shrub produced a crop of the most interesting flowers I had seen for a long time. Here at last was a tropical looking plant that was quite hardy and would not climb all over the place like tropical climbers.
This neat upright evergreen shrub grows to about 1.5 metres high and has dark glossy green leaves. It thrives in shady or partly shady conditions. I have grown it in full sun where it produces more flowers than in shady positions. It is supposed to be frost tender but if given enough shelter, like the north side of the house under the eaves, it should grow well.
The beautiful sprays of flowers are lavender in colour with conspicuous darker markings. The individual, trumpet shaped flowers are 75 mm long and about same width across. The shape and colour of the flowers give a tropical effect in the garden making it a talking point when in full flower. It needs a little pruning after it has flowered to keep it shape .
The genus Asystasia has about 20 species of shrubs and herbs native of the tropics of the eastern hemisphere. A. bella, formally called Mackaya bella, comes from South Africa. There are a number of other species that could make good garden specimens if they were available in New Zealand. The flowers of all species are very showy with colours varying from white through blue to purple.