Plants to Love: Spanish Shawl (Heterocentron elegans)

by Genevieve on January 12, 2011

Post image for Plants to Love: Spanish Shawl (Heterocentron elegans)

This sweet little groundcover looks simple and refined when not in bloom, like a larger-leaved, deeper-green version of Baby’s Tears. But once it comes into bloom, it is a serious showstopper, with red hairy bracts holding disproportionately large fuchsia blooms. It flowers during the entire growing season, spring to fall, and the cheery red bracts persist even after the petals fall off.

It makes a vigorous carpet wherever it gets water. Gardens that are watered by hand or by overhead sprinkler soon end up with Spanish Shawl filling every bit of available space, while in gardens where it is watered more sparingly with drip irrigation, it tends toward neat clumps. I find it easy to remove if it spreads beyond where I like it.

They’re great for part or full shade, USDA Zones 9-11, and they’re a relative of the Princess Flower, Tibouchina urvilleana. They definitely aren’t a xeric plant, but if you live in a rainy climate like mine and pop it in the shade, it doesn’t need too much summer water to look good. I love it in gardens where my clients specify they don’t want to see bark, because the Spanish Shawl fills in the blank spaces of the garden so nicely. The flowers go beautifully with the flowers of Razzleberri Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense ‘Monraz’).

The best part? After the first year or two you have a strong enough clump that it’s easy to give some to anyone who stops to admire it, which will be anybody either female or flamboyant enough to properly appreciate its vivid shade of fuchsia.

Want to see some of my other favorite plants?

Shamelessly Tropical: Hawt Plants for a Variety of Climates

Plants to Love: All the Profiles

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

gina January 12, 2011 at 6:43 am

Spanish Shawl is wonderful! too bad i need zone 6 plants! well, i’m in zone 8, but all my “hardy to zone 8″ plants die when it gets to 12 degrees…so i started only buying plants that are hardy to 10 or zero. haha. Brunette Snakeroot is awesome too! I’ve been looking for that for a year – did you find it at a nursery?

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Genevieve January 12, 2011 at 9:44 am

I did, Gina! I don’t think it’s all that uncommon or hard to find anymore, so I bet you could special-order it if you liked! I think Plant Delights may have had it or something similarly dark in recent memory, but mail ordering plants can get pricy.

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Debbie January 12, 2011 at 7:02 am

Gen, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that plant before but I love it, especially since it flowers in the shade. Spanish Shawl seems like the perfect common name for it. Does it take foot traffic?

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Genevieve January 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

I don’t think it takes consistent foot traffic very well, but it doesn’t mind the occasional stepping-on. I have put it in between very large stones (not small ones as it will just grow over the top) in pathways with success.

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fer January 12, 2011 at 9:40 am

It certainly looks amazing! very lovely color, must be great having it in your garden.

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Genevieve January 12, 2011 at 9:45 am

Thanks, Fer! It is. I adore mine.

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Carole Hickman January 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

It certainly looks amazing! very lovely color, must be great having it in your garden.

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Shoshana July 27, 2011 at 9:09 am

Can these beauties manage in full sun? (Miami Beach, FL)

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Genevieve July 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

They can in Arcata, CA, on the coast, but no clue about your climate. It tops out about 70 degrees MAX here. I’d suggest part sun.

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Gary Harmon August 6, 2012 at 10:51 am

Spanish Shawl is a great container plant. I had one for years which bloomed beautifully each summer, but finally died out. I’ve been searching for it in nurseries here in the SF Bay Area but have not found any for years. Any idea where I can find this wonderful plant?

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Genevieve August 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Emerisa Gardens has had them in the past, and I believe the wholesale grower Suncrest has also carried them within the last two years (so you could special order from your local retailer). Emerisa does have a retail arm, but I’d call before going out there or trying to order, to make sure they actually have it. If you find one elsewhere, be sure to let me know as I certainly want to encourage folks to grow them! Great plant!

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Gary Harmon August 22, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I’ve absolutely struck out. Emerisa “hasn’t seen this plant in years”. Apparently it dies out in the frosty winters in Sonoma County. I’m not sure where to try next.

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Genevieve August 27, 2012 at 11:41 am

Suncrest had them for a while. If you’re a pro, try special-ordering through Devil Mountain Wholesale.

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Gary Harmon August 30, 2012 at 8:42 am

OK, here’s the final word: Devil Mountain lists them, but has none in stock. Suncrest says they will start growing them again next year. So I guess I will have to wait another year. Thanks for your help.

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Patrick December 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I gave some “Spanish Shawl” to the Nuns at a local Monastery. They put it into “Hanging Baskets”. The baskets have irrigation laid on and are a great success. The “lace like” appearance with plentiful flowers spilling over the edge of the baskets is very attractive. The long flowering period (spring to autumn ) is an added attraction

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