Many new plants get released to the public each year and often they are promoted as doing well ‘throughout Australia”. Of course there are few, if any, plants that will grow in the many climatic zones across the country, and few of these introductions thrive in subtropical and tropical areas which have summer dominant rainfall. A great exception of recent years has been the release of the Baby’s Breath Euphorbia, Euphorbia hypericifolia. It was first introduced to us as the cultivar ’Diamond Frost’ by Proven Winners and has proved to be a real garden winner!
I recently went to a Nursery Trade Day in Brisbane and discovered 2 new cultivars of this Euphorbia offered for sale. They weren’t labelled or promoted so I wonder if the public will ever recognise that there are more of these plants about. I’m sure if they did they would buy them. After a lot of research I believe I purchased ‘Star Dust White Sparkle’ and ‘Pink Stardust’. I hope these cultivars will get better promotion in the future as I believe the gardeners would like to grow more of these plants. I was only told they were more compact than ‘Diamond Frost’
Euphorbia hypericifolia seems to be a ‘dream plant for gardeners in warmer climates. The flowers resemble Baby’s Breath, and cover tidy mounded plants. They flower continuously all year round with absolutely no maintenance required. Imagine – no watering, no feeding, no pests, no diseases, no deadheading, and no pruning. But of course if you want the plant to look picture-perfect, some maintenance does pay dividends.
It will grow in either sun or shade. In the sun it is a small compact bush with bright green leaves. In the shade it is a wide spreading and open groundcover and the leaves are a greyish-green colour.
The plants are incredibly drought hardy. They look so lush and delicate you would think they would be water guzzlers. I have seen them in pots or hanging baskets where I am sure they have been severely neglected, however they have looked perfect.
They also tolerate heat – dry heat and wet heat. They have been really tested this summer with the former, and the last 2 summers with the latter. What’s more, they are said to be salt tolerant as well.
Where did this plant come from? You won’t find it in any gardening books. For some strange reason, it seems to have been missed by gardeners all these years. This is strange, as Euphorbia hypericifolia has a very wide natural distribution, from the southern USA, throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and down through South America to Argentina and Chile.
It may have come from nowhere, but’ Diamond Frost’ has been one of the most successful plant releases in the last couple of decades and has won over 35 awards. It was first promoted as an annual plant, but of course, it is a perennial in warm temperate, subtropical and tropical areas. In cooler climates the plant can be used as a fast growing summer annual or grown in a pot and placed under cover or in a greenhouse over winter.
The cultivars I am aware of that are currently available in Australia are:
‘Diamond Frost’ – The original introduction developed by Proven Winners. White flowers and open growth. Generally grows 200 (8 inches) to 500 (20 inches) high by 500 (20 inches) to 1m (3 and a half feet) wide. A trim once or twice a year will keep the plant dense and within bounds. I have never pruned my plant and it forms an attractive groundcover almost 3 metres across and in parts almost 1m high where it grows up against shrubs.
‘Star Dust Pink Glitter’ – developed by Dummen USA/Red Fox flowers have a deep pink stripe down each white bract. They look pinkish from a distance. The leaves have interesting splashes of rusty red on them. This plant is said to have a denser growth habit than ‘Diamond Frost’, however in warmer climates I would allow for much the same growth habit.
‘Star Dust White Sparkle’- also developed by Dummen USA/Red Fox. It has more rounded white bracts and is said to be more compact in growth.
‘Silver Fog’ – also developed by Dummen USA/Red Fox. It has more silvery foliage and is said to be more compact in growth. It was released a couple of years ago, but had little marketing. I only recently heard it was in the country. It has been quite popular overseas.
There are many more cultivars available overseas and I hope a few more will reach our shores in the future. I’m particularly keen to see ‘Manaus White’ hit the nurseries as I believe it has great potential as a landscape plant. The plant has larger, whiter flowers and grows a lot larger. I also hope that it will be sold with a label and will get some promotion by the nurseries.
Baby’s Breath Euphorbia grows readily from cuttings. So if you have the time and patience, you can propagate a few plants to make a mass planting in the garden. However, be aware, most plants are covered by Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) so it is illegal to propagate to sell them unless you have a license.
These euphorbias offer great potential for the gardener. There are few other perennials that have such a fine texture in flower or foliage and that thrive in warm summer rainfall areas. I can imagine they would be a great asset to cottage gardens, perennial borders and formal gardens. However they are also wonderful for those really tough areas where plants seldom thrive – areas with shallow soil, public streetscapes and medians. How about tucking them into the cracks in a dry stone wall? I think they would be superb.
In the States they have proved to be very successful for growing with roses. They have shallow root systems and are non-competitive. They also provide a wonderful foil for these plants. How about mixing them with annuals or other bedding plants with complementary flower colours?
Pots and hanging baskets seem to be where these plants shine. They are so tough, they suit the most neglectful gardener. Imagine combining them with summer flowering bulbs such as the White Storm Lily (Zephyrathes candida) in a wide shallow container. Mass plant it in informal drifts as a complement to elegant grasses or tall salvias.
I recently saw it at a display at Spring Fields Garden Centre, massed around a group of Red Mandevilleas in full flower. Noel Burdette certainly picked up the Christmas spirit with this combination.
Well Baby’s Breath Euphorbia will certainly prove to be a winner for those gardens who like a more romantic, soft planting and enjoy a cottage garden style. It seems the plant ticks all the boxes so I expect we will see a lot more of it in gardens around the country in the future. I hope it will be used in inspired ways and in thoughtful planting combinations. Neglectful gardener or tricky garden spot – this is the plant for you.