I thought I’d profile a plant I grew this year solely because of a pretty picture in a seed catalog. Most of what I grow is edible in some form as I’m trying to put my urban yard to good use. There are a few exceptions like cosmos and sweet peas – flowers that I grew up with and feel sentimental about. There are other perennial flowers I’ve been given which add nice colour. But, the Irish Poet Tassel Flower (Emilia javanica) was completely new to me and I’ve not seen it grown around here (if my neighbours were growing it I likely would have asked to harvest a few seeds). The rather cumbersomely named Irish Poet Tassel Flower is also known as just Tassel Flower and a red version I’ve not seen is called Lady’s Paint Brush.
The bright orange puff that makes up a Tassel Flower gives the illusion that Beaker from the muppets is lurking in my flower bed (I’m not the only one who thinks about muppets – I recently met a woman who named her rooster Beaker). The flower is kinda silly and orange is my husband’s favourite colour so I ordered the seeds (from here).
I had success both from plants I started early in a cold frame and from seeds I planted directly into the soil. This plant is a sun-lover and has flowered continuously since early summer without any deadheading making it a winner in my mind. Even though deer regularly visit my fortified food forest, not once did this flower get munched on (the local deer are not picky – they even ate all the potato greens). Tassel Flowers are potentially poisonous if ingested but the pollinators seem to like them. I also strongly suspect that Tassel Flowers will reseed themselves, which I’m okay with.
Native to tropical Africa, Tassel Flowers were imported to England in 1799. During Victorian times they were known as Flora’s Paintbrush I don’t know when they got their current name. The flowers are about thumbnail sized at the end of a long stock, potentially making them a nice cut flower (I always forget to do this). The leaves are thick and green, I found the entire plant quite attractive and dense enough to hide the mulch. Since they are an open pollinated variety, I collected seeds when the flower turned into a dried puff of parachutes like a dandelion does. I’ll be growing Irish Poet Tassel Flowers again next year.