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Plant of the Month: Coleus


Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Wasabi’

Latin name: Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Wasabi’
Common name: Coleus
Type: Summer annual
Flowers: Not showy
Mature size: 18-30” high, 16-28” wide
Hardiness: Annual
Soil: Not picky
Exposure: Part sun to shade
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries and mail order

There are plants that have been around forever that remain some of the best performers in our gardens each season. We tend to call them “passalong plants,” and a story always seems to come with them. Last month I talked about a begonia that happens to fall into this category, and this month here’s another “oldie but goody.” Most of us are familiar with Solenostemon scutellarioides, or what we’ve all called coleus. Those darn taxonomists decided to change the Latin name on us a few years back, and I still can’t quite remember how to say the new one. Coleus is an Old World herb in the mint family, the members of which you can always identify by their square stems. Coleuses have been cultivated almost forever for their colorful leaves.

Everyone enjoys annual color that lights up the landscape with splashes of bright flowers, but there are times when foliage speaks louder than flowers. I’m here to tell you that ‘Wasabi’ screams COLOR! This coleus will glow in any shady area, flaunting heavily serrated, electric chartreuse foliage that stands 18 to 30 inches high and reaches 16 to 28 inches wide. ‘Wasabi’ is the best yellow-foliaged performer we have seen in our Dallas Arboretum Plant Trials, and it has been awarded our distinguished FlameProof Award for taking our North Texas heat and still growing strong throughout our infernal summers!

One thing that can make or break a coleus in the landscape for me is its seedhead. Coleus flowers are just unattractive weedy wastes of good space. As you can tell, I just can’t stand them! ‘Wasabi’ seldom ever even thinks about sending out a flower spike, further increasing my affection for it.

This wonderful plant lights up a shady garden or can be used as the focal point in a container. We’re excited at the Dallas Arboretum Trials that the horticulture industry is working on new genetics and adding new dimensions to the awesome coleus. ‘Wasabi’ should be easy to find at your favorite local retail nursery or through online mail order.