Unusual plants: the Scutellaria

The genus Scutellaria counts some dozen species of perennials, or small shrubs, widespread in Europe, Asia and America; these are plants belonging to the genus of lamiaceae, that is closely related to mint, as you can understand by carefully observing the flowers. The most widespread species cultivated in nurseries is Scutellaria costaricana, native to Central America, and Costa Rica, as the botanical name suggests. It is a plant with large wrinkled leaves, dark in color, smooth and not excessively leathery; the stem of the scutellaria always has a square section, and is rigid and not excessively branched. Scutellaria costaricana produces, at the apex of the thin stems, large racemes, consisting of long tubular flowers, bright red in color, arranged to form a kind of very showy tuft. All the scutellarie produce flowers with a similar shape, but the colors are more suited to those of mint, for example S. alpina has pink and cream colored flowers, arranged in spikes; s. baicalensis (native to the areas near Lake Baikal) has very particular bright purple flowers, also arranged in long spikes at the apex of the thin branches. While the European and Asian species behave like perennial plants, that is, during the cold months the aerial part dries up, S. costaricana often keeps its foliage throughout the year, but only when the cultivation conditions are favorable.

Scutellaria - Scutellaria costaricana">Scutellaria cultivation

This plant, over the months, can become a small shrub, up to 45-50 cm high, also producing many branches. Most of the scutellaria grow in mountainous areas, therefore they are used to fairly low winter temperatures, and to a cool and humid climate, and not to sultry summer days; even the native species of Costa Rica can stand the cold, even if the most intense frosts tend to ruin the whole aerial part of the piata. Usually this perennial is grown outdoors only in the warm months, and is collected in an apartment or greenhouse when frost arrives, in October or November. For this reason, they are mainly grown in pots, although it is possible to produce small flowerbeds with young plants, which must however be protected from frost, or removed and moved in pots when the cold arrives in late autumn. They prefer well-lit and ventilated locations, but not exposed to direct sunlight, except in the coldest months or in the coolest hours of the day. A good brightness is necessary to ensure a prolonged and constant flowering, so the scutellaria are generally kept in bright partial shade, so that they enjoy a certain amount of sunlight; however, the sun's rays, especially in summer, must reach them only in the early hours of the morning, otherwise we will find ourselves with singed-looking plants. To develop and grow they need an acidic and fresh soil, therefore they are buried in a compound consisting of peat, or specific soil for acidophilic plants, mixed with a little shredded bark, which is very useful for maintaining a good amount of humidity. Watering will be very regular, in an attempt to keep the soil moist, but not wet or soaked in water.

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Pruning and repotting

To ensure that the plants are always healthy and luxuriant, it is advisable to repot them, at least every two years, in autumn; if the plants have been placed in the ground, it is often exploited the fact of having to withdraw them in a protected place, uprooting it from the ground and placing it in pots. Plants still in pots instead need to be repotted, using a slightly larger container than the previous one. These plants tend, if not cultivated at their best, to stop flowering, when this happens without being able to change the place of cultivation, generally we try to stimulate development by pruning it about 5-7 cm from the ground, so that you develop new branches, and new racemes, the following year. Healthy and properly grown plants can, on the other hand, continue to bloom throughout the year, even in winter, when they are housed in a greenhouse or apartment. In these cases, it is advisable to avoid pruning the plants, except to remove damaged or poorly developed parts.

They do not always behave like plants with a long life, for this reason many growers tend to keep their seeds, to be sown in autumn in a warm bed, in order to have new plants to cultivate every year; this method is also often used to have new plants to be placed in outdoor flowerbeds: the flowerbed is prepared with young seedlings, in spring; at the end of autumn the plants are left to dry out and will be replaced the following spring with the new plants obtained from seed.

A medicinal plant

Man has always used herbs as healing ingredients; today we often hear about Ayurvedic medicine, or Chinese medicine, but in fact even the European populations, in ancient times, used a lot of plants to treat the most varied symptoms; and in ancient times the first botanists were doctors (Linnaeus too), as plants were the main tools of any European doctor. Most of the plants that were used in ancient times, have revealed over the centuries to contain numerous active ingredients, useful in the treatment of different types of affections, from simple bruises to cancer. It is not about magic or strange rituals, on the contrary, even the pharmaceutical industry has always found its products in nature, which it then synthesizes in the laboratory, to try to eliminate unwanted effects, to improve its effectiveness, or to make a rare and unobtainable active ingredient, also available for the housewife of Verbania, although perhaps originally it was the extract of the root of a rare Asian orchid. Even today, pharmaceutical companies send botanists to unexplored forests in search of new active ingredients.

Also there scutellaria has interesting active ingredients in its roots; in particular, the species baicalensis is the species that most interests doctors; already used also in traditional Chinese medicine, this plant contains some anti-inflammatory active ingredients, which in recent years studies seem to have anticarcinogenic effects as well.

Video: Scutellaria lateriflora