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Petrea volubilis L. 1753
pronounced: PEE-tree-uh voll-YEW-bill-iss
(Verbenaceae — the lantana family)
pronounced: PEE-tree-uh ah-bore-REE-uh, PEE-tree-uh ASS-per-uh
common names: Queen’s Wreath, Sandpaper Vine, Purple Wreath, Blue Bird Vine, Fleur de Dieu
Linnaeus named Petrea in honour of Robert James Petre, 8th Baron Petre of Ingatestone Hall, Essex, England, who was a patron of botany; volubilis is a Latin word meaning ‘that turns itself around’, i.e., twining.
The whole Petrea genus is native to Mexico and Central America. This species is often referred to as the tropical Wisteria. It was introduced into most tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world many years ago. Fleur de Dieu is French for ‘God’s Flower’. There is a very unexpected sharp contrast between the soft, delicate flowers of Petrea volubilis and the harsh, crisp leaves that give it the name of the Sandpaper Vine. Even the new leaves are stiff and papery. The leaves can be used as a sandpaper substitute on small craft work, or as an emery board for filing finger and toe nails. Sometimes the leaves are used by men who shave the hair off their heads as an aid to providing a shiny look.
This twining vine is one of the most distinct and beautiful of the cultivated climbers. Its spectacular clusters of purple flowers are borne on a raceme reaching up to about 30 cm long, with 15–30 flowers per raceme, and deepening in colour towards the end of the cluster. They grow nearly in pairs on a short stem, and usually turn so that each flower faces the light; but what appear to be the flowers are actually the calyces that remain after the flowers have fallen. The true flower is a small five-petalled affair of deep purple velvet resting in the middle of the calyx. One purple petal has a white splash in the middle. The racemes spring from the leaf axils, and are usually pendant and gracefully arched. The eye-catching parts of each flower are the 5 narrow petal-like calyx lobes that persist long after the darker purple corollas drop.
The oval leaves are quite large – up to about 20 cm and deeply veined. They are dull green above and brighter underneath. New leaves are a fresher green but also stiff; never soft and limp like the young leaves of most plants.
It is a fast-growing woody vine with a grey bark, by nature a strong climber – it can climb up as high as about 12 m – but is sometimes grown over a support where it is encouraged to twine around its own branches. If it has nothing to climb up, it will grow into a rounded shrub. It grows well in a container as a patio plant, and is also well-suited for hanging baskets. It makes a specially good show if grown over a porch or along a fence. The main flowering season is in the spring, but there is sometimes a lesser flowering season towards the end of the summer. It likes either full or partial sun, and prefers soil that is on the acidic side. It does better when sheltered from the wind. It will also grow well in quite high altitudes, so long as the conditions are fairly humid.
The flowers are attractive to butterflies.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008, 2012
Page last updated 16th January 2017