A short walk southward on Upper Asian Way, one of our Asian Garden's main paths, brings visitors to an intersection that is surrounded by low-growing shrubs, shaded by the vast crown of a red cedar (Thuja plicata), and chandeliered by a female kiwi vine (Actinidia deliciosa) now heavy with fruit. When this bountiful yield falls, it will be cushioned and hidden by a complex of evergreen cordate foliage, hairy stems, and papery purple flowers, all of which belong to the subtle rhizomatous plant featured in today's photo.
Acanthaceae includes about 250 genera and 2500 species among its members, all of which put forth perfect (bisexual) flowers that produce two-celled capsular fruit loaded with seeds. We provided a somewhat more comprehensive account of the family—which grows in an extremely broad variety of habitats and soil conditions—in last week's entry on Acanthus spinosus (bear's breeches), which you can access here.
For now, we can take a somewhat closer look at one of Acanthaceae's genera, Strobilanthes, which consists of about 250 erect herbaceous or shrubby species native to tropical and, more rarely, northern Asia (as far north as Siberia). The genus derives its scientific name from a Greek description for the typically conical form of its flower buds (which is easily discernible in the photo for a previous entry on Strobilanthes callosus): strobilos = cone + anthos = flower. Along with these flowers, species generally don leaves that are either oppositely or pseudo-alternately arranged.
Strobilanthes attenuata—the low-spreading and moisture-loving perennial featured in today's image—is native to southern Asia (India, Nepal, and Pakistan). The plant's drip-tipped, attenuated leaves—from which it derives its specific epithet—are typically lime green or grey or a mix of both. These last provide a lovely contrast to the plant's purple, cone-shaped buds, which eventually open to a small, modified trumpet shape in midsummer. While the balance of an afternoon here might result in the eclipse of this plant's modest appeal within the theatre of a visitor's memory, an inevitable second encounter upon one's departure re-focuses S. attenuata's loveliness and thereby positions the plant as a fine and lasting image with which to conclude the small narrative of a stroll through the Garden.