The genus Duranta contains around 30 species of tropical trees and shrubs, some regionally cultivated as ornamentals. The species most cultivated is Duranta erecta, commonly called golden dewdrop or Brazilian sky flower. The genus, Duranta, honors an Italian botanist and papal physician named Castore Durantes.
It is rapid growing, having dense, somewhat evergreen foliage and lilac, or sometimes white colored flowers. Renewal pruning is needed occasionally to maintain a dense manageable form. A yellow variegated cultivar named ‘Gold Edge’ is available as well. Its brightly glowing gold and green variegated foliage provides a strong contrast to other plants. This cultivar rarely blooms or sets fruit. Durantas have the ability to tolerate sun or shade but bloom best in full sun. The variegated ones such as ‘Gold Edge’ actually look best in partial shade however. Since ‘Gold Edge’ is used for its foliage display, blooming is not important.
Duranta seems to have ALL of the six characteristics to make it a Texas Superstar® plant:
- It must be attractive and useful to the gardening masses. It can be commonly used as a summer annual for late season color or perhaps in patio containers. It will be a perennial planting in zone 9, along the coast or in deep South Texas in shrub borders. Duranta attracts birds which feed on the fruits and it is one of the few flowers that attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. Other great features of Durantas are their ability to tolerate sun or shade and their actual preference for heavy soils.
- It must be unique and/or offer desirable and ornamental characteristics which are not usually available in commonly sold plants.
- It must consistently perform well for Texas consumers regardless of their plant growing expertise and their growing location. Because of the harsh and changeable climate in Texas we sometimes use perennials as annuals and woodies as perennials. We also like to find and recommend root–hardy tropicals as perennials, or even annuals, in some parts of the state. For instance, Duranta is hardy as a subtropical shrub or tree and develops into an irregular spreading large shrub or small tree 15 to 20 feet tall in USDA zones 10 and 11. It serves as a 6 to 8 foot tall summer annual or shrubby perennial depending upon the severity of winter temperatures in zone 9, or as a summer annual in zones 8 and colder. This is the case with other Superstar® plants such as Firebush (1990); ‘Goldstar’ Esperanza (1999); Plumbago (2005); and “Texas Lilac” Vitex (2005).
- It must be as pest resistant as possible. An added bonus is for it to be a deer proof plant. Durantas are somewhat resistant to disease and insect attack but scale insects, caterpillars, and nematodes can be occasional pests. In some literature, Duranta is described as having poisonous fruit containing hydrocyanic acid. When put in an area densely populated with deer, all plants were eaten within three days with the berries being eaten first.
- It must be able to be propagated and mass–produced in sufficient numbers to meet the increased consumer demand generated. It propagated easily from softwood cuttings.
- And most importantly, it must be so attractive in the sales container that it sells itself to the consumer who has never heard of the many attributes of the plant. Most cultivars of this species have a dark blue stripe in the center of each flower petal, but different selections may have darker or lighter flowers. Cutting–grown selections of this species include Duranta erecta ‘Sky Blue’, which has light blue flowers and a dense, compact habit; and Duranta erecta ‘Royal Blue’, which has dark blue flowers and is also very compact. This cultivar is by far the heaviest berry producer, which enhances its value as an ornamental and bird attractor.
Nowadays, many gardeners want Texas–tough Superstar® plants that can fill their gardens or containers and live a long time without much maintenance. For something that is “old–yet–new”, easy and showy, why not try Duranta?