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Mussaenda is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs found distributed across the tropics of Asia and Africa. Several species are cultivated as ornamental plants known by common names like tropical dogwood and red flag bush. Nurseries may carry seedlings for people interested in cultivating members of this genus and it is also possible to order plants through catalogs. Catalogs specializing in tropical plants are often the best source for Mussaenda and other plants native to the tropics.
These plants have a sprawling growth habit and vary in size from small shrubs to medium-sized trees. In their native range, they are evergreen, while in slightly cooler regions, like United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones eight and nine, they will be deciduous. The plants produce colorful bracts in white, pink, or red, depending on the species, with small yellow tube-shaped flowers at the center of each bract.
People who grow Mussaenda species can choose to prune the plants in fall and winter, as well as training them to force them into a neater shape. Pruned and trained trees will have a more even, regular appearance, as well as growing more upright. The plants can also be coaxed into growing in hedges and windbreaks with some training. They are appealing for birds, butterflies, and bees, making them an excellent choice for a garden where people want to attract visitors.
Growing conditions for Mussaenda species should be similar to those found in their native tropics. Full sun is recommended, especially for people growing in cooler zones, and they should be grown in soil of medium quality. Humidity helps, and the soil should be kept moist, but not wet. In regions where the weather gets chilly, planting in a sheltered area with good sun exposure is recommended, and the plants should be wrapped in the event of a cold snap. Wrapping will insulate the plants from the worst of the cold and prevent frost damage.
Propagation of Mussaenda is accomplished primarily with cuttings. Gardeners who have access to a mature and healthy plant can take cuttings and root them, and it is also possible to use air layering to generate new seedlings. It is important to ask for permission before taking cuttings from someone's garden. When propagating with cuttings, it is advisable to work in a greenhouse, as the cuttings are often tender and may not survive outdoors while they are trying to root.
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