Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Impatiens niamniamensis

As you may have already known, I’m a big fan of my Impatiens niamniamensis. Whilst I don’t like to play favorites, this species of impatiens really impresses me. It’s exotic flowers, strange bonsai trunk and pure exotic nature make my imagination run rampant. While I’ve often heard impatiens referred to as “Touch Me Nots” because of their exploding seed pods I’ve never actually seen it happen. The common Impatiens walleriana we grow at work don’t seem to go to seed, perhaps due to some glitch bred in during the hybridising process.

Having only had my I. niamniamensis for a little over a season and a half now this is the first year I’ve managed to get it to seed. The first year pollinators didn’t find it and most of the flowers faded off and did nothing. This season something different happened. I had originally thought that I. niamniamensis might have left it’s pollinators at home somewhere in central Africa, I was wrong.  In late summer I began to see drunk wasps crawling inside the blooms to get a taste of the inner nectar. A few weeks later seed pods started to develop and a couple days ago I found my first exploded seed pod on the floor. The seeds are made of the strangest rubbery material twisted in on itself to create a slingshot effect when disturbed.


Seed Pod

Having lost the first pod’s seeds to the floor (or who knows where) I decided to try to capture the seeds and placed a small plastic bag around the seed pod. Within 24 hours the pod had exploded and the bag had collected the seeds. Excellent! Having felt pretty happy with myself I began to tie another bag onto an almost ripe seed pod when suddenly it burst and flung it’s contents in every which direction. A small popping sound could be heard, and the tightly wound rubber pod snapped apart. The conclusion to this experiment, when the pods are ready they wait like armed grenades, ready to explode when disturbed. The slingshot effect must help the plant disperse it’s seeds great distances, thus eliminating competition for the mother plant.

I love it when plant science works out. I’ve read they’re easy enough to grow from seed so I’m going to give it a shot with the fresh ones I’ve collected.

Everything is coming along quite nicely. 97% of my tropicals have found warm homes either in my house, cold frame or the greenhouse at work. There is large volume of marginal zone 7-8 plants that I’m tempted to test outdoors, but have opted to take the safe route and bring them inside. In a panic to make more room for cacti I splurged and bought a new lighting system for my basement cacti setup. Originally priced in the 500+ area I picked this system up for $150.00 used. It features three shelves with moving growing lights to accommodate different sized plants. Having set it up last week so far I’m impressed with the results. Everything seems quite happy.


While the basement is a great setup I still try to keep my prized specimens on the top floor where things will be a bit warmer. The top floor of my house has a whopping 90 potted plants scattered throughout the living room, kitchen and bathroom. Who knew it would get this bad, it’s like an episode of hoarders. Really though I did my very best to reduce the cluttered look and I’ve  jigsawed the collection into a tasteful display. When one finds himself with a crippling plant collecting addiction one should be wary of making his roommates uncomfortable due an excess of plant “clutter”. I digress.

The upstairs “plant lab” is looking pretty nice this year.


The frogs hairdo seems to be cooperating so far. “Cut those sideburns you hippie!”


I’ve been training a hedera ssp across the ceiling of my living room for the last 3 years, It’s almost made it to the fireplace.


Hanging off little hooks my air plants bask under the grow light. Pictured above: Tillandsia stricta


Another airplant : Tillandsia ionantha


My phalaenopsis ssp. orchid has been creating non-stop blooms for the last 8-10 months, incredible!


Upon a closer inspection, it’s markings are exotic and spectacular. The detail in nature never ceases to amaze.


My 7 foot Euphorbia trigona has put out a healthy flush of leaves this year and couldn’t be happier.


When I first brought in my impatiens niamniamensis it sulked for about a week, now it’s climatized and is flowering like crazy.

What a relief to have succeeded with the move. No frost yet but Winter strikes in 5-20 days tops. I need a new jacket and some waterproof shoes. Ho Hum.

Ah Impatiens niamniamensis, the plant that really started the fire for strange tropical plants. Little did I know when I found this odd plant at Le Coteau it would spark such a ridiculous obsession. Suppliers in Canada are few and far between but tropical impatiens really fascinate me. Much like orchids they have some of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. I’m excited to find more along my travels.

For the moment, Impatiens niamniamensis is one of two exotic varieties in my possession, and so far so good. I’ve had this one for nearly a year now and it’s pretty easy plant to grow. Throughout the winter I kept it under a grow light, and that may explain why it’s currently so tall at over 3 feet in height. It did get the odd spider mite infestation but being the neurotic plant collector that I am, it got a regular hit of pyrethrin which sorted it right out. I moved it outdoors in mid June and since being outside it’s really started to thrive again. It’s height helps it stand out in the garden and escape the canopy of strange ground dwellers.


The shape of the flower suggests to me that this plant is pollinated by something strange indeed. Moth tongue or strangely curved bird beak? I’m afraid up here in Canada I might never know, haven’t seen any hummers try yet.


These are the buds of of the up and coming “parrot beak” flowers. What’s stranger are the small crystals this plant creates near these clusters of flowers. I’ve still not figured out what they’re for, perhaps to lure in pollinators, or protectors?

Information gained thus far:
The plant roots readily from cutting and if you want more plants, wait for side branch to shoot off, snap off and root accordingly. They have a pretty high success rate. Other notable things I’ve learnt while growing this plant for the last year is that while they survive just fine indoors, and do alright outdoors in the summer, these are still true tropical plants. I have one at the greenhouse and in the humidity and heat it just goes nuts. The growth rate is tripled and the flowering is out of control. The more heat and humidity the better!

For more information on this plant see my post from last September here.

Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
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