Scientific Name: Cestrum elegans; Cestrum elegans 'Smithii'.
Common Names: C. elegans: Red Cestrum; C. elegans 'Smithii': Pink Cestrum.
Plant Type: Perennial, climbing evergreen shrub with arching branches; grows rapidly to 6-10 ft.
Environment: Sun or part shade with regular watering. It is hardy to about 25-30 degrees F.
Bloom: Spring through Summer.
Uses: Good for espalier. Attracts hummingbirds.
Other: As with many plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae, all parts of the plant are toxic and can cause severe gastroenteritis if eaten.
South Africa Garden
(Beds: 14A, 14B, 24C, 53I, 54A)
A relative of the potato and tomato, the genus Cestrum contains near 250 unique species that range from the southern US to Chile. Cestrum elegans, commonly called red cestrum or pink cestrum, is a native of Southern Mexico, and flowers can be colored red, pink, or violet. It is pollinated by hummingbirds.
Cestrum elegans has been in cultivation since the mid-1800's and, as with many plants, views on the merits of this species vary widely around the world. While viewed as an ornamental from the US to China, Nepal, and the United Kingdom, in South Africa, C. elegans has become invasive, taking over disturbed rainforest margins, urban land, and creek banks. It is also considered a weed in the state of Victoria, Australia, where it is published as one of the country’s 100 worst invasive garden plants! Perhaps due in part to our much lower average rainfall than these two areas, we are able to appreciate the merits of this species without significant risk of escape.
A cousin of C. elegans called Cestrum parqui, commonly called willow jessamine due to its form and fragrant, yellow flowers is listed as a very limited-range, moderately-invasive shrub in California, with specimens occurring locally in Contra Costa and Napa Counties, as well as in the Sierra and the Southern California Counties of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. C. parqui is a native of Chile, where it experiences a drier, more mediterranean climate. Another example of a species of mixed merit, the willow jessamine has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and it cultivated as an ornamental in the United Kingdom.
Like many other members of the Solanaceae plant family, Cestrum species are toxic. Featured this month is Cestrum elegans 'Smithii', an attractive, pink-colored cultivar that can reach eight to ten feet. With a long bloom period from spring through summer followed by red berries in the fall, this evergreen shrub remains showy for much of the growing season. This cultivar is reported to be hardy to just below freezing and accepting of full sun or part shade, as well, making it a good candidate for our mild, Bay Area climate.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Mona Bourell. Photos by Mona Bourell, and Joanne Taylor.