08 September 2010

Here Kitty Kitty

When a gardener sees a flower as cute as Cat’s Whiskers, they can’t restrain themselves from urgently asking what it is and how to get one. The plants and seeds are not available through flower catalogs and garden centers but they are worth the chase.

The flowers resemble cat’s whiskers and attract hummingbirds and butterflies with their abundance of nectar.



Tulsa grower, Anne Pinc, said she found the plant when she had her nursery and has been growing it from cuttings ever since.

I have never had a seedling come up in the garden, or even make seeds on plants in the greenhouse Pinc said. I can’t tell you where I got that first plant 10 years ago. I like cats and thought it sounded neat and have been taking cuttings ever since.



What is most important about the plant is its summertime bloom.

I tuck it in where I know hummingbirds will come along, Pinc said. Even though it does not have red flowers, the hummingbirds enjoy it. I have it where I can see it from the kitchen window.

Cat’s Whiskers loves the heat and begins to bloom in June. Pinc said she removes all the spent flowers in August. It will continue to bloom from side shoots until it is knocked down by frost.

Over the summer, it will grow into a shrubby, tender, perennial, 3-feet tall and wide. Water thoroughly and let it dry out in between watering. The plants in Pinc's garden were in large pots sunk halfway into the ground.

Treat Cat's Whiskers like a Lantana, Pinc said. If you fertilize Lantana and keep its roots wet, you will get lots of growth and leaves but no flowers. It's the same with Cat’s Whiskers.

Orthosiphon stamineus prefers full sun but can take afternoon filtered light. To successfully grow Cat’s Whiskers, prepare the soil by adding 3-inches of compost and digging it down 6-inches. Add a slow release fertilizer at the same time.

This member of the mint family has a few Latin names: Orthosiphon stamineus benth, Orthosiphon aristatus and Ocimum aristatum.

Mint family plants are easy to start from cuttings. Cut a 5-inch piece of stem, remove all but the top few leaves and put the cutting into moist potting soil. Keep it watered and out of direct light until new growth emerges.

Since it is tender this far north, Cat’s Whiskers is sold through Florida, Mississippi and Texas wholesale nurseries. Most plants are started from cuttings rather than from seed. Although it is not invasive, when the plant is fully grown, the portions of plant stem that rest on soil, may form roots.

The dried leaves of Cat’s Whiskers are easy to find since they are sold as Java Tea. Native to tropical East Asia, it is considered to be an essential, medicinal herb.

Orthosiphon aristatus is called misai kucing in Malaysia where it is used as an anti-allergic, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory and diuretic. The tea is used to treat kidney, bladder, liver, gout, diabetes and rheumatism. Both cholesterol and high blood pressure are treated with the herb; it is said to remove fatty cells from blood.

The USDA tested the plant’s medical properties and could not confirm its reputation as a cure for kidney stones.

After an exhaustive search of the Internet, not one seed supplier could be found. In fact, in her book, “Mints”, Barbara Perry Lawton said she first saw the plant in a botanical garden. Lawton could find no information about Cat’s Whiskers in any botanical reference.

Pinc will have the plants available for sale in the spring. Her booth at the Sand Springs and Jenks spring festivals is called Collector’s Garden.

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