This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
When we are asked to believe that color is given to flowers, expressly that they may be made attractive to insects, we may remember that color is not confined to flowers. Rocks and stones, sea-weeds, mushrooms and toad-stools vie with flowers in brilliancy of colors; and even in ordinary plants, stems and leaves, and even seeds themselves are often as highly colored as the gayest flower. In regard to colored leaves the gardener knows how abundant these are. Our greenhouses and conservatories are brilliant at all seasons, and even our flower beds owe as much to the leaves of coleuses and alternantheras, as to any insect-attracting flowers. Besides mere colored leaves, there is a class which has color in those organs which are intermediate between leaves and flowers - bracts - though after all these are usually more nearly leaves than flowers. It is only necessary to refer to the well-known Poin-setta, or "Christmas flower" of the Spaniards to explain what we mean. These large heads of scarlet petals are bracts, and, as we may see on examination, very little more than scarlet leaves.
The plant we now illustrate is somewhat of this class, and which has recently been introduced to cultivation by the enterprise of the well-known firm of Wm. Bull, of Chelsea, near London. Though an allied species, Antigonon leptopus, has been for the past few years an admired plant in American collections. The plant belongs to the Polygonaceae, or, as we might say, in order to be more popularly understood by our readers, the Buckwheat family. Some of the true Polygonums have a climbing habit, as for instance Polygonum dumetorum, the "hedge-bind weed," which, though included by authors among " weeds and useless plants," is so beautiful as it twines over bushes, or runs over other plants in corn fields, that it would surely be cultivated as an ornamental if it were not so common. This plant Antigonon is an intermediate between the ordinary shrubby Polygonum and the twining forms. It has what the French neatly call a sarmentose habit, that is, branches not climbing, but yet too weak to support themselves very well. But, as we see by the engraving, after growing in this style for some time, they take a sudden notion to coil, and have indeed terminal tendrils. The end of the Pea leaf does just the same.
It sends out small thread-like coils, which attaches to sticks - the Antigonon is one of the few plants which does the same by the ends of its branches. It would surprise some who see racemes of fine, rosy purple color to be told that they are but sepals - mere leaves in a transition state to flowers - and that the petals are comparatively minute, sitting like unassuming little birds in the middle of a magnificent nest. But a close examination soon convinces one. At the base of such raceme, a true leaf is depicted, and by comparison we see that the form of the bract-like sepal is very nearly the same. They are indeed so very little changed in character, even retaining the veins as in true leaves that only for the beautiful color, we should never think of them but as leaves.
Mr. Bull will receive the thanks of all plant lovers for introducing this very pretty plant. Antigonon leptopus is a very easily grown greenhouse plant, and no doubt this one will be equally tractable.