Polianthes

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October 19, 1998

Polianthes dates back to the Aztecs in Mexico who used the essential oil of the plant to flavor chocolate. Today the oil is a key ingredient in perfumes.

Polianthes is a bulb crop usually grown as a fresh cut for its 36-inch-long flower spikes that produce up to 30 fragrant white florets per spike. Single- and double-flower varieties are available. The flower scent is similar to gardenias.

Plants can also be used in landscapes in all-white gardens or with other traditional plants such as iris, peony and dahlia. Potted plants can be put in decorative containers and used for entranceways and interiors.

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CCC International Inc. in Easton, Conn., offers Tuberose Chula, a white, single- and double-flowering Polianthes variety. (Chula means pretty in Spanish.)

Polianthes is grown from tuberous rootstock and tuberous rhizomes that are available in various sizes (7/8, 8/9, 9/10, 10/up centimeters in circumference). Plant rhizomes in a sandy, well-drained medium containing organic matter and with a pH of 6-7. Although the medium should be kept moist, excessive moisture can result in severe root rot caused by fusarium. Rhizomes should be covered with 2 inches of growing medium. If grown as a cut flower, rhizomes should be planted 4 to 8 inches apart. Polianthes is a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10. It does best at temperatures of 60F-85F. The medium temperature should be maintained above 60F.

If field grown in the northern United States, rhizomes should be planted in spring after threat of frost has passed and then removed in the fall for overwintering. If tubers are grown in mild climates they may be harvested for two years. However, in some mild climates production can last up to three or four years. After flowering, dig and store rhizomes for 30 to 60 days to avoid germination problems when they are replanted.

Before rhizomes are planted for cut production, incorporate an 8-8-8 fertilizer at a rate of 100 pounds per acre. Plants should be fertilized monthly at the same rate.

Plants grown outdoors usually flower in three to four months. If plants are forced in the greenhouse, production time can be cut in half. Whether grown as a cut or container plant, flowering lasts 20-25 days. If plants are healthy and well maintained, a second flowering period occurs about two months later. During this second flush more flowers are produced but flower spikes are shorter.

Harvest flowers during the morning when the first florets are open. Store flower spikes in water at 41F. Florets continue to open and flower spikes last for two weeks.

Disease problems include botrytis, erwinia, fusarium and anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum. Anthracnose is usually a problem during periods of high humidity.

Polianthes is also susceptible to aphid, mite and thrips infestations.

For more: CCC International Inc., 46 Rocky Ridge Road, Easton, CT 06612; (800) 943-1313; fax (203) 261-7801.

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Specifics

Name: Polianthes (tuberose)

Crop timing: If grown as an outdoor crop, forcing time is three to four months. Production time can be cut in half if plants are forced in the greenhouse. Flowering period lasts 20-25 days.

Grower benefits: Versatile bulb crop that can be used as a cut flower, container plant and in the landscape. Relatively short production time if grown as a greenhouse crop.
Selling points: Fragrant, single- or double-flower varieties are produced on 36-inch flower spikes. The scent of these long-lasting flowers is similar to gardenias.