Post last updated: October 10th, 2018
Wishbone Flower, torenia fournieri, first caught my eye in the spring or summer of 2013 probably because it was a velvety, trumpet-shaped deep purple flower with a white throat, about one inch long and half inch wide. I don’t remember if I bought one or three plants but I do remember my goal was to plant it in a planter at the front of Poppie’s main garage as a replacement for the fading winter violas. It filled out the container, making a compact, mounding plant that bloomed profusely all summer and into the fall. I fell in love with it and I’m still on the honeymoon.
The original wild Wishbone Flower hails from Viet Nam. Common names include Bluewings and Clown Flower, but it is more aptly named Wishbone Flower because inside the flower throat, its anthers arch inward, join at the tip and look like a chicken wishbone. The stamens pull apart when the flower is ready for pollination. The leaves have a toothy edge similar to mint.
A bushy, summer annual growing 6 to 12 inches, it can be grown as a houseplant, in containers, hanging baskets and as borders planted in your flower beds. It is hardy in USDA zones 6 to 11 and absolutely thrives in warm, humid climates with a little shade. My planter gets morning shade but afternoon sun, those planted in the flower bed get morning sun and afternoon shade. It is said to bloom profusely even in moderate to heavy shade. In the more northern U.S., grow Wishbone in full sun but consider it a tender annual unable to tolerate frost.
At this time, there are several cultivars – ‘Alba’, ‘Clown’ whose ‘Clown Mixture’ won the 1989 All-America Selection, ‘Compacta’ (very compact habit), ‘Grandiflora’ (larger flowers), ‘Kauai’, ‘Panda’ (small 4-8 inch plants), and ‘Susie Wong’ (bright yellow flowers with brown throats). All of the flowers have multiple colors. Some of the colors available are deep blue, deep purple, lavender, white, white with yellow, both light and dark pink, red violet, hot fuchsia magenta, and burgundy. Thirty years of hybridizing have produced colors that I would love to have but can’t find, probably because they are the newest: ‘Summer Wave Blue’ (a solid purple), ‘Magenta Dream or Moon’ (burgundy and yellow with dark throat) ‘Velvet Dream’.
Recommendations for success include fertilizing every few weeks to promote flowering and deadheading to increase bushiness. I never did either and mine were fine. I did keep it consistently moist but not soggy because its stems reminded me of impatiens which are susceptible to root rot.
The seeds are almost transparent and microscopic. They are a tad difficult to collect but it’s not impossible. Take a little cup with you so you can pinch the seed pod off without losing any seeds. I wish I could tell you what the seed pod looks like but it must have been obvious because I have no memory of it. DO NOT cover the seeds as they need light to germinate. Press them into the soil and water lightly. You can also root stem cuttings in water to create more plants.
I do encourage saving seed so that you never run out of the colors you want to grow. For instance, I saw plenty of the pinks and violets at the nurseries this year but not the deep purple I had purchased last year. Like violas, they reseed themselves which turned into a real challenge for me when my 12 inch wide planter suddenly sprouted ALL the seeds from last year plus ALL the seeds I saved and planted. Having planted every last seed I saved, I had enough to over-fill the 12 inch planter, plant 2 dozen in my flower bed, and give a half dozen away. Oddly, I have colors that came up from the 2013 plants or saved seeds that I never saw in the planter — both light and medium pink.