The wishbone flower might be the most useful annual you’ve never heard of. This petite, cheerful dynamo blooms on and on, from early summer till frost, as many annuals do—but the wishbone flower (Torenia spp.) does it in the shade. As a container plant or at the front of the border, it gives you charming blossoms that look like a cross between a snapdragon and a pansy: trumpet-shaped bicolor or tricolor blooms in a range of colors, from violet to pink to white, with a white or yellow mark on the throat. Don’t look for a wishbone shape in the petals, though. It’s the stamens, which emerge locked together at the top, that give the flower its common name.
Common name: Wishbone flower, bluewings
Botanical name: Torenia fournieri, Torenia x hybrida
Plant type: Annual
Zones: Annual in most zones
Height: 6 to 12 inches tall
• Sun: Full shade to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Average
• Mulch: Mulch will help preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Pinch to encourage bushy growth.
• Fertilizer: Especially in containers, use quick-release plant food every two or three weeks.
• By seed
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to powdery mildew, root rot, and gray mold.
• Torenia is a valuable annual because it blooms well in the shade. Combine with coleus, caladium, or oxalis to multiply the colorful effect in a shade-loving container.
• Torenia will also be happy edging a hosta bed, a fern collection, or a woodland garden.
• Always give the wishbone flower protection from the hot afternoon sun, especially in Zones 6 to 9.
• The Moon series, including ‘Purple Moon’ (pictured here), and the Catalina series of hybrids offer a rainbow of colors, including dark violet, lavender, pink, yellow, and white.
• The Summer Wave series is said to handle heat and humidity better than other cultivars.
All in the family
• The genus Torenia contains 40 to 50 species, all from tropical regions of Africa and Asia. It usually grows in wooded areas, at altitudes up to 10,000 feet.
Where to buy
• Harris Seeds, Rochester, NY, 800-544-7938, www.harrisseeds.com
• Romence Gardens, Grand Rapids, MI, 888-907-5268, www.romencegardens.com
• Swallowtail Garden Seeds, Santa Rosa, CA, 877-489-7333, www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com
(Text and photo by Elizabeth Noll)