9/16/2022 6:27 pm
Strobilanthes hamiltoniana - Chinese Rain Bells
An oddball late season pollinator magnet for light shade is Strobilanthes hamiltoniana (Chinese Rain Bells). Topping out at 4-6’ tall by 3-4’ wide, it bears attractive dark green, glossy foliage. In late fall, it is covered with panicles of lavender-pink blooms that persist until a true hard frost.
Strobilanthes hamiltoniana starts out slowly every year, making you wonder if it is coming back. So far, it has dependably sprouted from the base in late spring/early summer. It really gets cranking at the end of August and starts to shoot upwards in September. The blooms start in late September/early October and just go and go and go. The plant is shockingly great at taking a few light frosts with ease (given I thought it was a tender tropical when I bought it). .
I got mine at the UGA Trial Garden Sale in April (aka “Plantapalooza”) several years ago. The first year I took a fall cutting because I wanted to be certain I would have it the following spring. That says a lot that I would even try — because I am terrible at propagation. No fear, however, my stem cutting took root and then the mother plant came back too!
Don’t give this too much sun is my best advice. The one that is in nearly all day light shade, protected by a hovering maple tree, has outperformed the one in half day sun (thanks to the death of the protective redbud nearby). This plant also seems to do fine in tightly packed soil, competing amongst loads of plants.
It’s not easy to find Strobilanthes hamiltoniana, but anyone who wants is welcome to try to root a cutting. This has quickly become one of my favorite plants. It appears to have its origin in India, and is sometimes apparently sold as the more accurately labeled “India Rain Bells”.
I would not be the first to observe that this plant is difficult to capture well in images. But in person, “Oh my!” — Liane Schleifer