Scaevola aemula

Fairy Fan Flower

One Australian perennial that contributes a new hybrid almost yearly is Scaevola Aemula, and sometimes the new release differs only in flower colour from its predecessors. There are so many other perennials, both indigenous and exotic, that we could choose for this book, but the primary reason we chose Scaevola Aemula for inclusion is that there is a lesson or two to be learned from this exceptionally desirable plant with its ‘half’ flowers.

The brief, rather factual descriptions of Scaevola Aemula hybrids that we find in plant catalogues go something like this: “ground cover with dark green, almost fleshy leaves with toothed edges, and fan-like flowers. Evergreen and hardy.”

What these descriptions fail to include is the fact that these plants form part of a genus full of tropical species from Southern Australia, Polynesia and Hawaii, where many of the plants are exceptionally hardy, growing on sand dunes and coping with salt-laden winds. This is a problematic omission, because when you acquire a Scaevola you really need to be aware of the natural habitat of this plant.

A gardener’s curiosity is piqued every time adverts appear for ‘new’ plants (most often new hybrids of older varieties and hybrids).

Many South African gardeners fall in love with these beauties, take them home and are devastated when they die a few weeks later. The fact is, Scaevolas are not hardy in cold climates, and if you do decide to plant them where the weather doesn’t suit them, rather treat them as an annual for providing instant colour, particularly on a sunny patio.

Planted in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets, they will flourish and flower spectacularly. Remember, though, that they need good drainage and will die if their pots are left standing in water. While they don’t like too much water, they also don’t like it when water is applied a few drips at a time. Only water when the soil has dried out completely, and then water well and make sure the water drains away. In nature, the plants have a strong root system that grows deep down to find moisture, which is then stored in the thick leaves. They are not known for longevity – in ideal growing conditions they survive between 18 months and two years. Buy these plants, enjoy them and replace them regularly with fresh stock.

When they bloom

In favourable climates, they flower from late winter until the end of summer.

Most suitable climate

Scaevolas are suitable for warm, dry gardens and moderate summer rainfall regions. They perform beautifully as instant potted colour in coastal gardens with a Mediterranean climate, such as in the Western Cape, because they are not bothered by the wind.

What they need

Location: full sun to light shade.

Soil: sandy potting soil that drains well and very quickly.

Water: medium to low water consumption. Only water once the top layers of the soil are dry to the touch. In hanging baskets, where the soil dries out rather rapidly, add some water retention granules to the soil to keep the moisture down at root level where it is needed most.

Fertilizing and Pruning: feed plants in containers every two weeks, using a liquid fertilizer, or every four to six weeks with a slow-release, granular fertilizer. At first pinch off the growth points from the side stems regularly to encourage bushy growth.

Note: Scaevolas are not grown for longevity, but rather for the intense pleasure they can supply in containers. In ideal growing conditions they survive between 18 months and two years before they have to be replaced with fresh plants.

In a nutshell

  • Tougher than it looks.
  • Spectacular in hanging baskets and in pots.
  • Ideal colour for coastal gardens.
  • Low water consumption.
The Gardener