Keys Homes
Sunday, July 28, 2013
The story and life of an herbaceous forb, the Spanish shawl

By ROBIN ROBINSON The Key West Garden Club

Spanish shawl is an herbaceous forb of many names. This groundcover is called pink lady, trailing tiborichina, the pink and rock rose, as well as ebato and awede in Nigeria. Even the scientists can't get it right, using three different synonyms -- Heterotis, Osbeckia or Dissotis rotundifolia, and Hetros, Heterocentron or Schizocentron elegans.

Hetros is Greek for different referring to the unequal stamina. The longer ones are lavender and the shorter ones bright yellow. Rotundifolia means round leaf. These are all synonyms for the same forb, Elegans.

The green, inch-long ovate leaves are pointed on the bottom and lighter colored underneath. If they are in bright sunlight, they develop a ruddy color, red veins and hollow, red stems. The glaborous (hairy) leaves that grow opposite are simple and whorled on short rounded stems. They taste slightly salty.

Gardeners love Spanish shawl because of its perky, pink flowers that proliferate when the groundcover is in sunlight. The four or five-petaled flowers are ¬½-inch to 2-inch jewels, punctuated by lavender and yellow stamens, and scattered profusely across the flowerbed. Applying a slow release fertilizer assures abundant blooming throughout the year. Insects and bees are fond of the nectar.

Pink lady can be propagated by rooting cuttings or by division. It spreads by rooting at the nodes and the fast growing plant can take over a garden if not kept in check. The small fruit also can be planted. It likes rich, but well drained soil and needs moderate watering to do well. Older stems get woody and it does not respond well to freezing or salt in any form, but can withstand drought once established.

Groundcovers should be planted in the landscape more frequently than we do because water from plants is released through evaporation from the leaves. Transpiration absorbs the warmth from the air that passes over the leaf. This process of evaporative cooling lowers the temperature around the plants as much as nine degrees. According to the State of Florida, groundcovers can be 15 to 25 degrees cooler than an adjacent paved surface.

Phytochemical investigations have indicated many medicinal uses including remedies for headache, toothache, cold, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, yellow fever, swelling, rheumatism, sinusitis, swelling, TB and at least ten other things. Although native to Hawaii and points south of Puerto Rico, it is also found throughout Africa. Nigeria has studied its medical properties. Their scientists found alkaloids, saponins and cardiac glycosides present in the leaves. The presence of alkaloids is important in possible medicinal uses.

Spanish shawl would look good in a handsome container, in a hanging basket or cascading down a rock garden. Plant this pest and disease-free creeper in your garden and watch it proliferate.


The Key West Garden Club welcomes volunteers to work on the historical fort, pull weeds, propagate plants and play in the sandy soil at the West Martello Tower from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays.

Key West Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist for the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton Features. Her books "Plants of Paradise" and the Award Winning "Roots Rocks and Rain: Native Trees of the Florida Keys," can be found at the Garden Club and on This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. For more information visit

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