The vast subcontinent of India, says Jyoti Prakash, MSc. of the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Co-operative in Bangladesh, has contributed many familiar garden plants to the rest of the world. Rhododendrons, clematis, begonias, primroses and orchids all come from India. Many of India's lesser-known shrubs, however, also have much to offer gardeners in other countries. Those not hardy in places with severe winters often make outstanding container plants.
Some 200 mussaenda shrub species grow wild in India. Only three, however, are common landscape plants, say the University of Florida Cooperative Extensions' Program Assistant John McLaughlin and Extension Agent Joe Garofalo. Evergreen in tropical climates, Mussaenda are grown as container plants in colder areas, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG). Potted mussaendas stand from 1 to 3 feet high and 2 feet wide.
Mussaendas have summer clusters of small, tube-shaped yellow or red blooms with showy, 3-inch pink or red sepals (the flower's protective outer petals). Flowers contrast dramatically with deepgreen, elliptical foliage. Mussaenda likes a sunny--for best sepal color--to partly shady location. It benefits from filtered midday shade in hot climates. Grow it in well-drained, evenly moist soil. Potted plants will overwinter indoors in a sunroom.
Named after its flowers' banana-like scent, banana shrub (Michelia figo) is a popular landscape shrub in India. A magnolia family evergreen reaching up to 20 feet high and 15 feet wide, it has glossy, deep-green, 3-to-5 inch elliptical leaves. A thick covering of brown hairs lend their color to its twigs, says University of Florida Professor Edward F. Gilman, Ph.D. Between March and May, its red-edged, pale yellow magnolia-like blooms appear.
Banana shrub, says Professor Gilman, is hardy to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. He recommends planting it as a screen, specimen or patio plant but cautions that the fragrance from massed plantings in bloom can be overwhelming. Banana shrub likes partial sun to partial shade, and acidic soil. It accepts sand, loam and clay. Position the shrubs between 3 and 5 feet apart.
India hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) is a small (5 feet high and wide) mounding shrub in the rose family. It has 4-inch, toothed leathery leaves with deep-green surfaces and pale undersides, says Floridata.com. New foliage and flowers emerge in spring, when the evergreen shrubs bear clusters of faintly scented, pink or white star-shaped blooms. Deep blue berries follow the flowers and provide food for cedar waxwings.
India hawthorn is hardy to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant it in a well-drained location with sun to part shade. New plants need average moist soil, becoming drought-tolerant as they establish. Avoid wetting the leaves. Use it as a low hedge, foundation planting or in borders.