A deep taproot provides sustenance to the jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) plant, which is native to the New World in a variety of habitats. The tongue-like deep green leaves are arranged in whorls on the red stems that are topped with a branched display of tiny red or pink blossoms in summer. This species produces lots of seeds that germinate nearby, often giving it "annoying-weed" status.
Native and Introduced Growing Ranges
Jewels of Opar is native to the New World, from the Mississippi River westward and then southward across Central America and northern South America, including the western islands of the Caribbean. It is a successful perennial plant that grows in moist to dry woodlands and prairies in a wide array of clay, sand and alkaline soils that have good drainage. Only in soggy or flooded soils does this species not grow well.
The abundant production of seeds has found the jewels of Opar growing into eastern North America and southern Asia and Africa, usually as a nuisance weed.
This plant grows in a tufted cluster of sprawling to upright stems from a deep-growing taproot. Often the stems have a reddish green tint and may have small whorled branchlets evenly distributed along the length of the stem.
In regions with cold winters, jewels of Opar dies back and overwinters, the taproot surviving and re-sprouting stems when warmth returns in spring. In subtropical and tropical regions where killing frosts and freezes are absent, this perennial remains evergreen and becomes quite large, approaching height and spread of 3 to 5 feet.
The leaves are elliptical to rounded oval in shape, like a tongue, and are usually held in circular whorls on the stems of the plant. Colored a rich, deep green, leaves have a satiny luster and are smooth and thin. In nutrient-poor soils, such as those that are sandy or gravelly, the foliage may be a lighter green to yellowish green in color.
Flowers and Seeds
From the tips of stems and side branches appear the thinly branched, sometimes nodding inflorescence, or collection of tiny flowers. Individual flowers are one-quarter the size of a pea or smaller and have oval petals that are colored red or pink. Petals may also carry a blushing hint of yellow or purple as well. The small red capsules that later form shed the seeds to nearby soil, to germinate when growing conditions are right.
In regions where there are cold winters, flowers occur from June to November, up until the autumnal frosts kill back the foliage. In frost-free areas jewels of Opar can bloom in flushes year round.
The wild species form of jewels of Opar is usually considered an undesirable roadside weed. However, selections with colorful foliage have gained popularity for use in warm climate gardens. White and green colored leaves are known on 'Variegata' while chartreuse-green to yellow-green foliage makes 'Limon' a variety popular to brighten dry-soiled landscapes. Finally, 'Kingwood Gold' has golden leaves with a yellow-green tint, and flowers that are coral-pink.