Indian Pink–Spigelia marilandica–is one of about 50 species of mostly herbaceous perennials of the family Loganiaceae from mostly tropical and warm areas. This is just about the hardiest of the lot and it’s the best a Pineywoods native can offer. I love this plant; I always have. My first memory of a colony goes back over 30 years to a lazy afternoon excursion with Lynn Lowrey near Kirbyville, Texas. We drove one of the better blacktopped FM roads in Newton County and I remember climbing a small hill and over the top and then down to a sun-lit swag with a small stream at its center. It was in that moist wet spot that Indian pink had found a home – about the prettiest colonies of Indian Pink one might imagine. It was no more than a couple of hundred square feet, but it was a pure stand, and it was flowering with amazing force. The best landscape home for our native Indian pink is a moist, rich, humic forest with protection from the harsh western sun. Skip twenty years and I was nervously trying to find the home of a Shreveport gal to take to Akin’s nursery, our very first date. It didn’t take me long to realize her talent was not in giving directions but I finally found her home and when I pulled up, there she was by the prettiest clump of Indian pink ever. I’m still not sure who wins this beauty contest, the Indian Pink or Janet. We’ve been together ever since.Once well established, Indian Pink is really a rather reliable returning herbaceous perennial in our area. It grows as a rhizomatous clump between one and two feet high, with about a one to two foot spread. It has supple, sometimes glossy dark green foliage that persists throughout the growing season. From late spring into summer, it bears many upright, tubular, bright crimson flowers with light yellow throats. The plant can be made to rebloom more vigorously if lightly pruned after the first flowering event – blooms on new wood. The five-lobed tips of the flowers open gradually and look like small cream-colored stars perched on red pedestals. In bloom, no plant has greater grace and charm. Under good culture, leaves are robust, clean, and dark green. We need more Indian pink in the shady spots of East Texas landscapes simply because of the charm of genuine native treasure.
For bird lovers, Indian Pink is thought to be a major nectar source for ruby-throated hummingbirds, and it has been voted one of the top ten hummingbird plants in the country by Operation RubyThroat, an international research and education initiative based in York, South Carolina. For the herbal crowd, the genus Spigelia is considered medicinal with attributes as an antihelmintic (vermifuge). In fact, any search of the Web will find buckets of Spigelia products touting anti-headache attributes. The only headaches we’ve had have to do with propagation: the plant is a bit tricky. Asexual propagation is the norm in the trade with a preference shown for selecting the most vigorous tips as cutting material. The vegetative cuttings are often a bit turgor-difficult and mist propagation requires attention to detail. Easy to damp off, propagators should use a light mix with mist intervals frequent enough to prevent first wilt. Because of high demand and lack of supply, the plant is now becoming more and more available from the tissue culture world. The end result is that plants are available for anyone willing to seek them out.
Other related species include S. texana (syn. S. loganoides or Florida Pinkroot) and S. gentianoides (Gentian Pinkroot). Neither is in cultivation right now, but S. texana, a white-flowering species, is reported to have potential as a groundcover. S hedyotidea, Priairie Pinkroot, is native to the southern and westerns parts of north central Texas and is normally found on limestone outcrops and gravelly soils; this species is even more uncommon than Indian Pink. Further to the east in Florida and Alabama, the pale-pink-flowering S. gentianoides is so rare it’s on the federal list of endangered species. Evidently pressure from agriculture and forestry has been a main threat and the plant is limited to a small number of populations in Florida and Alabama. Conservation efforts are under way at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia. S. splendens is reported in Mexico and Guatemala. In terms of landscape and medicinal interest, Spigelia is a genus worth exploring. The PNPC is working to build a collection of Spigelia genotypes from the Pineywoods and states further east. We promote this plant at most of our plant sales, a native deserving much greater use in the landscapes of the South. Once established, it’s bulletproof.