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Wishbone Flower (Torenia)

Updated on July 13, 2012
Purple Torenia Wishbone Flower
Purple Torenia Wishbone Flower | Source

Wishbone flowers, also called wishbone plants, bluewings or clown flowers, are small annual flowering plants belonging to the family Scrophulariaceae, which is a family more commonly known for snapdragons. Wishbone flowers belong to the genus Torenia which is named after an 18th century Swedish chaplain, Reverend Olof Toren. The common name of wishbone flower comes from how the inner parts of the flowers (the stamens) look like a chicken wishbone in shape.

Extensive Torenia hybridisation has been conducted over the last 30 years and has produced wishbone flowers in a myriad of colours including yellow flowers with a purple throat, as well as deep violet, white, lavender, purple and blue flowers with white or yellow throats. Most of the varieties seen in garden centres are hybrids of Torenia fournieri with other Torenia species. Torenia plants remain small rarely growing more than 12 inches (30cm) in height, however large mass plantings of them can create an attractive flowering groundcover. The leaves of wishbone flowers look similar to mint and have a toothed leaf margin. The flowers are said to be attractive to hummingbirds which feed on the nectar and they can be used to attract them into your garden if they occur naturally where you live.

Wishbone flowers are easy to grow as long as a few key requirements are met. They grow fastest in hot and humid climates. As Torenia plants are small and dainty they can dry out quickly so be sure to keep the water up to them, especially during dry weather. They prefer to be planted in a location that receives morning but no afternoon sun, but will also do well in locations that are almost entirely shaded. Wishbone flowers prefer growing in rich, fertile, free-draining soils, digging compost through the soil prior to planting can help. When planted into poor soils Torenia will only grow a few inches before putting out a couple of flowers then dying. Plants growing in fertile soils grow much larger and bloom far more profusely. Wishbone flowers are also suitable for growing in containers and hanging baskets in a suitable, premium grad potting mix. Wishbone flowers are not troubled by many pests or diseases however the leaves and stems can be susceptible to rot if air-circulation around the plants is poor.

Wishbone flower seeds are minuscule and difficult to collect but they will self sow in the garden readily and are actually quite difficult to get rid off if plants from a previous year have been left to set seed. Broadcast sow seed in Spring after the last frost has past and the soil temperature begins to warm, rake them in lightly and water well. The seeds are prone to drying out so should be watered regularly. Torenia seeds take about two weeks to germinate and emerge from the soil. Stem cuttings placed into water for a few days will also form roots easily after which time they can be planted out into the garden. Wishbone flowers do not always transplant well so expect a few to die when planting out purchased punnets of Torenia. If planting from punnets space each plant 6 inches (15cm) apart. You can encourage the plants to branch out and produce more flowers by plucking off the growing tip from the main stem. Torenia produces flower all Summer and Autumn long.

Purple-throated yellow Torenia flowers growing at the Roma Street Parklands in Brisbane, Australia.
Purple-throated yellow Torenia flowers growing at the Roma Street Parklands in Brisbane, Australia.

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