Focus on flora: Mexican petunia in Camana Bay

15 January 2020

By Shannon Schmidt

One of the things the Caribbean is known for is the flora. Whether it displays leathery-leaved, shade-loving plants, or lush shrubs covered in vibrantly coloured flowers, the Caribbean landscape is distinct and memorable.

A standout in the Caribbean is the Mexican petunia, or Ruellia brittoniana. As its name implies, it is native to Mexico, but widely used and nearly naturalised in the Caribbean and South America as an ornamental.

Unlike its name implies, it is not actually a petunia. Petunias belong the to nightshade family, or Solanaceae, and Ruellia belongs to another large family of flowering plants called Acanthaceae.

This evergreen shrub can reach 3 to 6 feet in height and sprawl colonies that span up to 2 feet wide.

It is an attractive specimen that is covered in violet-coloured flowers year-round, when placed in the right spot.

Mexican petunia can tolerate full sun, but does appreciate a bit of partial shade. Growing in full sun, it will flower more prolifically, but it will also require more water as the sun will dry it out faster. It will still flower happily in part shade and will require less water.

Another notable characteristic of the Mexican petunia is its drought and flood tolerance once established. It will tolerate harsh conditions of drought and flooding in a well-draining neutral soil and is not a heavy feeder. This makes it a great specimen for the climate in Grand Cayman, and a very low-maintenance option for the landscape.
Mexican petunia is a fast grower and flowers at a very young age. Each trumpet-shaped flower lasts only one day, and you may notice if they are placed in a very sunny location, they will close their flowers in the afternoon heat at times.

The seeds are as abundant as the flowers and disperse forcefully, spreading up to 10 feet from the mother plant.

An attractant to bees and butterflies, it is an exemplary addition to any landscape. It can be found in multiple areas of Camana Bay, and most recently sprinkled in lovely clumps along the Rise.

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 print edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline “Focus on Flora.”