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What is a Painted Tongue?

R. Britton
R. Britton

A flower native to the Andes region, the most common painted tongue is the Salpiglossis sinuata, which usually produces blooms in shades of violet or orange with stripes of a darker shade on each petal. Painted tongue is an ornamental plant often used in borders or containers. A variety of additional painted tongue cultivars have been developed to give a greater variety of flower color, including red, yellow and deep blue; varieties include the casino series, royale hybrid and splash mixture. Painted tongue is an annual, ornamental, slow-spreading shrub that has slightly elliptical, lance-shaped leaves and commonly exceeds 2 feet (60 cm) in height.

Painted tongue produces masses of showy flowers throughout summer into mid-autumn. A higher number of blooms and a longer flowering period can be encouraged by regularly removing dead flowers. The stems of most painted tongue varieties are often weak, and taller stems will usually need staking, particularly in areas in which the plant is not offered at least partial shelter from the wind and in regions that are particularly prone to strong winds.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Optimal growing conditions for the painted tongue plant include moist but well-drained soil that is also rich in nutrients, and partial shade for part of the day; it can tolerate longer periods of full sun in cooler summer temperatures. Non-organic fertilizer can be applied to increase nutrient levels in the soil. Cheaper, organic methods of fertilization, including farmyard manure from grazing animals, also can provide nutrients similar to those of chemical fertilizers.

Although the painted tongue can tolerate low to moderate humidity, it will not tolerate over-watering or waterlogging, so a gardener should pay close attention to proper water levels. Painted tongue also will not tolerate nutrient-poor soil, high humidity or constant full sun. When grown in unrelenting full sun, painted tongue frequently develops sun scorch, which damages both leaves and flowers, causing them to die back or develop unsightly brown lesions. Painted tongue is also prone to aphid infestation.

Botrytis, or gray mold, and a variety of fungal root rots can attack painted tongue plants, especially if the plants have poor general health or have recently suffered an insect infestation. Plants suffering from root rot, which will cause the plant to wilt and the leaves to turn brown or fall off, will need to be removed and destroyed. Any tools used to remove infected plants must be thoroughly cleaned before being used again to avoid spreading the damaging fungus.

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