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January 2008
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Shoo Fly plant / Apple of Peru

An annual Peruvian plant (Nicandra physalodes), grown as an ornamental for its pale violet-blue, bell-shaped flowers and its fruits enclosed in papery inflated calyxes. This is a plant with large, jaggedly lobed, bright green leaves. The flowerbuds are extraordinary, like purple-black lampshades. The flowers are rounded light blue or purple bells and simple in their effect. There are brown berries later. This is worth growing for the curiosity value. The popular name shoo-fly comes from the suggestion that its sap kills any insects that feed on it, and may even discourage whitefly in a greenhouse.
Another description of this plant: A vigorous plant with handsome, wavy-toothed leaves and attractive pale blue, bell-shaped flowers followed by ornamental papery Chinese lanterns. Branches of these can be dried and used for winter decoration indoors.
The shoo fly plant is 2-5′ tall, branching occasionally. The stems are angular and largely hairless. The alternate leaves are up to 8″ long and 4″ across (excluding the petioles). They are ovate-cordate and sparsely pubescent. Their margins are shallowly lobed, bluntly dentate, or undulate. The petiole of each leaf is long and slender, tilting at an upward angle; there are a few hairs near its base, otherwise it is hairless.
At blooming time, in mid-spring, the plants are adorned with 1½ inch (4.5 cm) solitary violet bell-shaped flowers with white centers. After successful pollination, a globose fruit forms inside the persistent calyx, resembling a tomatilla.
Nicandra physalodes need full sun to partial shade, with a well-drained soil mix. Plants are watered in the morning and allowed to dry during the day. Plants that stay too wet seem to not do as well as ones grown a little drier. The plants are fertilized monthly in the greenhouse with a balanced fertilizer diluted to ½ the strength recommended on the label. The preference is full or partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and a loamy fertile soil. Most vegetative growth occurs during the late spring and summer; this species is a summer annual.
Be warned: All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.

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