A Gardening Journal

Love in a Puff

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Love in a Puff: The perfect swag for the purple-green leaves of this banana.  The light-green leaves of this annual vine are almost celery-like, and are very showy, indeed, when backed by larger, darker, smooth-edge leaves. 

 

Like this Red Abyssinian banana, Ensete maurelii.  Because it doesn't bloom when planted as an annual, the banana is all about foliage—and, of course, its rapidly increasing size.  Love in a Puff turned out to be a great partner:  It starts into bloom when a foot tall; the white flowers are tiny but they glint well against the dark banana leaves.  It grows quickly enough to keep pace with the banana.  And its three/three/three foliage (count the leaflets in the picture) couldn't be in stronger juxtaposition than with the banana's leaves, which are, well, unabashedly banana-like. 

 

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And then, the puffs!  Inflated and three-sectioned, their color is so light it seems almost illuminated.  Which only increases your urge to rip one right off the plant to see what's inside.

 

Wait until they ripen and then, by all means, pull a few off.

 

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The papery husk opens almost too easily; do so over a bowl or a table so you don't miss what's inside:  A trio of round and surprisingly stylish black seeds, each with a showy creamy-white patch on one side. 

 

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They roll around as easily as doll-house marbles, but their Art Deco aesthetic—the smooth surface, black-and-white color scheme, and sharp-lined geometry—is the last choice you'd expect for a plant that, up until now, has been the picture of frilly delicacy.  

 

When you finally get an individual seed facing right at you—they are so mobile that this is tricky unless you're holding a few in your palm—the (admittedly saccharine) name, Love in a Puff, is clear:  As it grew and matured, the seed was joined to the plant by (who knows why?) a thick attachment that is precisely heart-shaped.  And the scar that's left behind when the seed frees itself is (who knows why, yet again?) creamy white. 

 

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Out of respect for the seeds' uncompromising sophistication, I prefer to call the plant by the Latin, Cardiospermum, which literally means heart-seed.  Yes, I also enjoy that cardiospermum, the word itself, brings a delicious whiff of both sex and heart-healthy exercise.  As for halicacabum, I confess that I don't have a clue.  You?  

 

Here's how to grow Red Abyssinian banana.

 

Here's how to grow love-in-a-puff, such an easy annual vine:

Latin Name

Cardiospermum halicacabum

Common Name

Love in a Puff, Heart Seed, Balloon Vine

Family

Sapindaceae, the Soapberry family.

What kind of plant is it?

Tender vine.

Hardiness

Zones 9-11.

Habit

Tendril-clinging vine.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Cardiospermum is a perennial as well as a self-seeding annual in the subtropics and tropics, but it is so fast-growing it can be grown as an annual everywhere.  With enough heat, sun, rich soil, and water, it can be full-sized—ten to twelve feet tall—in three or four months.

Texture

Lacy and delicate, thanks to the widely-spaced three-leaflet leaves, each leaflet of which is, in itself, three leaflets.   

Grown for

its easy charm!  This vine couldn't be more reliable from seed, more graceful in growth, more eccentric in its little inflated pods, nor more aw-shucks with the trio of heart-signed seeds they contain. 

 

The pods: Tiny white flowers, not in themselves showy but contributing to a filigreed cottage-garden feel, mature to inflated green pods that dangle very jauntily from the crotch of each leaf.  The pods ripen to brown, and when carefully opened reveal three black seeds, each with a large white scar where the seed had separated from the plant.  The scar is perfectly heart-shaped, with a pair of tiny black dots (sometimes just one) at the center, like buttons up the front of a white heart-shaped vest.

Flowering season

Late Spring in Fall: Cardiospermum is very precocious, and can be in bloom as a foot-tall seeding.

Culture

Sun or part shade in rich but well-draining soil.

How to handle it

Cardiospermum can be sown in situ after the soil has warmed and the weather is reliably summery, or indoors a month before the last frost, and transplanted (carefully) into the ground or into larger pots.  

 

Cardiospermum is a tendril-clinger, so needs twine or wire or narrow-stemmed congenial plants up and through which it can scramble.  Growth is fastest in full sun with plenty of rich soil and water.  

 

Next year I'm going to grow it in large pots set near the sunny side of purple-leaved smokebushes (Cotinus cogyggria 'Velvet Cloak'), where the contrast with its lacy foliage exploring up through through the smokebush's deep purple smooth-edged round leaves should be lively, indeed. 

 

The seeds keep well over the winter, and couldn't be easier or more enjoyable to harvest.  So Cardiospermum is a vine to buy just once, and then grow from seed forever.

Downsides

Cardiospermum can self-seed so easily in milder climates that it's a roadside weed or even prohibited outright.  Check with your local USDA Agricultural Office before planting Cardiospermum south of Zone 6. 

Variants

Although Cardiospermum halicacabum has been cultivated for almost two centuries, no variants have been identified: This is a plant that is settled in its ways.  There are about a dozen other Cardiospermum species, but none has yet caught the eye of gardeners.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By seed. 

Native habitat

Cardiospermum are so widely distributed in the tropics that it's hard even for the experts to say where they've originated: Different sources say the tropical regions of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

 
 
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