If you’re looking to add a burst of color to your outdoor or indoor space, look no further than the Persian Shield. In this article, we’ll dive into the world of this tropical foliage plant, exploring its cultivation, history, propagation, and maintenance. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a plant enthusiast, you’ll find valuable insights to help you cultivate this vividly hued plant.
Cultivation and History
The Persian Shield, also known as the royal purple plant, thrives in hot and humid conditions, with its most radiant colors shining through in bright but indirect sunlight. This stunning plant prefers temperatures above 60°F. Its lance-shaped leaves, measuring six to eight inches in length, boast a brilliant neon purple hue with veins of green, accentuated by a silver gloss.
While Persian Shield occasionally produces small, cone-shaped blue flowers resembling Virginia bluebells, these blooms are a rarity. This sporadic blooming behavior, known as “masting,” prevents wildlife from depending on its seeds as a food source. The exact reason behind this phenomenon is not entirely understood, but it adds an element of intrigue to the plant’s lifecycle.
Originally introduced to Europe by intrepid plant collectors, Persian Shield found its way into American Victorian gardens and homes during the North American fascination with tropical foliage. Its scientific name, Strobilanthes dyerianus, pays homage to Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer, the botanist who oversaw the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
To cultivate Persian Shield, you have two primary options: rooted cuttings or nursery plants. Seeds for this plant are not readily available. If you choose the cutting method, follow these steps:
From a Soft Stem Tip Cutting
- Cut a length of stem, about four to five inches from the growing tip, after the last flower drops and new growth emerges.
- Make the cut just above a leaf node (where the leaves originate) and remove the lower pairs of leaves to reveal a bare stem of around three inches.
- Place the bare stem in a narrow container with two inches of water, changing the water daily.
- Once the roots grow to at least an inch in length, transplant the cutting into a well-draining vessel with three-quarters filled with potting soil or directly into the garden. Bury the rooted stem about an inch deep, ensuring the crown (where roots and stem meet) is covered.
Nursery Pot Transplanting
- Choose a well-draining pot with a depth of at least 12 inches for outdoor container gardening.
- Fill the container three-quarters full with organically-rich potting soil.
- For transplanting into the garden, prepare the ground by working it to a depth of eight to 12 inches, amending it with compost as needed.
- Unpot the nursery plant, detangle its roots if necessary, and plant it at the same depth it was growing in its container.
- Firmly tamp the soil over the roots and stems, and water thoroughly.
How to Grow
In USDA Hardiness Zones 10 to 11, Persian Shield can be cultivated year-round in the ground or outdoor containers, showcasing its evergreen foliage. For Zones 8 and 9, the plant may die back at the end of the season but sprout anew each spring if a three-inch layer of mulch covers the root zone.
For those in cooler zones, Persian Shield grows as an annual, with the entire plant dying back and not returning. Indoors, the plant thrives in temperatures above 60°F with bright, indirect sunlight and ample moisture.
To successfully grow Persian Shield, keep the following tips in mind:
- Start with rooted cuttings or nursery stock.
- Provide organically-rich soil that drains well and maintains a slightly acidic pH.
- Water the plant when the top few inches of soil feel dry, ensuring that the soil is never completely dry or waterlogged.
- Fertilize regularly with a diluted liquid plant food to support healthy growth.
Pruning and Maintenance
Maintaining Persian Shield is relatively low maintenance. If the plant becomes leggy, simply pinch or snip the stems just above a leaf node to encourage bushier and more compact growth. Remove any leaves with scorch marks or brown tips to redirect energy toward healthy growth. If a stem or leaf breaks, snip it off to prevent pests and diseases.
In case of widespread pest infestation or the presence of old woody stems, consider propagating new plants from unaffected soft stem tip cuttings before disposing of the parent plant. For winter survival in Zone 8 or 9, take a few cuttings during the summer to root in water.
Common pests that may affect Persian Shield include aphids, fungus gnats, and spider mites. Aphids can be dislodged and destroyed with a firm spray of water, while fungus gnats can be controlled with sticky traps and reduced watering. Spider mites, which thrive in dry conditions, can be eliminated by rinsing the plant with water, applying a pyrethrin-containing insecticide, and ensuring regular watering to maintain humidity.
With its vibrant silvery-purple hues, Persian Shield adds a touch of drama to warm-region gardens. It pairs well with other species that thrive in dappled sun to partial shade and organically-rich, well-draining loam. Consider planting it in mixed beds with colorful caladiums, impatiens, or in containers alongside lime green sweet potato vine, pink snapdragons, and silvery green dusty miller.
Persian Shield also complements ferns and snake plants, creating a striking contrast between its purple foliage and the green textures of its neighboring plants. Indoors, this unique plant serves as a captivating houseplant when provided with a minimum temperature of 60°F, indirect sunlight, and sufficient moisture.
Versatile and Vibrant
Persian Shield offers exceptional foliage that can be enjoyed in various ways. Whether you let it grow freely, creating sprawling clumps in garden beds, or prune it for a more compact appearance in formal borders and mixed groupings, this plant never fails to impress. Moreover, it thrives as an easy-to-maintain houseplant, making it a conversation starter in any indoor space.
If you reside in the southern part of the United States, you might even witness the rare sight of Persian Shield’s blue blossoms in your garden during autumn or winter. For more ideas on late-blooming flowers, check out our article on fall annuals for the south.
Do you grow Persian Shield? Share your experiences with cultivating this tropical treasure in the comments below. And if you’re interested in learning about other vibrant foliage plants, we recommend checking out our articles on growing coleus, colorful caladiums, and hostas, which are all favorite shade-loving perennials.
This article was originally published on April 13, 2019, and was last updated on October 16, 2021.
Image credits: Home Depot