My plant of the month for February had to be the EREMOPHILA maculate v. brevifolia – ‘Valentine’TM.
The Valentine Emu bush is native of Australia and is relatively new in Phoenix area landscapes. "Eremophila" means desert loving and the name "Emu Bush" comes from the flightless bird that feeds on the fruit. The Emu’s natural habitat is salt lake margins, dry watercourses, and clay pans of arid inland Australia. So you can imagine this shrub is extremely drought tolerant. There are a couple of other Eremophila species being offered by local growers; Most notably the, “Easter Egg Emu”, “Winter Gold”, and “Summertime Blue”. The “Valentine Emu” begins blooming in January and peaks right around Valentine’s Day. Depending on the weather, it can continue blooming into April. Evergreen, naturally dense form, extremely heat and drought tolerant, and an Eye catching abundance of hot pink to red tubular flowers during the winter months has made this new shrub extremely popular. You may have guessed that Hummingbirds love it too.
Design Applications: Because the Emu offers such showy red color in the winter, it can really stand out in winter landscapes. It makes for interesting contrasts when grouped with other drought tolerant plants like Leucophyylum, Muhlenbergia, Reullia, convolvulous species. Valentine can be massed for a bold red statement in the midst of the grey-green and yellow winter desert plants like the Encelia farinosa and early blooming Senna species like the Desert Cassia. It makes a great background for Agave and Yucca and Aloe species as well. It has a medium texture and can grow as large as 4 feet by 4 feet. The Valentine Emu should be planted in full sun and can tolerate reflected heat well. It is not choosy about soil type, although it prefers good drainage.
Notice the reddish tinge to the leaves in my picture here.
Maintenance: The Emu is a moderate to fast grower depending on available water. If left unpruned it has a natural form very similar to that of the Chihuahuan sage. However, it responds well to shearing, and can be maintained in a tight ball. In fact, blooming occurs on new tip growth produced the previous season, so an annual shearing is recommended in late spring, after flowering has ended. March is probably the ideal month to prune. Later shearing may expose the shrub to sunburn.
Mountain States Wholesale Nursery says the Valentine Emu is hardy in Phoenix, Tucson, Palm Desert, San Diego, Los Angeles, South Texas, Houston and El Paso.