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Flowers

Torenia: Growing Clown Flower In Your Garden


12 min read

Whether you call it bluewings, clown flower, or wishbone flower, torenia is lovely. This annual produces a plethora of bright wishbone flowers that really liven up your garden, window boxes, or hanging baskets!

Moderate in height, the wishbone flower thrives in shade or partial shade conditions. Its mid-green foliage is bright and cheerful. Unusual, trumpet-like wishbone flowers rise above in shades of blue, pink, white, or lavender. Early to bloom, their colors continue well into the summer months.

Let’s talk about Torenia fournieri today. This easy-growing annual is a real treat to have in your garden!

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Overview

Torenia fournieri
A popular torenia fournieri coloration is blue, like these blooms. Source: Tim Waters
Scientific Name:Torenia fournieri
Common Name(s):Clown flower, wishbone flower, bluewings, torenia
Family:Linderniaceae
Height & Spread:6″-12″ tall, width similar to the height
Sun:Partial sun to shade
Soil:Rich, loamy, well-draining soil with lots of compost
Water:Consistent soil moisture, water only when needed
Pests & Diseases:Botrytis, powdery mildew, aphids, whiteflies, root rot

All About Torenia

Wishbone flower
The stamens in this pink flower form a wishbone shape, hence the name wishbone flower. Source: daryl_mitchell

Grown mostly for its showy wishbone flowers, torenia is a great way to add color. The wishbone flowers themselves are two-lipped and trumpet-like in shape. Usually, the upper lip and tube of the trumpet will be a lighter color, whereas the lower lip and outer edges will be dark.

Blue or blue-violet variations of wishbone flowers are by far the best known. But cultivars of other colors exist. Burgundy, lavender, pink, rose, or white variations are now just as common as the blue ones.

Medium-green foliage can be found beneath those showy flowers. The oval leaves have toothed edges and are soft and supple. They emerge from slender stems. Most cultivars range between 6-12″ in height from soil to the tip of flower. This makes them great for hanging baskets, window boxes, containers, and in-ground beds.

The shorter cultivars are often ground-hugging. Taller ones often have a herbaceous, trailing appearance. They may bend under the weight of water caught in the flower.

An Abundance Of Names

Torenia Yellow Moon
Unusual colors exist, like the ‘Yellow Moon’ cultivar of wishbone flower. Source: KHQ Flower Guide

By now, you’re asking why it’s called all these fun names. And I have answers for you!

If you look at the flower’s patterning, it might remind you of a classic TV or circus clown from the 1940s or 1950s. This is especially true with the pink and white varieties. The pink coloration looks like the hair and brightly-painted mouth. A spot of yellow serves as the clown nose.

The term “bluewings” is applied to the blue version of its flowers. They tend to look like they’ve got a pair of deep blue petal wings.

But what of the “wishbone flower” name? Well, look at the trumpet shape. Tucked just inside are the plant’s stamens, which rise up to touch at the anthers. This gives the visual appearance of a bird’s wishbone tucked inside the petals.

Torenia fournieri has its origins in the Asian continent. There, the name “torenia” was coined. It was named in honor of Reverend Olaf Toren (1718-1753), a chaplain for the Swedish East India Company.

The species name, fournieri, was also an honor name. French botanist Eugene Pierre Nicolas Fournier (1834-1884) was best known for ferns. An entire genus of tree ferns was named after him. As a respected member of the Société Botanique de France, he was also remembered in this fashion.

Caring For The Wishbone Flower

White wishbone flower
Most torenia plants are brightly colored, but there are some simple whites as well. Source: KHQ Flower Guide

As far as herbaceous plants go, the wishbone flower is very easy to care for. There are a few important things to get you started. Once your wishbone flowers grow and are settled in, they’ll take care of themselves!

Light & Temperature

If you have a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, this is the perfect placement. But unlike most flowers, your torenia plants are more likely to bloom in shadier conditions. As long as there’s plenty of ambient light, it’ll thrive — it doesn’t need full sun. But it definitely needs afternoon shade.

In fact, if you’re in a particularly warm climate, full shade is likely better than full sun. When the heat starts going, clown flowers prefer a slightly cooler spot to be. If you can keep them in temperatures below 80, they’ll be happier than if they were in full sun.

Water & Humidity

Like many plants, the wishbone flower doesn’t like to have wet feet. You’ll want to keep the soil moist but not muddy. Check the soil before watering. A good layer of mulch around the wishbone flowers helps keep soil moisture in, as well.

Tolerant of humidity in cooler climates, it doesn’t like humidity in the heat. If your region is humid, opt for a full-shade planting location to protect your plant.

Soil

Start by digging in a couple of inches of compost when preparing your soil. Torenia plants like their soil to be loamy and rich, well-draining, and full of organic material. If you are having trouble keeping the soil moist, add moisture-retentive material to the planting hole.

Neutral pH levels are fine, but your plant prefers a hint of acidity. Aim for a 6.0 to 6.5 pH range whenever possible. Use a pH meter before planting to make sure you’re on the acidic side of neutral.

Fertilizer

Keeping your wishbone flowers blooming will require fertilization. There’s no way around it — if you want blooms through the summer, you need to fertilize.

Those who prefer granular slow-release options should choose a 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for exact application rates.

A balanced liquid fertilizer can also be used. These are generally recommended every two weeks through the growing season.

While the bluewings plant is a heavy feeder, you should still take caution while applying. Don’t over-fertilize, and avoid spraying liquid formulas directly onto the plant.

Transplanting

A pink torenia or “bluewings” flower. Source: KHQ Flower Guide

One thing that you need to know is that the root system of torenia fournieri is quite delicate. It doesn’t like being transplanted and can easily show signs of transplant stress.

This makes transplanting living wishbone flowers difficult. It’s not impossible by any means, but it can be difficult.

You can directly seed into beds or a hanging basket, which creates healthy wishbone flowers. If you choose to direct-sow, do so six to eight weeks before your final frost date. Torenia is a great container plant.

If you need to start your wishbone flowers indoors, opt for paper pots or peat pots. Use something that can be sliced on the sides and base to allow for root growth and expansion.

Seedling wishbone flowers can be transplanted once the last frost date has ended. Plant at the same level they were in their starter pot. If using paper/peat pots, be sure to score the pot (not the roots) into quarters, which provides ample room for root growth.

Propagation

Propagation is done from seeds or cuttings. Division is very much a no-no for this plant.

Select a roughly 6-8″ healthy stem and try to cut it off just below a leaf node. That node will be where the roots will form. Strip off any excess leaves that would sit below the water level. Set the plant cutting into a glass of water.

Be sure to gently rinse off the roots and replace the water with fresh water daily. Once roots begin to form, delicately plant your cutting in potting soil and keep the soil moist until new growth appears. You can expect some cuttings will suffer transplant shock. Start more cuttings than the number of wishbone flowers you want to survive.

Pruning

Unlike many other flowering plants, deadheading is not required for your wishbone flower. You can deadhead if you prefer to, but it doesn’t spur additional flowering as it would in other plants.

Most pruning is also wholly cosmetic. You can encourage some bushing of the wishbone flowers by trimming the main stem just above a pair of leaf nodes. Otherwise, the plant self-regulates its height, remaining between 6-12″ tall.

When doing any trimming, be sure to sterilize your pruning snips before using them. This prevents the spread of fungal-based diseases.

Torenia Problems

Clown flower

While not entirely problem-free, your clown plant is still easy to maintain. Even these few disease issues and pests can be remedied in short order. Let’s talk about what you may be facing.

Growing Problems & Diseases

Your largest growing problems will originate from two things: weather and water.

Too much direct hot sunlight, or too much heat in general, can be a problem. Your plant may suffer wilting during the hotter parts of the year. This is also true in stiflingly-warm humidity. Try to provide plenty of airflow around your wishbone flowers, but keep them in a cooler location.

Watering should only happen when the soil is starting to dry out. Maintaining an even moisture is best. Your plant’s fragile roots can be susceptible to root rot conditions if the soil is soggy for too long. To prevent root rot, use well-draining but rich soil.

As for diseases, there are two which are common among bluewings growers.

The grey mold known as botrytis is fairly common. This begins with water-soaked spotting on leaves, and gradually greyish mold spores appear. You can prevent this from forming with neem oil. If it’s already begun, a copper fungicidal spray will kill botrytis cinerea.

Powdery mildew also may make an appearance, particularly in more humid regions. This looks like a whitish powder on the leaves and stems of the plant. It’s common, but if not treated can cause problems for your plant. Both botrytis treatments work for this as well. This can be prevented with good airflow around your wishbone flowers.

Pests

Two pests are common amongst the torenia plants or wishbone flowers: aphids and whiteflies.

Both of these sucking insects will attach on the underside of leaves and stems. They pierce the plant’s skin and drink the sap inside. This creates blemishes on the leaves. Too many insects can cause severe defoliation on wishbone flowers and possibly even cause plant death.

Like with diseases, neem oil can act as a preventative here. It makes the leaves themselves seem unpalatable for the insects. The oil also coats larvae and eggs with a layer of oil that prevents their breathing.

Another option is good insecticidal soap. Not to be confused with normal soap for washing, insecticidal soap is a mix of fatty acids and oil. It works similarly to neem oil.

Try to catch both of these pests before they can multiply to large numbers. They breed very quickly and can become a real chore to eliminate!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is Torenia flower a good choice for borders?

A: Yup! It looks beautiful in borders, provided that they’re in partial or complete shade conditions. They’re also good choices for planting along north-facing walls or beneath trees and shrubs.

Q. There’s white powdery stuff appearing on my wishbone leaves. What is it?

A: Probably powdery mildew. While it’s not usually fatal for your plant, you should read the problems and diseases section above and treat it. If left for too long, the dusty surface can coat the leaves entirely, making it hard for the plant to photosynthesize.

Q. What do I have to do to get Torenia flower blooming in winter as well?

A: Unfortunately, your wishbone flowers grow best in warm seasons. You may be able to grow these indoors during the winter months by simulating warm climates. Otherwise, keep these as an annual plant from spring through fall. They just aren’t cold-hardy.

Q: Is torenia a sun or shade?

A: Torenia plants like partial shade and bloom profusely when there is shade in the hottest part of the day. Plant them in a place that gets morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade all day.

Q: Do torenia come back every year?

A: In USDA zones 10 and 11, torenia is perennial and lives throughout the year for several years. In cooler zones, it may be a tender perennial or annual depending on the extremes.

Q: Do torenia need to be deadheaded?

A: Unlike other flowering plants, they do not need deadheading. Doing so won’t help them flush out more blooms, and pruning is mostly a cosmetic issue.

Q: Can torenia grow in pots?

A: Definitely! A relatively compact plant like torenia is great for containers and hanging baskets. They subsist in small or large containers. Remember to keep the soil moist, and you’ll be set!

Q: How big do torenia get?

A: Torenia is small, reaching anywhere from 6 to 12 inches tall and wide.

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