If you’re not already familiar with Duranta erecta, now is a good time to get acquainted with this very attractive New World flowering species. Like a lot of plants, it comes with its own little bag of mysteries: Its current specific epithet, erecta, means upright. Yet an older epithet, repens, means creeping. That sounds like an oxymoron, but the explanation lies in the variability of the species: Individuals can sprawl and droop, with trailing branches, giving the impression of creeping. The other mystery concerns the native range of D. erecta. Some observers have argued that the species occurs naturally as far north as the imaginary line — minus a few gaps — from Florida to California. But more likely its historical native range extends from Brazil northward to the Caribbean and northwestward to Mexico; any presence across the Rio Grande is the result of introduction.
What practically everyone can agree on is that this species lives up to its common name — Golden Dewdrops. The plant produces profuse numbers of small round yellow or yellow-orange berries that look for all the world like a viscous dew. But there is an additional bonus with D. erecta. Not only does the species bear mildly fragrant, long-lasting tight clusters of tubular pale blue to lavender flowers, but new flowers often appear as fruit ripens, and the combination of colors is quite striking.
As a further benefit, D. erecta flowers also attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The fruits of this species are a food source for birds, but are toxic to humans, so the Golden Dewdrops should not be planted where small children play.
Native mostly to dry coastal areas, the Golden Dewdrops is not particularly demanding about soil or moisture conditions when planted out, so long as drainage is good. However, a richer, deeper soil will yield a more vigorous plant. It does best in full sun, but can tolerate light shade. The species usually matures under 10 ft. high, and perhaps just as broad, but occasionally a specimen may become a small tree up to 20 ft. tall. Leaves are light green, and the crown contains many fine branches which may bear thorns. Springtime pruning is appropriate to remove dead wood and manage shape.
D. erecta has multiple applications. It can be planted as a specimen shrub/tree or as a low screen or even as a mixed hedge with other butterfly or hummingbird attractants. It can also be espaliered against a wall or grown in a decorative container on a patio or other paved surface.
The Golden Dewdrops is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers.