Totally Tubular: The Lipstick Plant Gussies Up Our Yard

You know how they say, “Say it with flowers”? If the lipstick plant — which is now blooming at our place — could talk, it would say, “I’m here to bring some flair to your shaded areas.” (Or something like that. We try not to anthropomorphize our flora.)

Native to the tropics of Southeast Asia, the lipstick plant blooms tubular flowers in shades of red, yellow, orange and pink, trailed by the plant’s cascades of glossy leaves. This plant is vine-like, slinky and fascinating. Aeschynanthus radicans and closely related cultivars are epiphytes (just like our beloved air plants) and are found growing between tree branches in the jungle, drawing nutrients from surrounding organic debris. You can propagate them by cuttings.

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

Upper left, our lipstick plant (which we believe is an Aeschynantus ‘Thai Pink,’ but we’re not sure) hangs from a branch of our strawberry guava tree. Below it are our fuchsia, jade, ferns and natal lilies.

Aeschynanthus is pronounced es-kee-NAN-thus. We picked ours up in late spring from a plant purveyor named Jose, whose tent of shade plants is the best-kept secret at Kobey’s Swap Meet; we were drawn to the plant’s shield-shaped leaves, and were sold on Jose’s promise of flashy blooms come summer. We hung it in a basket from a branch of our strawberry guava tree in a south-facing corner of our yard. These plants do well in part shade, craving bright light and protection from direct sun. (Important.)

Also ideal: well-drained, peat moss-based potting soil and 50 percent humidity, which can be easily achieved through regular misting. That said, you can allow the soil to dry out between waterings, and water less in winter. It’s a wonderful evergreen houseplant, but if you’re growing it outdoors, the lipstick plant is only hardy in zones 10-12, and won’t tolerate temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

In late July, our lipstick plant started showing these beautiful buds hidden inside pale, domed calyces. And in August they opened up!

And yes, true to the name, the flowers resemble lipstick telescoping out of a tube…

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

Early in the budding phase, the calyces (sepals that protect the petals of the flower buds) were a pale powder pink. They eventually darkened to a more dramatic shade.

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

Pucker up. Above, the flowers burst out of their calyces. (For all their showiness, the ones we grow are not fragrant.)

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

Aeschynanthus radicans is also known as basketvine.

Which reminds us of another care tip we learned: like the theatrical epiphyllum, this plant blooms best when it’s slightly rootbound. Also, spring through fall, feed it every two weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer. And once they’re done blooming, prune back the stems to six inches to encourage new growth.

Oh, Aeschynanthus: thank you for getting lippy with us.

—TH

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

Pink Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans)

I couldn’t resist!