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Gardening in Florida: Dwarf Mussaenda brings flowers to South and Central Florida Gardens

Q: I planted these a few years ago. I almost removed them a couple of months ago when they looked dead, but they came back. Problem is I can't remember the name.

— Gary

A: Pretty Dwarf Mussaenda is showing off nicely in Gary’s landscape. However, the exact name and identification of this plant can be difficult to pin down.

Mussaenda is a popular landscape plant for South Florida gardens and landscapes. They are classified in family Rubiaceae with Ixora, coffee, pentas and firebush. Most are large tropical, evergreen, or semi-deciduous shrubs with an open habit. The leaves are opposite or each other on the stem, bright green, deeply veined and oval to elliptic in shape.

The flowers are the star. They are produced on the ends of the branches in loose groups. They have an unusual form, the true flowers are funnel-shaped, held upright, and are yellow or white. The groups of flowers are coupled with one or more large, hanging petal-like sepal. The showy sepals are generally the same shape and size as the leaves and are produced in shades of red, coral, pink, yellow, and white depending on species.

There are about 100 plants classified as Mussaenda many originating in Africa, Asia, or Malaysia. However, the classification is in flux and is often difficult to run down. Dwarf or Yellow Mussaenda has been often classified as M. glabra. The name is a clue, glabra means smooth. It has been described as a small plant, 3 to 8 feet tall, with smooth stems and leaves, yellow flowers, and one white to pale yellow large petal. It is also semi-deciduous, the large, deep-green, elliptical leaves often fall from the plant in the dry season and return with the rains.

A similar species, also called Yellow Mussaenda is Pseudomussaenda flava. It varies from M. glabra by having some green in the small flowers, dry seed pods instead of fleshy fruit, and fuzzy, not smooth leaves.

So, without seeing the fruit or touching the leaves, putting an exact name on Gary’s plant is difficult. The more often planted is Dwarf Mussaenda or M. glabra. Whatever it is called, the growing conditions for both plants is about the same.

Choose a location in full sun or partial shade with some relief from the hot afternoon sun. Best locations have moist soil, but no standing water, and/or supplemental irrigation available for regular applications of water. Dwarf Mussaenda has little salt tolerance, so, it is not a good choice for seaside gardens.

Grown for the striking flowers that appear in late spring, into summer and fall. It can be messy from dropping flowers and leaves. Use Dwarf Mussaenda as a specimen, in mixed borders, or as an accent plant. This is a lovely plant which makes a statement when pruned into a small tree. This is a low-maintenance plant with few pest problems.

Carol Cloud Bailey is a landscape counselor and horticulturist. Send questions to or visit for more information.