Madagascar has introduced the world to many exotic species of flora and fauna since the first Arabic traders reached its shores in the seventh century A.D. From lemurs to the Madagascar rosy periwinkle plants that yield life-saving chemotherapy drugs, the biological richness of this tiny republic is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Unlike many threatened Madagascan species, the stephanotis vine is available to any exotic flower aficionado who can replicate the tropical conditions of its homeland.
A Fragrant Tradition
The Stephanotis genus is part of the milkweed or Asclepiadaceae family. The only species of stephanotis popular in cultivation is Stephanotis floribunda. Stephanotis flowers are also known as Madagascar jasmine flowers, for their rich perfume and small white flowers that resemble the jasmine. However, the flowers are not related, as the common jasmine is part of the olive family.
Stephanotis flowers are also referred to as bridal veil, bridal wreath, and bridal bouquet for their popularity in wedding flower arrangements. The blooms represent marital harmony in the language of flowers, and as a filler flower, stephanotis blooms contribute a significant amount of fragrance to bridal bouquets without taking up much space.
Get to Know Stephanotis
In or out of bloom, the shiny dark green foliage of stephanotis vines make it an attractive specimen. The waxy white flowers are about two inches across. Vines can clamber up to 10 feet with support in tropical environments. When grown as a houseplant, stephanotis vines usually grow to three or four feet. Stephanotis vines are very intolerant of frost, and will only grow outdoors in zones 10 and warmer. Whether you grow the vine in full sun or partial shade, the blooms are heaviest in late spring to early summer. Afternoon shade in the summer will help flowers from scorching.
Choose a large container for your stephanotis vine, and fill it with half potting soil and half leaf mold or compost. The organic matter will provide essential trace nutrients, as well as helping to acidify the soil to between a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Stephanotis vines appreciate a cool root run, so cover the soil with shredded bark or another natural mulch. You must provide the vine with a suitable trellis or tuteur; without a structure to support its twining tendrils, the vine will become a tangled mess.
Stephanotis vines like moist but not soggy soil. Don’t try to make up for a lack of humidity by overwatering the plant; you’ll end up with root rot. Do what you can to boost the humidity around the plant throughout the growing season: mist the plant, keep it beside a water feature, keep the pot in a dish of pebbles and water, or spray the concrete of your patio. Cease these efforts in winter, and allow the vine’s atmosphere to become dry.
Winter care seems like an afterthought for the stephanotis, but don’t ignore it during this critical resting phase, or the plant will begin to deteriorate. Stephanotis vines like cool, bright conditions in the winter. A cool greenhouse kept in the ’50s is ideal.
In the spring, when the weather begins to warm, fertilize your stephanotis with a balanced flower fertilizer. Fertilize the plant once a month until the winter resting time resumes.
Prune the vine lightly in the late winter, just to retain a pleasing form. Take care not to allow the milky sap to drip on your furniture. Watch for mites and scale, which proliferate in greenhouses on stressed plants.
Stephanotis in the Garden
Place your stephanotis vine on your deck, porch, or patio, where you can enjoy its perfume. If your vine is too small to put on much of a show in its first growing season, plant some compatible tropical annuals in the pot, like vincas or pentas. If your stephanotis does decide to reward you with early blooms, the contrast with the red or pink flowers of your annuals will be a pleasing combination.
Harvest your stephanotis flowers for arrangements with care. The flowers last longest when you leave them on the vine. Alternatively, you can float individual flowers in a bowl of water, which also works for displaying short-stemmed delicate flowers like pansies and gardenias. Keep cut stephanotis flowers in a cool area with high humidity to prolong their beauty and delay browning.