BOTANICAL NAME Orthosiphon aristatus
COMMON NAME Cat’s Whiskers. Also known as Java Tea
IT IS NATIVE TO INDONESIA, MALAYSIA, TROPICAL AUSTRALIA, and other parts of south-east Asia.
I FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS PLANT when I first saw it growing in a local nursery in subtropical BYRON BAY. I think it was its very showy candelabra of white flowers with a profusion of white stamens that makes it look so pretty – hence the common name CAT’S WHISKERS. To add to its beauty these WHITE STAMENS have a purple tinge to them at their tips.
I COULDN’T BELIEVE THAT IT WAS NOT MORE COMMON in this subtropical part of the world where I live; in fact, it still isn’t – I very rarely see it in anyone’s garden – it is such a lovely and easy plant to care for.
THIS IS A FAST GROWING PERENNIAL SHRUB that will get to about one metre tall and wide, and flowers for about eight months of the year. I cut it right back in our brief winter when it stops flowering, then top up the mulch and give it a feed with an organic fertilizer. It won’t tolerate frost.
IT FLOWERS BEST IN AN OPEN, SUNNY POSITION and doesn’t like drying out. In fact, it prefers it if the soil stays damp – mulch, mulch mulch. I have noticed that it will put on another flush of flowers after a period of rain.
TOP TIP If you want repeat flushes of flowers, cut the spent ones off.
I HAVE NEVER NOTICED IT TO HAVE ANY PEST PROBLEMS. Another big bonus and reason to grow it. Happy plants make me happy too.
LOOK AT WHAT A LOVELY CONTRAST IT MAKES WITH THE PURPLE TIBOUCHINA – another stunning addition to warm and damp gardens. If you’re wondering which one to choose – a recent post I wrote about TIBOUCHINAS might help
BIRDS, BEES and BUTTERFLIES
ONE OF THE REAL JOYS OF THIS PLANT IS JUST HOW MANY POLLINATORS IT ATTRACTS. It is always buzzing with bees and I have been thrilled to see the native blue banded bee hovering around it. It’s a very hard insect to photograph as it’s such a quick darter, but I did manage to get a shot of it today in my salvia ‘Waverley’ – another gorgeous plant.
THE BLUE BANDED BEE is a solitary bee, Amegilla cingulata, that doesn’t make honey and has a distinctive “buzz pollination” – which means that it buzzes like crazy to dislodge pollen that may be held firmly at the base of a tubular anther -which is the case with this plant.
ORTHOSIPHON comes from two Greek words (orthos) – straight, and (siphon) – a tube; ARISTATUS is a Latin word meaning bristle-like and refers to the fluffy purple ends of the stamens.
THIS MAY BE TOO MUCH INFORMATION FOR SOME FOLK – but I actually love it; it makes me observe more closely the world around me – what I call my daily treasures – and puts another piece of the NATURE puzzle together. And yes, I do have a lot of time on my hands – only for important things though😁
IT’S A MAGNET FOR BUTTERFLIES TOO and some of the smaller honey eating birds.
IT WASN’T UNTIL I SAW Orthosiphon aristatus growing in the TROPICAL SPICE GARDEN in Penang, Malaysia – and asked a few questions – that I became aware how just how highly prized it is in Southeast Asia as a traditional herbal remedy – that they have been using for hundreds of years – for all things to do with the urinary tract, bladder and kidneys. By the way, this garden is a great place to wander if you are ever in PENANG. It has a lovely TEA HOUSE where you can try all kinds of herbal infusions – including this JAVA TEA from the Cat’s Whiskers.
According to an article in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, the efficacy of this plant in the treatment of urinary tract and kidney inflamation is due to its proven ANTIOXIDANT and ANTI-INFLAMMATORY compounds.
ISN’T IT FUNNY HOW YOU NEVER NOTICE SOMETHING AND THEN YOU SEE IT, OR HEAR IT BEING MENTIONED, EVERYWHERE? On a recent trip to LUANG PRABANG in LAOS I saw Cat’s Whiskers growing in the garden of the cooking school where I was taking a class, and for them too it’s highly prized for its medicinal properties. And, the friend I was with lives in Bali and she said it was also a common medicinal plant used for all things waterworks in Indonesia – hence the common name I had come across – JAVA TEA.
TO USE AS A HERBAL REMEDY you simply steep a few leaves in some boiling water, then strain and drink as a tea. I strongly advise you to do your own research before using any plant as a herbal remedy for the first time.
THIS IS REALLY EASY TO DO as the plant readily divides from a clump of roots. In fact, any stem of the plant that comes in contact with the soil will start to grow roots. You can then cut those off and replant.