The Strobilanthes genus has about 250 different species which occur through tropical Asia and Madagascar. Some are evergreens and some deciduous and all are soft stemmed perennials. I have been told that some of the Indian ones completely cover hills and once every ten years or so they flower making a vast expanse of blue.
The Strobilanthes gossypina growing here always catches the eye of visitors to the garden. It is from the hills of Sri Lanka and south India. Handling the dry summer months, it grows as a compact, medium sized shrub which looks attractive all the year round. The green 10cm leaves have dense, golden hairs over them when they are young making them appear a little like flower clusters. As the leaves mature the hairs go silvery-cream which gives a wonderful silver and gold look to the bush. Free draining soil is best and, as they are frost tender, they must be protected in winter. They are tolerant of coastal conditions.
After having this species for several years it finally flowered with light blue flower spikes over quite a long period of time after which the plants died. Plants throughout New Zealand died but some seed set and new plants grew away. This group dying is typical of Strobilanthus, the vegetative stage taking about ten years. I think Strobilanthes gossypina takes about fifteen years to complete its life cycle.
This is a plant not yet freely available in the garden centre market but it is one that should become popular as it seldom needs pruning and always looks neat and tidy and is easy to grow in the right situation.
Strobilanthes kunthianus is another lovely leafed plant but in my experience it tends to be too vigorous as it spreads over the ground. We no longer grow it as it wanted to take over, scrambling up into other plants.
Another species S. dyerianus has the most spectacularly coloured leaves which are iridescent purple but it does get knocked back in the winter time and is usually grown as a house plant.