Unusual plants: the Scutellaria
The genus Scutellaria has a few dozen species of perennial plants, or small shrubs, widespread in Europe, Asia and America; these are plants belonging to the genus of lamiaceae, or closely related to mint, as can be well understood by carefully observing the flowers. The most widespread species in nursery cultivation is Costa Rican Scutellaria, native to Central America, and Costa Rica, as its botanical name suggests. It is a plant with large wrinkled leaves, dark in color, smooth and not excessively coriaceous; the stem of the scutellaria always has a square section, and is rigid and not excessively branched. Costa Rican Scutellaria produces, at the apex of the thin stems, large racemes, made up of long tubular flowers, bright red, arranged to form a sort of very showy tuft. All scutellaria produce flowers with a similar shape, but the colors are more suited to those of mint, for example S. alpina has pink and cream flowers, arranged in spikes; s. baicalensis (native to the areas close to Lake Bajkal) has bright purple flowers, very particular, also arranged in long spikes at the apex of the thin branches. While European and Asian species have perennial plant behavior, ie during the cold months the aerial part dries up, S. Costaricana often retains the foliage throughout the year, but only when the growing conditions are favorable.
This plant, with the passing of months, can become a small shrub, up to 45-50 cm high, producing also many branches. Most scutellaria develop in mountainous areas, so they are used to fairly low winter temperatures, and to a cool, damp climate, and not to the sultry summer days; also the original species of Costarica can withstand the cold, even if the most intense frosts tend to ruin the whole aerial plane. Usually this perennial is grown outdoors only in the warm months, and is collected in the apartment or in a greenhouse when the frost arrives, in October or November. For this reason they are mainly cultivated in pots, even if it is possible to produce small flowerbeds with young plants, which will however be protected from frost, or removed and moved in pots when cold arrives at the end of autumn. They prefer well-lit and ventilated locations, but not exposed to direct sunlight, except in the coldest months or during the coolest hours of the day. A good luminosity is necessary to guarantee a prolonged and constant flowering, therefore the scutellaria are generally kept in half bright shade, so that they enjoy a certain amount of sunlight; however, especially in summer, the sun's rays will have to reach them only in the early hours of the morning, otherwise we will find ourselves with charred-looking plants. To develop and grow they need an acid and fresh soil, therefore they are buried in a compound consisting of peat, or specific soil for acidophilic plants, mixed with little shredded bark, which is very useful for maintaining a good quantity of humidity. Watering will be very regular, in an attempt to keep the soil moist, but not wet or soaked with water.
Pruning and repotting
To ensure that the plants are always healthy and lush, it is advisable to repot them, at least every two years, in autumn; if the plants have been placed in the ground, the fact of having to withdraw them in a protected place is often exploited, eradicating it from the ground and placing it in a vase. Plants still in pots need to be repotted, using a slightly larger container than the previous one. These plants tend, if not cultivated to the best, to stop flowering, when this happens without being able to change the place of cultivation, generally we try to stimulate the development by pruning it at about 5-7 cm from the ground, so that develop new ramifications, and new racemes, the following year. Healthy plants and cultivated in a correct way can instead continue to bloom throughout the year, even in winter, when they are hospitalized in a greenhouse or in an apartment. In these cases, it is advisable to avoid pruning the plants, except to remove damaged or poorly developed parts.
They do not always behave like long-lived plants, which is why many farmers tend to preserve their seeds, to sow in the autumn in a warm bed, so as to have new plants to grow each year; this method is also used to have new plants to be placed in the open flowerbeds: the flowerbed is prepared with young seedlings, in spring; at the end of autumn the plants are left to dry and the next spring will be replaced with the new plants obtained from seed.
A medicinal plant
Man has always used herbs as curative ingredients; today we often hear about Ayurvedic medicine, or Chinese medicine, but in fact even the European populations, anciently, used many plants to treat the most various symptoms; and anciently the first botanists were doctors (even Linnaeus), since the plants were the main instruments of any European doctor. Most of the plants that were used in ancient times, over the centuries have been revealed to contain numerous active ingredients, useful in the treatment of different types of diseases, from simple bruises to cancer. This is not magic or strange rituals, indeed, even the pharmaceutical industry has always found its products in nature, which it then synthesizes in the laboratory, to try to eliminate the undesired effects, to improve its effectiveness, or to make a rare and hard-to-find active ingredient, also available for the housewife of Verbania, although perhaps it was originally the root extract of a rare Asian orchid. Even nowadays, pharmaceutical companies send botanists to unexplored forests in search of new active ingredients.
Also there skullcap presents interesting active ingredients in its roots; in particular the species baicalensis is the species that most interests physicians; already used also in traditional Chinese medicine, this plant contains some anti-inflammatory active ingredients, which in the studies of recent years seem to have anti-cancer effects.