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Garden Club of Cape Coral | For your consideration: Wrightia antidysenterica

By JANETTA FOX - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Feb 16, 2024

If you find yourself in the market for a lovely, upright growing shrub that sports delicate, five-petaled, snow-white blossoms the majority of the year in Southwest Florida, you need look no further than Wrightia antidysenterica, also known as Milky Way, Arctic Snow or Asian Snow.

Originating in Sri Lanka, this small, woody plant with opposite leaves can reach an average height and spread of 5 feet. Certain parts of the plant, e.g., the bark, have been used in Ayurvedic medicine in certain Asian countries.

Being low maintenance, its needs are quite basic. It enjoys full sun to part shade; however, fewer blooms can be expected in less light. The bush appreciates moderate water and well-draining soil. “Wet feet” are a no-no. Milky Way does well in almost any soil conditions, from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.

An occasional light application of all-purpose fertilizer helps replenish nutrients. When applying, err on the side of too little with each application. I used to think that if a little fertilizer does the trick, more will be better. Definitely not the case! Note: Fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorous should not be applied from June 1 to Nov. 30; therefore, time your fertilizer applications accordingly.

Every time I pass my beauty when taking a stroll outside I can’t help but smile. Planted in the ground on the west side of my property two years ago, it gets morning shade and afternoon sun. The leaves have continued to retain their shiny green texture. The shrub has stayed compact, with minimal spread to date, and has proven to be highly insect and disease resistant (always a plus!).

Starting out at one foot, my W. antidysenterica has grown in height to just under 4 feet, with unscented 1-inch flowers in clusters, also known as inflorescence, gracing the entire shrub. Although normally visible without one, when I have taken my trusty magnifying glass with me, I have noted up close and personal that one flower at the center of each cluster opens first, followed by a myriad of others. Along with its petals, there is a frilly corona around the throat, which serves to attract pollinators, along with a yellow cone housing stamens. Presents quite a mellow view.

The plant has yet to exhibit signs of legginess and so no trimming has been needed. Although I hesitate to do anything when the shrub looks so healthy, I may consider a light prune at some point (late winter time frame is recommended by those in the know) to encourage a bit more spread.

I recently placed a second Milky Way in a medium-size container on the east side, where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. When determining how much moisture it needs, I remain aware that container plants normally have a need for more water applications because the soil dries out more quickly than those placed directly in the ground. It will be interesting to observe the plant’s progress over time and how it compares stamina- and health-wise with my earlier purchase. So far so good though!

I have yet to experience frost where I live; however, if frost is predicted during winter, consider protecting your W. antidysenterica. While the plant may tolerate some mild frost, without protection the plant will probably shed part of its leaves. Never fear, though, since the leaf loss should only be temporary and the plant will make its comeback as the weather improves. It is quite the resilient shrub!

Janetta Fox is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at gardenclubofcapecoral.com.