Two things today: first of all, thanks again to Jackie Chambers for the write-up and photograph. Secondly, I’m about to be absent for 4.5 weeks. New postings to BPotD will be quite sporadic during this time (don’t be surprised to see week-long or longer gaps). Apologies, but there hasn’t been enough time to prep postings in advance.
Colquhounia coccinea can be found at forest edges and clearings in the Himalayas and southwestern China. This particular specimen was growing in Nepal at an altitude of 2300m.
The stems of the Himalayan mint shrub are tomentose, or covered in small, matted, stellate hairs. This gives the 3m+ stems a soft, felty texture. There are two varieties of Colquhounia coccinea, and the colour of the hairs is a characteristic used to distinguish the two varieties. Colquhounia coccinea var. mollis has very dense rust-coloured hairs whereas Colquhounia coccinea var. coccinea has fewer rust-coloured hairs and instead appears to be more silvery.
The leaves are also covered in soft hairs, and can range between 5-15 cm long. Like most mints, the leaves are held in an opposite arrangement along the stem and are aromatic when crushed. Clusters of orange or red tubular flowers are produced late in the season. These bloom from August to November. Fruit production occurs from November to January. Quinish Garden Nursery has another photograph of the plant, while the Flora of China provides a comprehensive description of Colquhounia coccinea.
Pronounced ko-hoo-nia the genus is named after a Scotsman, Sir Robert Colquhoun, who lived in Nepal in the early 19th century.
The specific epithet, coccinea, is derived from the name of a scarlet red dye obtained from cochineal insects. These insects are soft-bodied, oval-shaped scale insects hosted on some members of the cactus genus Opuntia. Cochineal extract is a red colouring made from the raw dried and pulverized bodies of insects.