Pentas lanceolata is commonly known as the Egyptian star cluster (also spelled Egyptian starcluster), Egyptian star flower, or simply Pentas. This beautiful herbaceous flowering plant belongs to the Rubiaceae botanical family, making it a distant relative of the coffee plant as well a gardenias. Its genus, Pentas, contains less than 20 members of flowering plants, which are mostly native to Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Egyptian star clusters can be grown as annuals or perennials in gardens, depending on the region, and have also become fairly popular as houseplants. They are best known for their attractive, star-shaped colors that can have vibrant pink and violet colors, but also sometimes bloom in creamy white, burgundy, or yellow shades.
The that fact Pentas flowers are just as appealing to butterflies and other pollinators makes Egyptian star clusters a prime choice for anyone looking to create a lovely pollinator garden treasured for its ornamental charm.
About Pentas Lanceolata
- Pentas lanceolata is a herbaceous and one-stemmed plant with dense foliage and beautiful, cheerful, star-shaped flowers. Although the Egyptian star cluster is a perennial in its native subtropical regions, the plant is grown as an annual in more temperate regions.
- This beautiful plant is native to large parts of northern Africa (yes, including Egypt), as well as to Yemen, but has become popular all over the world, in gardens and as a houseplant. In the right temperatures and with the right care, it can remain in bloom for a very long time.
- The name Pentas means “five”, and originates from the Greek language. This genus was thus named in reference to the blooms, which are five-lobed.
- In gardens, the Egyptian star cluster adds beauty as a container plant, along walkways, and in small spaces. In the wild, these plants can actually grow quite prolifically — but outside their native zones, Egyptian star clusters are especially well-suited to smaller spaces and gardens. These attractive plants can also be mass planted as living hedges for the summer season.
- Gardeners who are keen on attracting butterflies will love Pentas lanceolata, because the shallow flowers allow them easy access. Bees, too, will be excited to encounter Pentas, making this plant a perfect choice for anyone who wants a garden that bustles with activity. In the right regions, hummingbirds will appreciate Pentas as well.
- Numerous unique Pentas cultivars have been created over the years, with new ones making an appearance every once in a while. ‘Butterfly Cherry Red’ is known for its deep pink blooms, for instance, while the blooms of the ‘Kaleidoscope Appleblossom’ Pentas has a paler shade. The flowers of the ‘Starla Deep Rose’ Pentas are a warm pink color with a creamy center bloom. These cultivars are not only designed for unique looks, though — some are especially compact, making them suitable for the smallest of spaces, while others tolerate cooler temperature ranges.
- While Pentas can be trimmed into a hedge, gardeners should keep the fact that flowers form on new growth in mind. As such, heavy trimming and pruning will interfere with the blooms.
- As attractive as Pentas is to insects of all kinds, it should come as no surprise that the Egyptian star cluster is also a tasty snack for caterpillars. In addition, aphids and spider mites can affect these plants too, making it necessary to take steps to protect your plant. On the plus side, Pentas is considered a deer-resistant plant.
- Egyptian star clusters are not toxic to people, dogs, or cats, making Pentas lanceolata a very safe choice for your garden or as a houseplant.
Pentas Features: An Overview
- Pentas lanceolata is a beautiful herbaceous perennial with evergreen leaves that can also be grown as a houseplant or annual. These single-stemmed plants produce blooms that grow upright atop new growth.
- Pentas is a fast grower that is considered to be an extremely low-maintenance plant. As subtropical natives, they do prefer full sun, but Pentas can cope quite well with partial shade as well. Pentas does not need much pruning. As the blooms appear on new growth, overpruning these plants can reduce the number of flowers. Pinching back young growths can encourage a bushier appearance.
- In their native regions of northern and eastern Africa, Egyptian star clusters can grow to be over three feet (a meter) tall. In more temperate regions and as container plants, however, their typical height is 24 to 36 inches (or 60 to 90 centimeters). These plants have an impressive spread, equal to their height.
- The flowers of the Egyptian star cluster are around three inches (eight centimeters) long, and grow in large clusters of five petals. Depending on the cultivar you choose, the blooms can be anything from white to pale pink, from hot pink to red, and from a lavender tone to deep purple. The flowers of the Pentas are not only stunning, they can also last all year in their growing zones!
- The evergreen leaves of the Egyptian star cluster grow densely, and can reach lengths of between three and six inches (eight to 16 centimeters). They grow in alternating patterns, are covered in “fuzz” on the under side, and have smooth edges with pointy tips. The leaves may have a deep green to green-blue color, depending on the cultivar.
- The stems of the Pentas are green and covered in fine hairs as well, and the plant typically grows from a single stem.
- The lantana, African marigold, and salvia all make for great companion plants to Egyptian star clusters, especially in pollinator gardens.
- While frost will kill Pentas, these plants will grow back in spring, after temperatures become warmer again. In warmer regions, such as in Florida, they can comfortably be grown as perennials — as nature intended them.
Growing Egyptian Star Clusters
Growing and caring for Egyptian star clusters isn’t difficult, but gardeners should be aware of Pentas lanceolata’s preferred conditions, and get to know this plant in order to help it thrive.
Your Egyptian star clusters will thrive in temperatures that range from 70 to 75°F (21 to 24°C), although they can — being subtropical — absolutely do well in higher temperatures. A Pentas won’t be able to overwinter if temperatures dip below 50°F (10°C), and can in this case either be grown as an annual or, when grown in a container, be moved indoors (to a greenhouse, where available) to overwinter.
Pentas can thrive in full sun, in conditions where these plants have access to six or more hours of direct sunlight a day. They are also quite tolerant to shade, however. When Egyptian star clusters receive two to three hours of direct sun and partial shade thereafter, these plants will still be able to bloom successfully. Because these plants are subtropical by origin, they do best if they grow in a climate with high relative humidity.
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- Great for the flower border or for containers, start Pentas seeds for a lovely plant that both butterflies and hummingbirds adore. Known as Egyptian Star Cluster and Star Flower, this lovely flower has a compact mounding habit and it produces clusters of star-shaped flowers that are rich in nectar.
- Grows as a 12 inch perennial in USDA zones 9 - 11. In colder zones, grows as an annual.
- Red Pentas flowers are especially attractive to pollinators, and you'll enjoy the activity surrounding their beautiful display. The Egyptian Star Cluster plant is vigorous and loves full sun.
- Sow 4 - 5 seeds per plant. Pentas Starflower gives a full season of color. Grow Star Flower from Pentas seeds indoors in late winter. Use a quality seed starting mix and press the flower seeds into the mix. Do not cover the Star Flower seeds. Place clear plastic or glass over the starter tray or pots to help hold in moisture. Keep the flower seeds moist but not saturated. Place the trays in a south facing, sunny window for germination.
- After hardening the seedlings for 10 days or more, transplant outdoors after frost season is over. Pentas flower care includes deadheading the spent flowers to promote continual blooming. Apply a fertilizer each month during the growing season. If the Pentas Egyptian Star Cluster plants are being grown as perennials, cut them back each fall.
Egyptian star clusters need fertile soil with adequate drainage. These plants do best in mildly acidic soil, with a pH level of around 6.0 — and Pentas lanceolata loves loamy, sandy, or clay-based soils.
In terms of fertilizer, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. If your garden soil is more on the alkaline side, you can use a natural compost to give it a push to the acidic range that Pentas plants love. During their growth periods, which stretch from spring through late summer, Egyptian star clusters will appreciate a balanced flower fertilizer routine once monthly. If you’re aiming for the showiest possible flowers, opt for a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus. Should you want to encourage this plant to grow lots of new leaves, choose a high-nitrogen fertilizer instead.
Egyptian star flowers don’t just grow well in gardens, but also in containers. People who live in climates with colder winters can take full advantage of this fact by moving their Pentas plants indoors during the winter.
Egyptian star clusters can also be grown as houseplants. They will have the same general living requirements, and the fact that homes tend to be dryer during the winter can stress the plants out. In the winter, they will need to be near a South-facing window, to maximize their light exposure. Pentas grown as houseplants are also uniquely vulnerable to spider mites, especially when the humidity levels are too low. These infestations will need to be treated with insecticidal oils or soaps.
When it comes to pruning, some people like to grow Egyptian star clusters as summer-time hedges, or otherwise want to prune them into a specific shape. While pruning won’t stress these plants, the blooms emerge on fresh growth — and pruning that will result in less abundant flowers.
Gardeners will want to remove dead growth to keep their Pentas looking strong, bright, and healthy, which can be done at any time of the year. Pentas growing as perennials, in warmer zones, should be pruned in January. This is when their bloom reaches its low point, and this type of pruning will prevent your Egyptian star clusters from becoming leggy.
Watering Egyptian Star Cluster
Pentas lanceolata is a moisture-loving plant that thrives in more humid climates. This means that they require regular watering to flourish and retain their beautiful bloom. However, Egyptian star clusters can do fine in dry conditions for a time. They will never show you their best selves in conditions of prolonged drought, though, and any Pentas plant that has just gone through a drought also becomes vulnerable to spider mite infections.
Egyptian star clusters that are grown in the ground need one to two inches of rainfall every week to do well, so the need for supplemental watering depends on the precipitation patterns in your region. Pentas plants grown in containers or window boxes will need to be watered more often, as the soil in these conditions will inevitably dry out faster, and houseplants don’t have access to rain. In the summer time, your Egyptian star clusters grown in containers may even need daily watering — especially in warm climates, such as in Florida.
If you notice wilting or you feel that the soil one inch below the surface is completely dry, there’s your sign that your Pentas plant needs more water.
Propagating Egyptian Star Clusters
While Egyptian star clusters can be propagated in multiple different ways, the easiest method is to start them from seed. To do this, you will need to:
- Start your Pentas seeds indoors, seven to nine weeks before the last frost (if you live in a frosty region) is expected to hit.
- Place Pentas seeds on top of a well-moistened potting medium. Pentas seeds are unique in that they need light to start germinating. Therefore, it’s key not to bury the seeds, but to simply sprinkle them on top!
- Cover the seeds in a plastic covering, such as a Ziploc bag or some saran wrap.
- Place the potting medium on top of a heating mat to keep your seeds at a temperature of 75°F (24°C).
- Mist with water as needed to keep the soil evenly moist.
- Once your Pentas seedlings begin sprouting leaves, they may be moved to their own pots. They can be planted in the garden during the spring, as soon as the last frost has passed (where applicable).
The steps to propagate Pentas through stem cutting are:
- Pick a mature and attractive Pentas to take your stem cuttings from. A new plant grown from stem cuttings will be pretty much a copy of the parent plant — so pick a healthy one that you like!
- Look for leafy softwood stems on your existing Pentas plants. Cut your stems in the early morning so that your Egyptian star cluster plant will have more water in its stems. Using a clean and sharp tool, cut off a four to six inch (10 to 16 centimeters) softwood stem from the parent plant.
- As soon as you take the stem cutting, wrap it in damp paper towels. It’s best to plant your Pentas stem cutting as soon as possible — to have the best odds of rooting.
- Take away all the leaves and dip the cutting in powdered rooting hormone. Now simply plant your Egyptian star cluster cutting in moist soil.
Pentas is a must-have ornamental for any gardener who loves beautiful and nearly year-round flowers and is hoping to attract butterflies and buzzy insects. While these plants prefer full sunlight and warmer temperatures, they are often grown as annuals in areas with cold winters, and can even thrive as houseplants with the right care.