Christmas Flower Candy: Cobaea scandens


If you live in the Northern hemisphere, you may consider Cobaea scandens, otherwise known as cup and saucer vine, an odd choice of Christmas Flower Candy. But in our coastal garden, high up in the canopy of the bay tree, this rampant climber is still flowering for all its life is worth. Our cup and saucer vine has weathered gales and several chilly nights during December. We’ve been rewarded with hundreds of greenish-white, bell-shaped flowers which quickly flushed light purple. The fragrant flowers are carried proud of glossy foliage on long stems, perfect for flower arranging.

Cobaea scandens is easily grown from seed. A single plant is sufficient to cover a large wall or pergola, coming into its own from late summer when other climbers are starting to fade. The unadulterated species has purple flowers; a white variation, Cobaea scandens f. alba has sophisticated creamy-white blooms. Cobaea flowers have a fascinating strategy for attracting pollinators. They exude a unpleasant smell when they first open: in their natural habitat this attracts pollinating bats, but in Europe these are supplanted by flies. Later the perfume evolves to become an attractive honey scent, drawing bees towards ample pollen.

An even finer flower, although harder to track down, is Cobaea pringlei a climber which produces large, white, funnel-shaped flowers. Cobaea pringlei is slightly hardier than C. scandens, regrowing from its roots in all but the most hateful winters.

So if you fancy a bit of Christmas Club Tropicana then Cobaea scandens is the climber for you. Seeds are available from most good seed merchants and can be sown from January but, watch out, you won’t be able to contain your seedlings inside for long!