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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007
Neko no hige (Cat's whiskers)
By LINDA INOKI
Here is a striking member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family of plants. It is easy to see how the plant got its common name: the stamens and pistil stick right out of the flowers like whiskers. The leaves have long been used as an infusion to treat kidney complaints, and the plant is also known as "Java Tea" — a not nonsensical appellation, as Orthosiphon aristatus is native to tropical Southeast Asia, and among other places it grows in Malaysia, Indonesia and northern Australia. It makes a handsome plant, rising to about a meter tall, and the nectar-rich flowers attract butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds to the garden. The flowers are white or pale lavender, and the main stem is tinted with purple. These perennial plants flower from midsummer into autumn, and will survive a mild winter. Cat's whiskers are easy to grow from cuttings, as long as they are kept warm and damp. Incidentally, the cat in the picture is my pet Daisy. I hope you can see her impressive whiskers! Daisy is a Birman cat, a fluffy breed which also comes from Southeast Asia.