Nemesia, which we call Elfenspiegel, has been making its way through flower shops as a “new discovery” for a number of years, where it is actually only offered as an annual cultivar. This vigorous plant has much more to offer. Here you can find out more about the Elfenspiegel, which in the right varieties also provides suitable plants for ambitious gardeners who do not like throwaway plants.

Origin and classification of the Nemesia

The genus Nemesia belongs to the plantain family, a powerful family of plants found in all climatic zones worldwide. It hasn’t been like that for very long. Of the Central European genera, only the plantains and the strandling were previously classified as plantains, while most of the genera and species that are now considered plantains were classified as figworts. In the German Wikipedia page on the figwort family, Nemesia is still listed as belonging here, although according to the prevailing opinion of botanists, new phylogenetic studies have unequivocally shown that it belongs more to the plantain family.

This research into phylogeny, i.e. the phylogenetic development and the relationships in biological systematics, is constantly producing completely new findings, because molecular biological methods can now be used. These new findings include B. that the figwort family was fairly divided and “plundered”, and that the plantain family was considerably expanded, e.g. B. to the Nemesia (it now includes 92 genera with around 2000 species). There are about 65 species of Nemesia, mostly called Elfenspiegel by us. These species are native to tropical South Africa, where they grow on sandy coasts and poor natural soils. There the Nemesia occurs as an annual plant, but also as a perennial and extensive ground cover.

However, just the keywords plantain, sandy, and barren suggest that this is a fairly assertive plant that won’t normally settle for a year’s growth.

Variety-rich elf mirror

English gardeners have known the Nemesia for a long time. Some of the original species have been cultivated there and planted in the gardens since the first traveling gardener returned from his trip to South Africa. Here is an overview of the cultivated varieties:

  • Nemesia caerulea
    • blue to purple flowering perennial
    • grows in the Cape flora on northern and northwestern slopes
    • is usually cultivated as an annual plant in temperate regions
  • Nemesia denticulata
    • Small perennial that spreads willingly in mats about 20 cm high
    • displays a cloud of pink flowers in summer and early fall
    • Tolerates heat, drought and heavy rain, is pest resistant and fully hardy in England
    • is often used in flower borders or as a container planting
  • Nemesia cheiranthus, the “long-eared Nemesia”
    • grows up to 40 cm high every year
    • white and yellow flowers show interesting purple accents
    • a popular garden plant in England, the best-known varieties “Shooting Stars” and “Masquerade”

In England, of course, the breeders quickly took care of the Nemesia. A number of hybrids emerged from the first successful crossings, which really won the prize competition of the Royal English Horticultural Society in 1999:

  • Nemesia caerulea „Sea Mist“
    • grows in compact mats
    • Perennial that is often only cultivated as an annual because its lush flower clusters, which last from late spring to early autumn, have cost the plant too much strength
  • Nemesia „Fleurie Bluebird“
    • semi-hardy variety for overwintering in frost-free but unheated greenhouses with light blue flowers
  • N. fruticans „Innocence“
    • a small bushy perennial
    • grows about 20 cm high and has white flowers

If you buy your plants from a specialist dealer who is internationally networked, you have a good chance of getting these original and hardy forms of Nemesia, which is particularly interesting if you value perennial elf mirrors, more on that below.

The local forms of trade of the Nemesia

In the meantime, however, the Nemesia has also reached our normal flower trade in some forms. In this country you will mainly come across two varieties and their hybrids:

  • Nemesia strumosa:
    • a dainty elf mirror, usually grown from seed and cultivated as an annual
    • spreads over the bed areas or hangs down decoratively from the window box
    • their stems branch profusely
    • the light green leaves are oblong in shape.
    • flowers in all possible colors, white, blue, pink and red, often also in several colors on one plant
  • Nemesia fruticans:
    • up to 60 cm high
    • is usually grown from cuttings and placed as a young plant in the bed or in the window box
    • blooms all summer long
    • does not need pruning if you keep removing the faded heads
  • Nemesia hybrids
    • Nemesia strumosa, N. fruticans and other species are often bred and crossed
    • e.g. B. Balcony Flower of the Year 2011, a Nemesia named Sonnenfee
    • produces bright yellow flowers from May to October

In 2012, a Nemesia “Sunsatia” Plus, which was created with the participation of N. cheiranthus and combines several flower colors in one plant, made a name for itself in the flower trade. The Elfenspiegel varieties “MineTrine” and “TrioMio” are also newly bred and are said to be quite resilient once they have grown. They are designed to withstand prolonged heat and strong winds.

The disadvantage of the hybrid breeds that we usually sell in stores is that they only develop their full beauty for one year. All of these “commercial varieties” are plants that have only been bred for one season. Exuberant flowering comes at the expense of longevity and reproductive ability.

If you really want to feel like a “real” gardener, or just don’t feel like buying new plants every year, you could try getting “real” plants. Organically grown, original Nemesia without genetic modifications, which is also available from an organic gardener. With a little care, these fairy mirrors will accompany you for years to come.

Location and soil for the elf mirror

Whether annual or perennial Nemesia, whether in the garden or on the balcony. The more naturally your mirror was grown, the easier it is to care for and the faster the plants will grow into magnificent and richly flowering bushes.

When it comes to soil, it depends a bit on the origin of your plant. The hybrid breeds are, so to speak, “high-performance athletes for one season”. You need a well-nutrient enriched soil to produce magnificent buds. Originally cultivated organic Nemesia get along with any soil, even with a rather barren one, but are also happy about a little mixed in compost. Otherwise, both like loose soil that is well drained. In the balcony box or bucket, drainage should definitely be provided in the lower area to allow excess water to drain away.

The location is usually given as sunny and warm in the Elfenspiegel. In the case of hybrids, however, very narrow temperature windows may have to be observed. The naturally grown Nemesia tolerate a location in the sun or semi-shade. All elf mirrors don’t like drafts, but they do like a lot of fresh air.

temperature and hardiness

The Nemesia hybrids from the hardware store or flower discounter are quite sensitive to cold. Even when the night temperatures fall below about 15 degrees, this has a negative effect on the growth of the plants. They shouldn’t like temperatures above 18 degrees either, as these should limit the willingness to bloom. However, it is repeatedly read that the hybrids can no longer develop their flowers properly if the temperatures are too high. So these little plants don’t really seem to be suitable for a warm and friendly south-facing balcony.

Of course, these hybrids are not specified as hardy either, you should buy them again next spring. You can still try, but you might run into problems with the breeding plants. Because nemesias are actually very fast-growing plants, but as breeding plants they should grow nice and compact. That’s why they are treated with chemical inhibitors, so-called weeding agents – which still have an effect if the Elfenspiegel makes it through the winter and usually ensure quite meager growth in the next season. In addition, the breeding plants are not exactly “excesses in resilience”. Mushrooms have an easy time with them, especially if they are kept in winter with high humidity and a moist substrate. Accordingly, there is a high chance

Really naturally grown Nemesia can withstand more or less frost depending on their origin. With the English varieties you can z. B. read that a variety is “fully hardy”. However, whether this should apply to the whole of England, where winter temperatures are comparable to ours, or only for the “sunny sides of the island”, where the climate is significantly milder than our average, should probably be asked again when buying.

irrigation and fertilization

In summer, of course, the Elfenspiegel needs a lot of water because of their powerful growth. Lime-free water (rainwater) is best, and it shouldn’t come out of the tap cold either. In addition, the Nemesia like a regular shower from the spray bottle, please also with soft, room-warm water. In summer, the Nemesia usually want to be watered every day, especially in the pot, the water is used up quickly. You will find the right rhythm if you always add water when the top layer of soil, about 1 cm thick, has dried again.

The Elfenspiegel get along best with a light compost fertilization. Between May and September you can then add some flowering plant fertilizer to the irrigation water about every 4 weeks.


The Nemesia usually blooms from May to September. In the case of the cultivated forms, each faded head should be cut off immediately. Then new flowers form in the same season. In the case of these hybrids, the effect of the compressing agent usually gradually decreases. Then the newly appearing flowering shoots get longer and longer, which sometimes doesn’t look very nice. Then you can also cut the entire plant back to the foliage in the middle of summer. In 2 – 3 weeks it will then sprout all over again.

With perennial Elfenspiegel you can first extend the flowering period by removing the withered flowers. Some varieties can also be cut back completely after the first flowering and will then flower again in September.

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