The common Snapdragon is a flower known to all having being introduced to it at an early age. Surely there is not one child who has not picked the flowers in order to squeeze the cheeks to make the snapping motion of the dragon? Having provided hours of fun, it is a plant we all remember with a certain fondness. In order to pass on the secret of the dragon to next generation almost every garden will, at some point, have Snaps in it.
Antirrhinum majus, commonly known as Snapdragons or Snaps, are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Morocco. Snaps belong to the Scrophulariaceae family which includes “old English garden” favourites such as Angelonia, Bacopa, Foxglove, Penstemon and Torenia to name but a few.
Snaps are herbaceous, short-lived perennials used as annuals. They can tolerate light frost but do not cope in extreme heat. In South Africa Snaps are at their best in autumn and spring.
Depending on the variety, this fast growing plant varies greatly in height. The flower spikes range from 30-120cm. The leaves on the stems are arranged spirally and are lance shaped. The leaves are glossy and dark green in colour and can be up to 7cm in length and 2.5cm in width. Plants with darkly coloured flowers tend to have reddish stems.
The flowers, regardless of the plant height, tend to be the same size and are around 5 cm in length. The flowers are trumpet shaped with the outer upper petals of the tube resembling a well coiffured bouffant and the lower petals like a thick lip. Recently a double-flowered dwarf variety was released onto the market – the flower of this variety resembles that of a Stock flower. The colour palette for Antirrhinums is vast. Every colour imaginable can be found except true blue. There are single colours and bicolours to suit every need and whim.
The use of Snaps depends entirely on the variety. Dwarf types, typically 15-30cm, are best used as border fronts, edging, window boxes and other containers. Intermediate varieties, 30-60cm, can be used for mixed borders and mid-bedding. Tall types, 60+cm, for back borders and cut flowers.
Antirrhinum seedlings are best planted when green, however if the seedlings have flowers or buds, pinch back the main stems before planting out. This allows the plant to concentrate on root growth which in turn means a sturdier, bushy plant that will shoot strong flowering spikes. The tall varieties may need to be staked during the initial stages of their growth. After the first flush of flowers, cut plants back to the sixth node. When new buds appear, feed with a water soluble fertilizer.
Plant the seedlings in full sun, although they can tolerate partial shade. Snaps like an organically rich soil which must be well draining, but moist. Snaps have a low tolerance to drought – water control is essential for these plants. Allow for enough space between plants to ensure air movement and if possible, avoid overhead watering.
Snapdragons are susceptible to a host of diseases including rust, mould, fungal leaf spot, downy mildew, wilt and root rot. If rust appears on the plants, avoid planting Snaps in the same area the following season. Snaps attract pests such as aphids and leaf miner.
Snaps also attract bees and other “good” pollinators. As the insects crawl down the throat, the flower closes over the insect and dumps its pollen all over the body of the visitor. A very effective method indeed!