Agapetes (Himalayan Lantern) are exotic, hanging shrubs that will only succeed if grown in a temperate region. There are around 100 species of Himalayan lanterns, most of which are epiphytes. An epiphyte is a plant that grows a large woody basal organ, from which the plant can absorb moisture and some nutrients.
Native to the Himalayan mountains, this evergreen plant is a member of the heather family. There are many species available, and they are related to the blueberry genus.
This perennial, which can be considered drought-tolerant once established, can be grown as an ornamental plant, for its very showy, bell-shaped flowers. The flowers are followed by purple berries, that are similar to blueberries.
Because Himalayan lanterns can also grow without soil, in their native Himalayas, they are often to be found growing high up in trees.
The name Agapetes comes from the Greek word for desired or loved. Agapetes was first classified by botanists in the early 1800s.
|Scientific name||Agapetes serpens|
|Common names||Himalayan lantern, creeping agapetes|
|Height||4 to 6 feet (up to 2 m)|
|Width||Weeping up to 5 feet (1.52 m)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 7 to 11|
|Plant specific features||Epiphyte, semi-climbing or weeping evergreen shrub with showy flowers|
How to Plant and Grow
Where to Plant
The Himalayan lantern is not a hardy plant. Whilst it will survive a light frost for a very short time, it really needs winter protection unless you are in a warmer region. For this reason, one very successful planting site is in a hanging basket.
In a container, you will be able to fully appreciate its magnificent blooms whilst being able to move the pot indoors during colder weather. The Himalayan lantern has elegant and arching branches that can reach over 4 feet (1 meter) long. The leaves are evergreen and the flowers that are produced in Spring are beautiful.
Because Agapetes serpens is able to grow without soil, this perennial can also be used in heated glasshouses or orangeries, and planted in tree hollows.
If you are in a warm climate, such as zone 9, you will be able to grow Himalayan lanterns in the ground. They look good growing in the crotches of large shrubs or trees, similar to bromeliads.
When to Plant
The best time to plant or repot an Agapetes is during the Spring.
Care and Maintenance
Himalayan lanterns are ericaceous plants that require soil that is slightly acidic. You can add ericaceous compost to the soil at the time of planting to maintain the required acidity. Choose compost that is suitable for rhododendrons or camelias.
Sufficient moisture is very important for the health and longevity of this plant, but don’t be tempted to overwater.
If Himalayan lantern plants sit in water for extended periods, the woody base will rot. Since it is this base of the hanging Himalayan lantern that is the nutrient store for this plant, if it rots, it will die.
However, Agapetes serpens does require regular amounts of water and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out, although it is considered a drought tolerant plant. It will not harm if it misses a watering or two, and requires less water during the winter.
In between watering, allow the growing medium (if using) to dry out. This will ensure that the plant does not rot.
A pot grown, indoor Himalayan lantern should be watered with rain water if possible.
If rain water is not available, allow tap water to stand for several hours before using. This allows it to reach an ambient temperature. If your tap water is very hard, and high in minerals, it is best to use bottled water.
Alternatively, you can add a very small amount of fertilizer for acid-loving (ericaceous) plants to your tap water that will help to counter the alkalinity of the tap water.
A balanced fertilizer with equal parts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous can be used providing you use it at a weak dilution.
You should not fertilize during the Autumn or Winter months but only during the early part of the growing season. Choose a fertlizer product that is designed for ericaceous plants.
Himalayan lanterns like sun. They perform best when they receive full sun, however young plants, especially, require some protection from strong afternoon sun in very hot weather.
If the leaves are subject to hot Summer sun, they can become scorched.
Pruning and Repotting
Agapetes serpens can become rather untidy and leggy if left unpruned. However, pruning it once a year will help. Be warned, the Himalayan lantern won’t produce new growth below the point of the cut.
So, although it will create new branches where the pruning point is, you need to plan all pruning points with care. You should be able to use the stem tips that you prune to multiply your plants.
Pruning the Himalayan lantern will encourage new shoots. It will also improve the blooming and help to keep the basal organ (lignotuber) in good health.
When young, Agapetes serpens branches tend to grow long. This new growth becomes brittle and breaks easily. Therefore, moving it, transplanting or repotting it needs to be done with extreme care.
If you are growing Himalayan lantern in a pot, then you won’t need to repot it frequently. The plant can remain in the same container for several years, without suffering any harm.
Propagating Himalayan lanterns is best done by taking stem cuttings. You can also air layer branches, or even take leaf cuttings.
It is not easy to reproduce this plant from seed and to do so will require both time and patience.
However, although it can take a while for cuttings to root, they will do so without any help. So this is easier and the most successful method to choose for multiplying your Himalayan lanterns.
Air layering the branches is probably the most reliable method of propagation. Simply layer low-lying branches into soil or sand next to the plant. Use soil or compost that is designed for ericaceous plants, and provide some shade from strong sunlight. Provide protection during the winter and don’t overwater during cooler weather.
Pests and diseases
Generally A. serpens is resistant to pests and insect attack. However, scale insect and/or spider mites can cause some damage occasionally, and an attack by mealy bugs can reduce the blooms. These pests can be treated and controlled with horticultural oil or an organic pesticide.
Never allow the Himalayan lantern to sit in water for extended periods. This will result in rotting to the base crown and the plant will not survive.
Temperature and Humidity
During the summer, Himalayan lanterns will appreciate constant temperatures of 20 °C or above, and during the winter you need to be able to retain warmth of around 15 °C. Below 15 °C, flower buds will not form, and you will not have any flowers.
Other Uses for Agapetes serpens
Himalayan lantern plants are toxic to humans if ingested, so should not be grown where they are accessible to children
The flowers are beautiful to look at, and the graceful form of the plant’s arching branches are delightful. However, the flowers of this plant have no fragrance. Nevertheless, during the winter, if growing outdoors, you will find that the blooms will attract birds to feed on its nectar.
Types of Himalayan Lantern You Can Grow
Himalayan Lantern (Agapetes “Ludgvan Cross”) is an excellent choice if you wish to grow a container plant. This spectacular variety, with its elegant arching branches, will produce hanging clusters of attractive pink, tubular flowers that are accentuated by darker pink.
This showy variety tolerates dry conditions well, due to its woody base. Given appropriate growing conditions, a healthy plant can flower from Spring right through to late Fall. It will do best if planted in partial shade.
Himalayan Lantern “Ludgvan Cross” (Agapetes “Ludgvan Cross”) is a hybrid of A. serpens and A. incurvata that originated in Cornwall. Branches can be one meter long and its flowers are impressive.
Agapetes Serpens produces spectacular, showy flower clusters and is worthy of adding to your planting space if you have the temperatures for outdoor growing. Even, as a houseplant, it will reward you with a lovely floral display.
*image by pisces2386/depositphotos