This week’s list comes from “Bloom: Secrets to Growing Houseplants That Bloom Year-Round” (Quarto Publishing Group, 2022) by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf; this is a highly desirable volume for those who are becoming more interested in growing houseplants.
1. African violets are easily propagated from individual leaves. “Simply cut the petiole or stem of the leaf to about an inch long,” Steinkopf writes, “cutting at an angle to create a larger area for root growth. Make a hole before inserting the cutting in a small container of potting soil or an equal mixture of vermiculite and perlite so as not to damage the petiole. Keep it moist and in six to eight weeks new seedlings should appear. Let me add that by wrapping the propagation container with its soil moistened in a plastic bag, you will create a mini-greenhouse environment that can accelerate root and leaf development without the need for additional watering.
2. One of more than 40 plants highlighted in “Bloom” is the jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor). It is an indoor plant that has both remarkable foliage and flowers. The foliage is particularly memorable, black in color with red veins, a pattern that appears to be intended for evening wear. Since it is a terrestrial orchid (most orchids have aerial roots and grow in trees), it does not require porous orchid bark for a growing medium, but will do well in n any well-drained soil. Give it sun exposure in the morning or afternoon. Since the jewel orchid has succulent stems, it is easily propagated from cuttings. “The stems are a bit brittle,” writes Steinkopf, “and if one gets knocked down, it’s a great time to propagate. They can be placed in water, which is quite fun to watch because the roots are thick with feathery growths.
3. The wax plant or porcelain flower (Hoya species) has the most irresistibly fragrant flowers of any houseplant. Its leaves can also have interesting shapes (including the perfect hearts you see potted for Valentine’s Day), with leaves that can turn pink or red when exposed to sunlight in addition to fascinating leaf patterns. variegated on some varieties. Add in a remarkable degree of drought tolerance and you wonder why Hoyas are among the lesser-known houseplant groups. Still, there’s a craze for Hoya right now, and enthusiasts are assembling terrific collections of its many species, including miniature ones. Steinkopf adds, “A well-fitting pot has been said to help flowering,” affirming a decision she made earlier regarding flowering houseplants in general, namely that “keeping your plant well-fitting in the pot or attached to the roots is necessary”. Being root-bound and stressed promotes and may even be essential for flowering. “A plant that senses that its very existence is threatened will use all its resources to ensure its survival” and “expend a large part of its energy to flower and produce seeds”.
4. If you see a lush volunteer plant with large, tobacco-like leaves suddenly beginning to grow, you may want to remove it if young children or pets visit its garden, as its raw berries and leaves are very toxic. At the same time, its purple berries, born on stunning pink stems, attract a variety of birds; although I do not suggest you do so, its young leaves would be edible, according to experienced foragers, if boiled three times for seven minutes each time with the water replaced between each boiling. The plant in question is known as pokeweed or pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) and I have seen two of them appear in my garden in the past year.
5. Speaking of weeds, summer is prostrate spurge (Euphorbia prostrata) season. This is the closest plant to the ground I have ever seen and is truly one of the most attractive species. If it were a perennial it would be much sought after to cover empty spaces but it dies at the end of summer. Prostrate spurge appears during the summer season, even on soil that has not seen any water except for scanty winter rains. Due to its minimal needs, you wonder if it could somehow find its place in the ornamental garden. In any case, its elimination is simple because its root is shallow and the whole plant is easily torn from the ground.