Friday, November 18, 2011

Holiday Cactus

 I love this time of year. The holiday season is here, and it's time for the Thanksgiving cactus to bloom. Some of mine are in bloom, but the Christmas cactus are just budding up. What is the difference? Thanksgiving cactus, or Schlumbergera tuncata, is also called claw cactus, because it's stem segments have pointed teeth on them. The Christmas cactus, or Schlumbergera bridgesii, have stem segments that are more rounded. Usually they are just called Christmas cactus or holiday cactus. Whatever you call them, they are beautiful, holiday-time blooming plants.   Most of these pictures are from last year, but they are all in bud, and the peach one is blooming right now. Other than my African violets, I think they are the most beautiful blooming houseplants.

Let's talk about them for a minute. They are cactus, but not the kind you usually think about. They are jungle cactus, growing in the forks of trees in the jungles of South America. They are epiphytic, meaning they live on trees, but are not parasitic, meaning they do not draw nourishment from the plant they are on. Their nourishment comes from the debris that gathers in the forks they are growing on. They grow like orchids and staghorn ferns, just to name a couple.
Because they grow on trees, they would prefer not to be in full sun, even in the house. If taken outside for the summer, place them in a shaded, or filtered sun area. Their biggest requirement is warmth and lots of humidity. They are from the jungle, remember. If they are kept too cold, the yellow and white varieties will have a pink tinge to them. A well-drained soil is a must. Being epiphytic, they do not grow in soil per say, but in the debris that collects in the forks of the trees..
The biggest problem seems to be getting them to re-bloom. The key is too keep them dry in the month of September. Cool night temperatures in the fall help trigger blooming as well. The shorter days and longer nights of fall are also an important factor, and keeping them in the living room where the lights are on all evening can hinder blooming. Many people place them outside for the summer and keep them out until the temperatures are in the 50's and even high 40's. Mine stay inside, so I don't turn the heat on in my sun room until it's quite cold. I've never had my plants not bloom, so I lean toward the cool temps. I'm not always on top of the water, either, so that may also factor in. Following  are a few pictures of my plants in bloom. What's not to like?


November 16, 2011

Many people have a plant that belonged to their grandma, who got it from their grandma, and so on. This is a long lived plant and one that is easily shared. When pruning them in the spring, take the cuttings and root them in soil, and you can share your plants with family and friends. Pruning will increase the blooms next year as well, so its a win, win situation. You increase the blooms of your plant and share a great plant with someone else!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Patterned Plants

Haworthia limifolia

Gasteria batesia
One of the most beautiful aspects of plants is the pattern of their leaves. I'm not just talking about variegation, but also the arrangement and texture. Some of the most amazingly patterned plants are succulents. Haworthias and gasterias are a couple of my favorites. 
Haworthia limifolia, or washboard haworthia definitely looks like a washboard, thus the common name. It's leaves are also arranged in a swirled pattern. I love it!
Gasteria batesiana is a small plant with rough, warty leaves. Gaster, the Greek word for stomach, refers to their flowers, which resemble the shape of a stomach. Both plants are native to South Africa, but prefer a bit of shade, gasterias taking on a reddish tinge when in too much sun.
Most people think of sansevierias as the mother-in-law's tongue or snake plant. (Who comes up with these common names?)  These names apply to the tall, sharp leaves of the most common variety of snake plant. I love the upright varieties, but my favorite is the bird's nest sansevieria. This variety forms a low rosette, thus the common name. Golden hanii is a beautiful variegated form, and quicker than you think, forms a cluster of these rosettes.

Sansevieria 'Golden Hahnii'
Aeonium 'Kiwi' is a gorgeous plant, especially in plenty of sun, as that is when its red edged leaves are at their most vibrant. Aeonium 'Schwarzkopf' is a beautiful dark burgundy, almost black in full sun. These very popular succulents are a great addition to your indoor plant family. They will lose some of their vibrant color indoors, though, the burgundy of the 'Schwarkopf' turning to a dark green, and the 'Kiwi's' red edge fading to pink or even disappearing.

Aeonium 'Kiwi'

Aeonium 'Schwarzkopf'

Euphorbia nerofolia variegata
 The euphorbia nerofolia variegata not only has two toned foliage, but the stem is also variegated to match the leaves. I saw this plant in a garden center in Chicago, but the over $100 price prevented me from taking it home. (I like being married.)

Let's move on to some non-succulent plants. Piper crocatum has beautiful marbled foliage. The unique feature of this plant though, is the sunken vein areas, which gives it a quilted appearance. It also has a purplish tinge on the backside of the leaf. This vining plant would prefer to be in a humid conservatory with ample warmth, but the beauty of the plant makes it worth a try in your home.
Piper crocatum
Microsorum thailandicum
Two ferns that are interesting and extremely unique are the oil fern and the crocodile fern, both surprisingly, in the same family.
The oil fern, Microsorum thailandicum, is native to Thailand as its name implies. It is ephphytic, and looks as if it's been dipped in metallic blue paint. It needs to be kept humid to keep this unusual coloring.  The one shown is in the fern room at the Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago, growing in near perfect conditions. The crocodile fern, is fairly new to the market. Its leaves have the appearance of crocodile skin. It can tolerate low light, but would also like some extra humidity and evenly moist soil. I have mine growing in an East window and its doing great. The one pictured is also in the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Crocodile fern~ Micorsorum musifolium 'Crocodyllus'
I could go on forever. There are endless choices out there, so next time you are shopping for a plant, pay attention not only to the color and shape of the leaves, but the texture also. These kinds of plants, with warts, crocodile skin, and blue metallic leaves are also a great way to interest children in the wonderful world of plants. They are the next generation of plant lovers and we need to get them involved when they are young.