Boston Fern

This fern is nowhere near Boston.

It is not actually from Boston. The first Boston fern, Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’ was merely discovered in Boston, as a mutant in a shipment of otherwise normal ferns. Unlike the more upright parent plants, Boston fern has softly arching fronds that can hang vertically at the ends.

The fronds are typically about a foot and a half long, and can be a few feet long in humid and partly shady environments. Each frond is comprised of many pinnae that are neatly arranged on both sides of a wiry rachis (leaf stalk). Each leaflet is an inch or two long or longer. Delicate aerial roots sometimes dangle below the foliage.

Through the 1970’s, Boston fern was one of the most popular houseplants. Yet, it really prefers more humidity than it gets inside. It is actually happier on porches or in atriums where it is sheltered from frost and harsh sun exposure. It prefers partial shade outside, but likes abundant ambient sunlight as a houseplant.

Ornamental Pepper

Colorful but not flavorful ornamental pepper.

The red, orange, yellow, purple, white or almost black fruit of ornamental pepper that naturally develops in summer can be seen at any time of year because the plants are grown in artificial greenhouse environments. The peppers are usually small and narrow, and stand upright above their glossy rich green foliage. Some are narrower. Others are a plumper. Technically, the fruit is edible, but it is not as flavorful as peppers grown for culinary purposes.

Because the plants are sensitive to frost, they are more often grown as houseplants than out in the garden. In the garden, they need shelter to survive as perennials. As houseplants, they need warm and sunny exposure in order to bloom and develop fruit. They should be watered regularly, but only as their potting soil is starting to get dry.

Look but do not bother tasting.

Tropical Plants Far From Home

P80811+++++Plants can inhabit nearly every climate on Earth. They live in hot and dry deserts, cold arctic regions, rainforests and just about everywhere in between. Plants seem to have it all figured out. Some even know how to live in our homes as houseplants, although they probably did not plan it that way. Most houseplants are tropical plants that are naturally endemic to tropical ecosystems.

It is actually their tropical heritage that makes them more comfortable in our homes. Tropical climates tend to be conducive to proliferation of all kinds of plants. Those that want to live there must be competitive. Trees compete by growing faster and taller than other trees. Vines compete by climbing the trees. Understory plants that live under taller plants compete by needing less sunlight.

It is these understory plants that do not mind the shade of our homes. Even those that like bright ambient light might never expect to get direct sun exposure. The various ficus trees that might naturally grow tall enough to reach the top of a forest canopy in the wild are still understory plants while young. Because they know how to use resources efficiently, tropical plants do well in pots.

However, these advantages are not so useful out in the garden. Tolerance to partial shade also means that some tropical understory plants need to be sheltered. If too exposed, foliage can get roasted by sunlight or arid wind. (Most tropical climates are more humid than local climates are.) Complaisant roots do not disperse well enough to sustain lush foliage without regular watering.

Ironically, roots of the various ficus trees are very aggressive because they to not disperse deeply, but instead spread out at the surface of the soil where they grow into exposed root buttresses.

The most familiar weakness of tropical plants is their susceptibility to frost. Even though it does not get very cold here, it gets cool enough in winter to offend plants that would never experience cool weather in the wild. Actual frost can severely damage foliage, and can even kill some tropical plants.