Houseplants Bring The Outdoors In

Many houseplants will not live outside.

There is someplace in the world for the brethren of each and every houseplant to grow wild. All houseplants do not originate from the same regions, and many were bred in cultivation, but all originate from somewhere. They are houseplants only because they are plants that can live in a house.

Most houseplants are from tropical regions, and many are understory plants that grow in the partial shade of taller trees. They are naturally tolerant of the mild temperatures and partial shade within the home. Not many deciduous plants will be happy without a winter chill.

Confinement is also a concern, since houseplants need to be potted, and stay below ceilings. Plants that need to disperse their roots will not work. Neither will plants that can not be pruned down as they grow. Some palms that work well in malls have leaves that get longer than the distance between the floor and ceiling in the home!

Most houseplants are grown for foliage instead of flowers, not only because a lack of seasons inhibits bloom, but also because their foliage is naturally so appealing. African violets are one of the more notable exceptions. Amaryllis is all flower with almost no foliage, but typically gets discarded when done blooming.

Coleus and caladiums have such colorful foliage that there is no need for flowers. Bloom actually compromises their foliar quality anyway, which is why flower spikes get snipped from coleus. Mauna loa lily is grown for excellent rich green foliage, but sometimes adds clear white blooms as a bonus.

All sorts of ferns are very good houseplants. However, a few, including the popular Australian tree fern, produce coarse fuzz that can be irritating to the skin. A few others, like sword fern, produce messy spores that can permanently stain fabric and carpet. Just because they can live in the home does not mean that they should.

The various ficus are excellent houseplants because they can grow quite large, but can also be pruned to fit into their particular situations. The popular weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) has an abundance of small glossy leaves. Rubber tree and fiddle leaf fig have big thick leaves. Creeping fig is even more distinct from the others, as a wiry vine that is popularly grown in hanging pots.

Angel Wing Begonia

This is not the common Angel Wing begonia. I just found it online, in the pictures that are not protected by copyright. I could not find my picture. Storage has been a problem.

The simple pink or sometimes red or white flowers of angel wing begonia are not as flashy as those of other begonias, and are not abundant enough to provide much color. During warm weather, they are merely a minor bonus to the striking foliage. As the name implies, the big and angularly lobed leaves are shaped like wings of angels. Upper surfaces are glossy and dark green with irregular silvery spots. Undersides are even glossier and reddish bronze. With support, the lanky cane stems can get more than twelve feet tall. However, because older tall canes produce runty foliage, they are often pruned out to promote more vigorous and lushly foliated young canes.

Because they are sensitive to frost, and also because they are ideal houseplants, angel wing begonias are typically grown in containers. They like rather regular but not excessive watering, and rich potting soil. Abundant sunlight enhances foliar color; but harsh exposure roasts foliage. Partial shade is not a problem.

Finally! A White Cymbidium!

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This is what a simple white Cymbidium orchid should look like.

Cymbidium orchids have been popular here for as long as I can remember. Back when horticultural commodities were still more commonly grown around the San Francisco Bay area, many genera of orchids, particularly Cymbidium, were grown in acres of greenhouses in the hills of South San Francisco. They are still grown near the coast of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties.

In home gardens, they are often pampered under the shelter of lath, where they are protected from frost and direct exposure to sunlight. Some Cymbidium orchids live and bloom for many years or decades, and sometimes get divided into more as they get overgrown, just like lily-of-the-Nile. Some live longer than those who originally grew them, and go live with someone else.

I never pampered my Cymbidium orchids. I grew all of them out in the garden, with only a bit of partial shade from larger trees. I never once potted any of them into the coarse fir bark that Cymbidium orchids supposedly need. I grew most in dirty and uncomposted oak leaves. I put some in rotting stumps to accelerate the rot. They were happy, and bloomed remarkably well.

None of mine were purchased. They were all acquired from neighbors, clients or colleagues. Of the many Cymbidium orchids that I have grown, none were white! Yes, I wanted a white one. I just do not admit to it.

After maintaining it for more than a decade, and bringing it from a former home hundreds of miles away, a colleague brought me this Cymbidium orchid. Although I did not want him to pass it along after so many years, I was pleased to take it, particularly since it blooms white. Then, it started to bloom, immediately after arrival! Ah, if only there were more people here to see it!

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I do not know why the individual flowers are so huddled together.

Orchids Have History In California

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Breeding has done wonders with orchids.

It is funny how so many different plants get here from all over the world, and then become so popular so far from their natural homes that they seem to have always been here. It is now hard to imagine that some of the more popular cymbidium orchids actually came from tropical and subtropical Asia and northern Australia. Other orchids are from tropical Africa or South America.

As the Nineteenth Century turned to the Twentieth, orchids were popularized by those who profited from industry in the east, and then moved west to escape harsh winters. They arrived in the Mediterranean climate of the Santa Barbara region with resources to spend on outfitting luxury homes with comparably luxurious gardens and exotic plants. Orchids were a natural choice.

At homes in Montecito and Hope Ranch, cymbidium orchids were grown is mass plantings, and maintained by professional horticulturists. The popularity of orchids continued for decades. As the extensive orchid collections of England were threatened by the bombing and fuel shortages of World War II, collectors and horticulturists in California brought them here to be safe and warm.

Many of these refugee orchids were bred extensively by Californian horticulturists to produce many of the countless varieties that are now available. Production of blooming potted orchid plants and cut orchid flowers have become major horticultural industries in California. To this day, the Santa Barbara region produces more orchids than any other region in America. Modern tissue culture cloning technology has made it possible to propagate and grow more orchid plants at a faster rate than ever before. This makes them more affordable.

Even though mass plantings of cymbidium orchids are now rare, orchids are probably as popular as they ever have been, simply because they are so available to more people who can enjoy them. They are not limited to fancy gardens of luxury homes. Cymbidiums are still popular potted plants for sheltered porches. Small but flashy moth orchids are among the most popular of blooming potted plants for homes and offices.

How To Train Your Dragon

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Oh, the SHAME!

Dragon fruit became a fad on the West Coast of California several years ago. They were probably always around, but had previously been rare. When they inexplicably became more popular and common, they did so down south first. Their popularity migrated to the Santa Clara Valley a few years later. It probably will not go much farther though, since they are sensitive to frost.

It is not a bad fad, at least relative to most others. Dragon fruit, which is also known as pitaya, happens to be very easy to grow and propagate from cuttings. Locally, it needs protection from frost, but no more than other popular tropical plants. It recovers from minor frost damage quite efficiently. Pruning scraps can be rooted and grown as more plants for friends and neighbors.

Of course, I dislike fads. I am not impressed by the fruit, which might lack flavor here where the weather does not stay very warm for very long through summer. The coarsely textured and floppy plants get big and awkward. They are typically trained up onto posts from which their many long stems hang downward. An exemplary specimen looks like Sigmund the Sea Monster.

This is a fad that I dislike enough to try. I want to see what all the fuss is about. These are my first two cuttings. The upper cutting produces red fruit. The lower cutting that is marked with a line to show how deeply it should be stuck into rooting medium produces white fruit. I will know where to release them into the landscape by the time they develop roots and start to grow.

This is so shameful that I probably should not be writing about it. Oh well. Perhaps in a few months, I will write about how these cuttings will be progressing.

Guzmania

60713Just like potted chyrsanthemums, azaleas, hydrangeas and poinsettias, potted specimens of Guzmania magnifica are popularly purchased while beginning to bloom, enjoyed as house plants through a long bloom cycle, but then discarded as bloom eventually deteriorates. They are rarely allowed to produce new pups that can be divided and grown into fresh new plants to bloom later.

The bright yellow, orange, red or pink bloom stalks, as well as their rich green basal foliage, are so glossy that they seem to be plastic. The colorful parts of the blooms are pointy strap shaped bracts that arch outward from upright stalks. The leaves below have the same shape, but are longer, and more densely arranged in neat rosettes. Tiny flowers are mostly obscured by the bracts.

Guzmania magnifica, likes bright ambient sunlight without direct sun exposure, and can tolerate significant shade, especially if grown for only a few months while blooming. They seem to like misting, but probably do not not need it. They should be watered only weekly to every two weeks, when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry. Too much fertilizer might scorch the foliage.

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.

Another Bad Picture

P90330KKThis is why one should not ask someone else who is very vain to take a picture of something important. The vain only take good selfies. Others subjects are too unimportant to them to bother getting a good picture of.

Fortunately, I did not ask for this picture. Brent, my colleague in Southern California, sent it to me with all those other pictures that I shared this morning, and the rest of the pictures that I intend to share next Saturday. I think he wanted to show off his magnolia. I do not remember what cultivar it is, or even what species. I though there was a Magnolia soulangeana in this spot, but these flowers do not look right for that.

I think this picture shows off the plumerias better. Brent probably did not think of that because he does not understand how impressive these specimens are to those of who can not grow them, even while these specimens are bare. I would like to grow some here, but it gets a bit too cool for them in winter. They are very sensitive to even mild frost.

Some of us know plumeria as frangipani. There are quite a few different cultivars that are indistinguishable while bare in this picture. Some stay quite small. My favorite white flowered cultivar is very tall but lanky, with only a few branches. The biggest specimen is the most common, with large trusses of small but very fragrant white flowers with yellow centers. Most bloom with a few colors swirled together. A few are more uniform hues of light pink, bright pink, red, pastel orange and buttery yellow.

I have pruned these specimens a few times. The pruning debris gets plugged as cuttings of various sizes. They grow into copies of the originals that get used in landscapes that Brent designs.

Brent’s other pictures, as well as a brief explanation of the severity of his extreme vanity, can be found at: https://tonytomeo.com/2019/03/30/six-on-saturday-vanity/ and https://tonytomeo.com/2019/03/30/six-on-saturday-vanity-ii/ .

Potted Plants Have Their Place

30918thumbPavement serves a purpose in a landscape. So does decking. They are the flooring of the outdoor spaces that are used for outdoor living. Patios and decks are where we barbecue and dine. Walkways and porches are how we get around the exteriors of our homes. Driveways are where we park cars. For what they get used for, they are better than turf grass, ground cover or bare soil.

So why is it so trendy to clutter pavement and decking with potted plants that would really prefer to be in the ground? It would be more practical to pave less area, and leave more space to plant things in the ground. There would be no damp pots staining concrete or rotting decking. There would be less area to rake or blow, with fewer obstacles in the way. Watering would be much easier.

Well, as it turns out, there are a few plants that should be potted. Houseplants are the most obvious. After all, not many homes have exposed soil where houseplants can be grown on the inside. Even if they did, it is still easier to keep houseplants potted for portability. Plants such as orchids and Christmas cactus, can live in the garden most of the time, and then come in while blooming. Portability is also important for tropical plants that need protection from even mild frost. It might be easier to move them than to cover them.

There are also a few plants that are contained because they are invasive. Mint and horseradish are culinary plants that are so famously invasive that not many of us would bother growing them if they were not so much better fresh from the garden than purchased from elsewhere. Rather than allow them to escape, mint is popularly potted, and horseradish is commonly grown in deep tubs.

Container gardening and growing plants in pots is something that we do for out own convenience, or just because it looks good cluttering otherwise useful parts of the landscape. With only a few exceptions, plants prefer to be in the ground, where they can disperse their roots as extensively as they like. They are healthier, and need less attention. To them, container gardening is unnatural.