Houseplants for the Home and Office

Chlorophytum is Known as the Spider Plant

Chlorophytum is one of the most familiar of indoor plants. It is extremely popular because it is easy to grow and grows quickly. It is also increadibly easy to propagate and so is one of the many indoor plants that is more often given as a home grown plantlet than it is bought in a shop.

Because Chlorophytum is so easy to grow, the plant can often be neglected. Many plants exist in a pretty sorry condition, covered in dead or dying leaves, or suffering from not being potted on for several years. Because of this, people often think of it as an unexciting plant. In actual fact, if grown well, it can make a fine indoor plant with a good shape and strong leaf colour.

Chlorophytum comosum (Thunb.) Jacques

Chlorophytum comosum (Thunb.) Jacques (Photo credit: adaduitokla)

Chlorophytums’ main requirement is for plenty of light. Although they will tolerate low light conditions, the variegation on the leaves will gradually disappear. Placing them on a windowsill that gets some direct sunshine early or late in the day is perfect. They also need lots of regular watering throughout summer and light watering in winter.

Propagation could not be easier. In summer, long flower stems are produced that hang below the plant. At points along these stems, small plantlets are produced, and it is from this habit that the plant gets its common name of spider plant. While they are still attached to the plant, they will start producing roots and can then be severed from the parent and potted up into small pots of compost. Alternatively, keep the plantlet attached to the plant and pin it into a pot of compost nearby until the plant gets established. Then once it has rooted itself, remove it from the main plant. Plants can also be easily propagated by division in spring.

Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’ is the classic spider plant. C. comosum ‘Vittatum’ has darker green colouring and cream variegation.

Cissus Plants Have Glossy Leaves

Cissus is a group of climbing plants grown for their beautiful glossy leaves, their ease of cultivation and their ability to thrive in shady places. In fact they actively dislike bright light and cannot bear direct sunlight. They will only reward you with their shiniest leaves if tucked into a dark corner.

Cissus antarctica is commonly known as the kangaroo vine because it originates in

Australia. In the wild it can grow extremely large, but it is fairly well behaved when kept indoors in a container, although it will need regular pruning and tying in. Pinching the tips of the plant out regularly will encourage it to form more of a bushy shape, and to climb less vigorously. It climbs by tendrils that pull it up whatever support is provided. When the plant is still quite young, push a couple of sturdy bamboo canes into the compost and tie them together at the top to provide a solid support. You could also use a small piece of trellis or an obelisk. Doing this when the plant is still young, or when re-potting, avoids the possibility of harming the existing roots by forcing the supports into them. As it grows so fast, it may be necessary to pot the plant up every year.

Apart from these needs, it is easy to grow, simply requiring a shaded spot, regular, but not excessive watering, occasional misting and occasional feeding. Too much water will lead to a deterioration in the quality of the leaves, so make sure the compost is allowed to dry out occasionally.

C. rhombifolia is known as the grape ivy. It has glossy, diamond shaped leaves arranged in groups of three on the stems. It is also a climber and will need support. Give it the same conditions as C. antarctica.

Codiaeum or Croton Can Be Difficult to Grow

The leaves of codiaeums emerge as one set of bright colours and gradually mature into a different, but equally gaudy, colour palette. When they are grown well, there are few foliage plants as colourful, although some might not think that an entirely good thing.

They are difficult plants, as they need year-round warmth and high humidity. In summer, mist at least once a day and place a pebble tray nearby to raise the humidity. Water regularly with tepid water, so the compost does not dry out. In winter they can be grown a little drier. They are extremely hungry plants and should be fed once a week with a liquid fertilizer. They need good light and will tolerate a little direct sunlight, although not during the hottest hours of the day. This care is essential for them to remain healthy and develop the best colour.

If the air or the compost becomes too dry, codiaeums drop their lower leaves and start to look straggly. If this happens, you will need to alter the plant’s environment or move it to a warmer, brighter, more humid spot for it to recover. As this is likely to happen, it is a good idea to take cuttings from the tips in spring in preparation.

Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum, from which most of the cultivars have been developed, is known as Joseph’s coat. One of the more colourful cultivars is C. ‘Baronne de Rothschild’. The leaves emerge yellow with bright green veins and mature to a deep pink with dark purple veining. Many other cultivars have been developed, with unusually shaped leaves, as well as bizarre colouring.

Cycas is Known as the Fern Palm or Sago Palm

These palms are bizarre and exotic-looking plants for the home. They are slow-growing plants produce tough arching leaf stalks, covered in spiny leaflets. As new leaves are produced, the old ones die away, forming a solid trunk.

Cycas are primitive plants, and dominated the earth’s flora over 200 million years ago. They are now in decline in the wild and only grow in small pockets in areas of Asia.

Cycas revoluta

Cycas revoluta (Photo credit: cskk)

A popular houseplant in the 19th century, they have only become popular again in the past few years. Cycas revoluta is known as the Japanese sago palm. It makes a good specimen plant as it has such a striking shape and it is not too tricky to look after. Because of their primitive looks, cycas suit being grouped together with ferns, another ancient plant group.

Cycas tolerate lots of light, but do keep them out of the hottest midday sunlight. Water moderately in summer, less in winter and mist occasionally, reducing both in winter. Occasionally you will need to remove the dead leaves by cutting them back to the point at which they grow from the trunk.

Plants grow slowly, so expect to pay a high price for a large plant. The upside of this is that the plants live for many years, and in fact are often likely to outlive their owners. If you manage to keep it growing well over many years you will have an extremely valuable plant.

It is worth noting that the individual leaflets can be tough and spiky, and they may not be good plants to have around young children for just this reason. They are intolerant of chemical pesticides, so if you do have an infestation, try to deal with it by manually removing the pests or by using a soft soap spray.

Cyperus is the Umbrella Plant

Cyperus alternifolius is known as the umbrella plant because of its long leaf stalk topped with a circle of slender, shiny green leaves. The species is suitable for growing indoors and is related to the papyrus plant, which was used by the ancient Egyptians to make paper.

Cyperus species make elegant indoor foliage plants. The key to keeping them looking good is to give them lots of water and high humidity. Do not allow them to dry out. Instead, stand them in a tray of water at all times. This keeps the roots moist and helps to raise the humidity around the plant. In addition, you should also regularly mist the foliage, otherwise the ends of the leaves are likely to dry out and turn brown.

Cyperus alternifolius bears its circle of leaves at the top of tall slender stems that can grow up to 90cm (3ft) in height. C. albostriatus is a more compact plant, growing up to 60cm (2ft) in height and with wider, darker leaves.

Plants should be potted on every year to avoid checking their growth, Some old stems will eventually die away, but this is part of the plant’s natural growth process. If the dead stems are removed then young, fresh shoots will soon appear that will eventually grow even larger than those they have replaced.

Small yellow flowers sometimes appear on the tops of the leaf stalks above the leaves in summer. Although pretty, the plant is really grown for the overall impact of its foliage.

Cyperus plants are easily propagated by dividing them when re-potting in spring. Pot each section up into fresh compost and keep the compost wet while the new plant is getting established.

Dieffenbachia or Dumb Cane Plants

Dieffenbachias are fine foliage plants with large, handsome, often variegated leaves. They are usually sold as small foliage plants, but they will grow pretty Ian sometimes reaching up to 2m (7ft) in height.

They are useful plants in that they prefer to grow in shade in summer. However, this does not make them easy to grow. They must have even warmth all year round. Cold air in winter is a real shock to some dieffenbachias and could kill them. They also need more light in winter than they do in summer, so move them to a suitable spot. Humidity is also important, so mist regularly and place near a tray of moist pebbles or expanded clay granules. Wash the leaves occasionally to keep them looking good and to raise the humidity further. Water frequently in summer, but do not allow to sit in a saucer of water. The surface of the compost should be allowed to and new leaves will soon sprout. Take cuttings from foliage that has been removed. The common name, dumb cane, comes from the effect the poisonous sap has on the mouth. If taking cuttings or trimming, take great care not to get any sap on your hands. If you do, wash them immediately.

Dionaea is the Venus Flytrap Plant

Dionaea is one of those indoor plants grown not for the impact its shape or colour brings to a room, but for its curiosity value. The venus fly trap, as it is far more widely known, is a fascinating, if somewhat macabre, plant to grow and care for.

The plant has evolved modified leaves that are hinged in the centre and fringed around the edges with spikes. The centre of each part of the leaf has several hairs that act as triggers. Insects are attracted to the plant by the scent of nectar and land on the leaves. Once they have triggered the hairs several times, the leaves snap shut and the spiky leaf fringe is tranformed into an effective set of prison bars. The insect can take a little while to die, after which is it gradually digested by the plant. This is not a plant for the faint hearted.

Venus fly traps evolved this gruesome method of gaining nutrients as a reaction to their environment. In the wild they grow in boggy areas in North and South Carolina. The soil in such areas holds very little in the way of nutrients and so the plant had to find some way of feeding itself. This is a clue to the conditions in which it should be grown in the home.

When potting on, always use a mixture of peat and sphagnum moss, both of which are low in nutrients. Keep this compost mixture constantly moist by standing the plant in a tray of water. Always use soft water – in hard water areas, collect fresh rainwater and use that.

Propagaton by seed can be difficult. Seed trays should be kept constantly moist and seeds can take a long time to germinate. An easier way to increase stock is to divide plants in spring when re-potting.

Dracaena Foliage Plants Look Good Anywhere

Dracaenas are large-growing foliage plants with arching, often colourful leaves and an upright habit. They make excellent specimen plants that are at their best when their bold outline is displayed against a plain background and not crowded by furniture or other plants.

There is quite an array of habits, leaf shapes and colours available within the dracaenas. Dracaena stricta has broad, green leaves that clothe the stem and are swept upwards. D. sanderiana is also tall and thin, but the white and green variegated leaves are wavy and so are not quite so graceful as those of D. stricta. The stem and leaves of D. marginata and D. marginata ‘Tricolor’ are quite thin. Like others in the group, including D. fragrans, they lose the leaves at the bottom of the plant as they age. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives the plant an attractive palmlike shape. The dead leaves should be cut close to the stem and removed. If the plant gets too leggy, cut off the leafy top part and replant in compost. Keep the new plant warm and give high humidity while it is getting established. Many dracaenas have colourful foliage. Those that are all green can tolerate a little shade, but those with foliage variegation must be kept in good light or their colours will fade.

D. draco and D. marginata and their cultivars are easy to grow and tolerate a wide range of conditions. The others can be slightly tricky. Keep them in a fairly warm spot over winter but do not let the compost get soggy. Regularly mist the leaves of all dracaenas to raise the humidity, otherwise the ends of leaves will start to turn brown.

Epipremnum are Attractive Climbing Plants

Plants in the genus Epipremnum make attractive climbing foliage plants with variegated, heart-shaped leaves. Some are large plants in the wild, but they are fairly well behaved indoors and can be contained with little trouble. There are various different combinations of foliage colours to choose from.

The bright green foliage of Epipremnum aureum is lightly streaked with gold and is an attractive and popular plant in its own right. It has two particularly impressive cultivars. E. aureum ‘Marble Queen’ has foliage so strongly variegated that in places it is almost completely white with just a few streaks of green. E. aureum ‘Golden Queen’ is similar but with yellow variegation. E. pictum ‘Argyraeum’ is a smaller plant with delicate grey-green leaves mottled with silver variegation.

The key to growing Epipremnum successfully is to get the watering right and to avoid any sudden changes in temperature. They appreciate high humidity, so mist regularly. It is important that the compost is kept moist, but also that it is not constantly wet. Make sure you water regularly, but always check to see that the soil has dried out slightly before watering.

In the wild, these plants climb by sinking their aerial roots into tiny cracks in trees. As indoor plants, they look their best when grown on a moss pole which their roots can grow into. They will climb up other supports but will produce larger foliage on a moss pole. Regularly mist the moss pole to keep it moist.

Epipremnums can become leggy and end up with more foliage at the top of the plant than at the bottom. To prevent this, pinch out the tips of the stems just before growth begins in spring. This will encourage bushiness, but will not stop the plant from climbing.

Fatsia and x Fatshedera Plants are Better in the Office

Fatsia is grown for its huge, glossy, palm-shaped leaves. It is an easy plant to maintain and, as long as it is given some fairly basic care, it will grow into an impressive specimen plant quickly and with little fuss, x Fatshedera is a hybrid of Fatsia and Hedera (ivy) and it can be trained either as a shrub or as a climber.

While Fatsia japonica and x Fatshedera lizei will tolerate a fair amount of shade, the variegated cultivars need fairly bright light or their colours will fade. They are generally unfussy plants, their only real requirement is for a cool temperature in winter. Water and feed regularly and mist occasionally to raise the humidity, particularly when the temperature is high. Another way to raise the humidity is to sponge their leaves down. This also keeps them looking clean and glossy.

In the wild, fatsia plants can grow large, but in containers indoors they should be manageable. There is really no need to buy a large plant as they grow so quickly. Buy a small one and pot on every year and you will soon have a specimen plant. x Fatshedera is not quite so fast growing but will soon make a good sized plant. To prevent either genus from getting leggy, cut back the growing tips before new growth emerges in spring. This will help keep a good bushy shape. If growing x Fatshedera up a support as a climber, you will not need to do this quite so often as if growing as a shrub. If your Fatsia gets too large or leggy, you can cut back har without damaging it. Leave just a few leaves on the plant and new ones will soon appear.

In autumn, fatsias often produce large white flowerheads.You can enjoy these before cutting them off, but removing them before flowering occurs will help to keep the foliage in the best condition.

26. April 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: House Plants, Indoor Ferns | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Houseplants for the Home and Office

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