Old versus New Plants

I am old enough to remember–and to have been gardening since before– the first house plant craze in the mid-1970s. If you can believe it, house plants were popular back in the age of disco! Somehow we don’t associate them with the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, though.

One of the fun things that I usually do when I lecture on house plants is to bring “old” and “new” versions of the same genus:the old plant would have been popular in the 1970s and the new plant is popular today.

So here’s what that looks like.

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We all know this one–in fact, we still see it occasionally in commercial settings. This is ficus benjaminii, or the weeping fig. Most folks gave up on them at home because they’re so finicky.

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So they decided on this trendy thing, ficus lyrica, the fiddle leaf fig, which is just slightly less demanding. But at least it doesn’t drop its leaves every time you look at it cross eyed (and believe me, with my double vision issue, I should know!)

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Here’s a plant you may not be familiar with. This is pilea involucrata moon valley. It’s just starting to get its color after a dismal winter of too little light.

This was a hugely popular plant back in “the old days,” particularly for terrariums. Now it’s just retro and old school (and still good for terrariums).

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This, of course, is the hugely popular pilea of today. It’s pilea peperomioides, which has about 10 common names or so.

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Finally there is the spider plant, chlorophytum comosum. I don’t even have a photo of that 1970s version because I don’t think they sell them anymore. Suffice it to say that they were all green, with no variegation. Today’s variety are all variegated.

So it’s easy to say that a lot of things have changed, but they haven’t really. I am as crazy about plants as I was in the 70s. And if the plants look a little different, that’s fine. That just gives me new reasons to seek them out!

Sneaky Little Devils

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One benefit of some extra time on my hands is that I managed to catch a very strange mites infestation. You can see the freshly showered plants here.

I am not sure if you can distinguish it, but all these plants are in the ficus genus. What’s interesting is that they are scattered around a rather large room with other plants in between that are not affected.

Some of the unaffected plants are a large ficus elastica, one of those very trendy pilea peperomoides, and 4 snake plants.

What’s especially unusual is that the plant in the upper left–ficus ‘Audrey’–has been deliberately segregated all winter because it’s had mealy bugs. Some plants can’t win for trying. But it was way away from everything. How do these mites travel?

I have to conclude that it’s me. They must hitch a ride on my clothing or hands and travel from plant to plant. But at least I have the time to catch this sort of thing right now.

Great Bloomin’ Aloe

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Remember my trip to Oklahoma City back at the end of January? Me either. That might as well have been in another century.

I bring it up again because I remember remarking when I was showing pictures of the Land Run Centennial Park that I hadn’t seen a lot of plants (well, yes, it was January) but I could identify an aloe that I had at home that blooms for me in a container.

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And here’s my blooming aloe. Now I can no more identify it (by variety or species) here than I can in Oklahoma. My recollection is that it came in a container of mixed succulents–and not necessarily the one I currently have it in.

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But clearly it’s happy at my house. That’s all that matters to me.

Do Plants Stress?

Do plants feel stressed? Well, yes and no. Actually I’m not going to tell you that they don’t feel stress in ways similar to humans. There have been some studies where plants have had leaves hooked up to electrodes and then were pruned and there was evidence that they reacted.

There is also evidence that a plant under attack from an insect sends chemical signals to its neighbors. Is that stress? Is it a warning? We’re not quite sure.

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But there’s this. Here’s a healthy, normal looking zygocactus (otherwise known as a non-blooming Christmas cactus).

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Occasionally they look like this. This is what happens when they get too near a window (in other words, get chilled by glass–at least in my climate).

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And there’s this, which is what happens if they’re getting too much sunlight.

Are they stressed? Somewhat, but not so much that they might be overly susceptible to insects or disease (which is what happens when a plant is stressed).

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And then there’s this. This probably doesn’t look all that odd to you, because these zygo cactus can bloom randomly throughout the year.

But this is ‘Holiday Cheer’ the first of the plants to bloom for me. It bloomed for me last October. I remember posting a photo with it’s tag and the rather snarky comment “what holiday?”

I would say that it’s the Columbus Day/Easter cactus but Easter cacti are an entirely different genus!

Sun’s Out–Time to Check for Bugs

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If your plants look like this, take a closer look. I did, and by accident discovered the beginning infestation of spider mites.

Luckily this plant is on a plant stand away from most of my plants. I took it to the sink, gave it a good rinse, and put it back on the plant stand.

I do expect re-infestation for a couple of reasons. First, mites breed on a 3 day cycle, and just because I cleaned the plant doesn’t mean that I got every single mite off.

Nor did I get every inch of the stand, or every crevice of the decorative pot clean. You begin to see the issue with something that breeds so quickly.

So since we all have a little more time on our hands, (or at least are spending a little more time at home with our plants), take some care to make sure insects don’t get out of hand.

Who needs one more issue right now?

Sun’s Out–Time to Water More

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It’s hard to believe how warm the late March sun is. But plants that are in south windows–and even some that are in east windows–need more water now.

How much am I talking about? Well, plants that were getting watered once a week–or, occasionally in the darkest, coldest part of winter, every 2 weeks–are now getting watered every 4 days, and if I weren’t so lazy I could do it every 3 days.

All the other plants–in the western and north windows–definitely need water every week. In winter, it wasn’t that way. Many weeks I went 2 weeks between watering.

So if you haven’t checked your plants lately and changed up your watering, maybe you want to think about that.

The Joy of Tiny Plants

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One thing that I don’t see talked about a lot are tiny plants. I see a lot of folks growing them–you just have to scroll through some house plant feeds on Instagram and there are lots of tiny plants (although the giant plants seem to be all the rage at the moment).

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And of course, as I mentioned last week, I like my plants to be interesting. So even most of my tiny plants have variegated leaves.

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This African violet is an exception. No interesting leaves. But I put the small pruner next to it so you could get a sense of size. This plant is probably 10 years old and may be 3-4″ wide. The leaves may be dime sized–if they’re that big.

Another fun thing to do is to find truly small cachepots for these plants.

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This is the pot that the tiny orchid is in–and yes, I brought it home from Aruba.

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This is a pretty hand-painted Italian pot. I am not sure where I got it but I love it. It holds the Asian violet.

So if you have the opportunity to grow some truly tiny plants, take it. They are a joy!