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.


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


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).


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).


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!

Do You Know Princettia?


On Monday I talked about the un-poinsettia or the anti-poinsettia. Today I am going to talk about a new cultivar called Princettia.


What are Princettia poinsettias? They are trademarked poinsettias developed by Suntory of Japan. But basically they have been developed to be shorter, with more compact stems but much more floriflorous bracts (the colorful things that look like flowers.)


Right now they come in a few heights of white (yes, you read that correctly–not colors of white, but varying heights), a six different shades of pink (from pale pink through a more true pink to a deeper dark pink that’s almost fuchsia) and of course, a red.

If you remember the “rose” poinsettias from the last decade, these are probably comparable to those in number of petals–but of course, those were still like regular poinsettias in that they were tall–maybe even taller and narrower than some of the other varieties.

These are compact plants just covered in blooms–as one look at the web site reveals–and in person, they are stunning (as my unfortunate photography just doesn’t do them justice!)

They have been in cultivation for a few years but are just becoming readily available for gardeners. This holiday season, since we now know that poinsettias are not poisonous, perhaps you might like to try one?

The Un-Poinsettia


Each year, I post photos of aglaeonema, commonly known as Chinese evergreen plant, and call it something silly like the un-poinsettia or the anti-poinsettia.

Let’s face it: growers are losing the battle with poinsettias. Many people still believe the old myth that they are poisonous (they are NOT!)

But even if you don’t believe that myth, you may be like me, and may be limited by a cold house.

Or you simply may not want to look at a screaming red plant well into April–or longer. If any of these things is the case, aglaeonemas are the plant for you.


Usually I post a photo of this one because its color scheme is most “Christmas-like.” This is the appropriately named red stem variety.


If this is even too much red for you, this variety tones it down a bit. This variety is called Lipstick.


And if you just like the plant and don’t care about a holiday color scheme, this bright variety might be for you. This is Red Valentine.


All of these variations were developed from green plants, if you can imagine. Here’s a lovely green and white variety called Silver Queen.

If all of these choices don’t give you something to choose from when decorating, perhaps silk is more to your liking?

Grower’s Results without the Fuss


Here’s a zygocactus that I recently got from a grower. It’s lovely and full of buds, a few of which have already opened.


Now here is one of mine that I’ve had for a couple of years–also full of buds. I may have 10 or 12 this size and you’ll see most, if not all of them on my “Wordless Wednesdays,” no doubt over the next few months.

If you’ll notice, mine has a many–or more–buds than the one I got from the grower. While you may say “so what?” you need to remember a couple of things: first I am a totally organic grower and next, I don’t fertilize.

So how did I achieve this? Simple. I put these plants outside this year, something I hadn’t done in the past.

I had never put them outside because they are “succulent-like,” and I was concerned that they would get too much moisture and would rot. But this year, with surgery on my arm, I had a little more time to pay closer attention to my container plants (since I couldn’t do a lot of the heavier work in the garden) so I was able to monitor them closely.


So they never got too wet–and rainwater obviously did them a word of good. Several shoots are double-budded like this one. This may be my new care regimin–so long as we don’t have a monsoonal rainy summer.

Well, That Escalated Quickly

Whenever I lecture about house plants, I get questions about insects. And I always joke that we know Stephen King isn’t a gardener–and the way we know this is because some of our common garden and house plant insects are so scary that he could write novels about them alone.

I will never forget one of the original X-Files shows. It was about a giant flatworm. The concept doesn’t sound scary but it was enough to make me stop watching the series forever. I said to The Spoiler–nope. I have to garden with those things.


I was a little appalled when I saw this. I had been closely monitoring this plant. I had seen these flowers wilting one day.

On the second day, the whole plant was wilted. So I gave it lots of water and it revived. Today when I re-visited it to check it for dryness, this is what I found–the entire flower stem covered in webs and spider mites–visible spider mites.

Spider mites are funny creatures. They love warmth, dryness (lack of humidity) and they reproduce every three days. They’re members of the arachnid family–true little spiders.

Some make webs and others don’t. You’re lucky if they make webs–you stand a chance of spotting them quickly.

Still, these are on a plant that’s just a seasonal-type plant that I would quickly discard if it were mine. It’s in my office hallway with several other mums–so no real loss if anything else there gets infected. But I moved them out of the way just to be sure until I have permission to discard them.

What does this tell us? Check your plants–even at times when it seems as if they are not actively growing. Plant pests can become active and get out of hand very quickly–and if you’re not careful, you’ll lose a plant you care about!

Are House Plants the New Puppies?

About 10 days or so ago, the New York Times published an article about houseplants. You can read that article

The article wasn’t really about comparing house plants to puppies–that was just its last line which read, “It’s living things,” Ms. Offolter said. “It’s not puppies, but it’s still living things.”

The person quoted was a well-known house plant propagator and seller who sells rare plants through Instagram. And the article in the Times was about a house plant auction of aroids, some of which fetched 5 figure sums.

But in its amazement that anyone would pay that much for a plant (cuttings really, according to the article) the article tried to figure out the reasons for the latest house plant “craze.”

I am not sure I understand it, but as someone who’s been gardening with house plants since the last “craze” in the 70s (and who, until last year, still had a plant from that era!), I certainly understand the attraction of house plants and even the need to “collect” some of a particular genus.

I haven’t even come close to paying 3 figures for a plant, though. I just don’t take the time to nurture plants the way some of today’s house plant devotees do–if I killed something so costly, it would make me sad.


In fact this little monstera adansonii cost me more than I normally pay for a plant. When 3 leaves yellowed in quick succession, I knew I had an issue on my hands. Sure enough, spider mites. Did it come that way or did I acquire them somewhere else? Who knows? But I caught it quickly, isolated the plant and now all seems well.

For me, house plants will never replace my dog. But even I care about them and spend a good deal of time nurturing them. It’s a great indoor hobby since I live in the “frozen north,” as I call it!

Don’t Mist Your Plants–Try This Instead

So it’s getting colder by the week–and indoors, it’s getting drier too. We feel it and our plants feel it.

Common wisdom has been to mist your plants if they need extra moisture, but that’s always seemed pretty silly to me. Let’s think about this for a moment.

If you’ve ever been to a dermatologist, they tell you to put on lotion to seal the moisture into your skin within 5 minutes of getting out of the shower. I’m not sure about you, but that 5 minutes goes by pretty fast, if you think about it–I never get lotion on me in time.

But if you keep your bathroom door closed (and don’t run a fan) that room seems pretty steamy compared to the rest of your house as soon as you open the door. But once you open the door, that “steamy” feeling goes away pretty quickly–by the time you go back after getting dressed, it’s usually gone, pretty much.

So think about the effects of a mister on your house plant’s leaves. You can drench the thing–and your table or rug–but how long will that last in your dry home? Perhaps as long as the effects of a steamy shower in your bathroom–several minutes or so.

I used to put bowls of water out next to my most vulnerable plants. This would allow the water to evaporate around the plants and to humidify the air on a full time basis.


Then another blogger suggested this brilliant idea to me. This is a boot tray. It was originally suggested to me as a way to protect windowsills. But I use it as a giant humidity tray.


You can see that I don’t take a chance that I might over-fill the tray and drown the plants by having their roots sit in water. I fill the tray with lots of water–and I have each plant either in a separate saucer or a decorative pot so that there’s no chance that it’s going to be sitting in the water in the boot tray.

So far this is working really well for all these marantas and calatheas that love humidity. What I am going to do about the fact that they love temperatures in the 70s and I only heat my home to the low 60s? That I haven’t figured out yet.