Living without house plants would present a huge challenge for me. I would, for instance, rather give up my bed than my twenty-year-old ZZ Plant and Christmas cactus.
We ask a lot of our potted friends by forcing them to live indoors where light, humidity and temperature levels typically are not to their liking. Even the most favorable home environment is a far cry from the natural conditions plants evolved in over eons of time. It’s no surprise, therefore, that many tropical plants don’t survive even a year indoors.
I was in a friend’s swank, new downtown office recently and noticed that there wasn’t a single plant to be found. The environment seemed a little cold and sterile.
“You need a few plants to perk this place up,” I said only half in jest.
“Not going to happen,” he replied. “Plants die on me before I can get them home from a garden center,” he added with a chuckle.
My buddy clearly has a brown thumb. I assured him, however, that there are tropical plant species that might survive, perhaps even thrive, in his office. I quickly jotted down a half dozen plant names and, to be on the safe side, suggested that his wife drive them home from the garden center.
This East African native is quickly becoming the darling of tropical plant lovers. It’s almost indestructible. It can go for weeks without watering; it grows in bright or low indoor light levels and it’s rarely attacked by disease or insects. And, it’s gorgeous. Waxy, dark green foliage literally sparkles under indoor lighting. ZZ Plant typically grows to a modest height of three to four feet, a perfect size to place next to a desk, sofa or table.
The secret behind ZZ Plant’s amazing toughness and longevity may be found in its root system. It produces fleshy, potato-like rhizomes that store nutrients and water. When ZZ Plant experiences hard times (when we’re on an extended vacation or simply forget to water it) this amazing plant will draw upon the stored water and nutrients in the golf ball size rhizomes.
ZZ Plant is also super easy to propagate. Simply snip off one of its three to four-inch-long leaflets and insert the petiole end of the leaf about an inch deep in potting soil. Within a few short weeks new plants will begin to emerge from the soil. It’s a great way to bless friends and family with a cool gift plant.
This thorn less, tropical cactus from Brazil makes a stunning tabletop addition to any room. And like ZZ Plant, it too is virtually indestructible. In Brazil the plant is referred to as “Flor de Maio (May Flower), reflecting the season it flowers in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, however, it faithfully flowers between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
My Christmas cactus, which I affectionately named “Charlie,” is smothered with big floral buds that will soon explode in rich, pink flowers. What a joy it has been over the years to observe Charlie’s annual floral extravaganza. Like ZZ Plant, Christmas cactus also can go weeks without watering. And, it too can be propagated by simply pinching off a flattened piece of stem and inserting it into potting soil.
Other tropical plants that would perform nicely in my buddy’s office, or your home, include: Aloe Plant, Jade Plant, Peace Lily, Fiddle-leaf Fig, Areca Palm, Anthurium (I Iove this plant!) and good old Snake Plant.
Barry Fugatt is Director of Horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. He may be reached at 918-576-5152 or email: email@example.com