Huggable Houseplants – Part 2

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In yesterday’s article, I presented more than 20 different fuzzy and hairy houseplants. Here are some more!

Fuzzy Plectranthus

The genus Plectranthus, closely related to the popular coleus (Coleus scutellarioides), is not necessarily known for its downy plants, but most do have some fuzz and a few are outright hairy. 

Silver spurflower (Plectranthus argentatus)
Silver spurflower (Plectranthus argentatus). Photo: bedsandborders.com

The silver spurflower (P. argentatus) is an upright grower with thick, silvery leaves and late summer spikes of bluish-white flowers. It’s often grown as an annual for summer containers, but makes a great houseplant.

Prostrate coleus (P. oertendahlii ‘Uvongo’). Photo: theenglishgarden.co.uk

The prostrate coleus (P. oertendahlii) has creeping stems and green leaves with silver veins and a soft overall fuzziness. The cultivar ‘Uvongo’ is much more silvery and seems to be replacing the species on the market. There are several variegated varieties.

Plectranthus amboinicus
Mexican mint (Plectranthus amboinicus). Photo: paradisehorticulture-com

Mexican mint (Plectranthus amboinicus, recently moved to Coleus amboinicus) is also called Indian borage, French thyme, Indian mint, Cuban oregano and Spanish thyme. The thick egg-shaped leaves are covered with white fuzz, giving the leaf a pale green appearance. The leaf gives off a strong oregano odor when stroked and is often used in cooking, as its many common names imply. There are several variegated cultivars. 

Vicks plant (Plectranthus  tomentosa)
Vicks plant (Plectranthus tomentosus). Photo: premiersucculents.com

Vicks plant (P. tomentosus) is similar to Mexican mint, but with smaller, thicker leaves and a stronger, less pleasant (to my nostrils, at least) odor. There are many other odiferous, fuzzy plectranthus available, most with rather unpleasant scents.

Consider all plectranthus species to be easy indoor plants, putting up with almost any conditions, but preferring bright to medium light, even full sun, and moderate watering.

Pink Cissus

Pink cissus (Cyphostemma adenopodum). Photo: Steve’s Leaves

No longer a true Cissus (the former Cissus adenopoda is now Cyphostemma adenopoda), the pink cissus is a fast-growing tropical climber with trifoliate leaves that are burgundy underneath and covered with red hairs on the top, giving the plant the pinkish coloration its common name suggests when backlit. It’s tendrils allow it to climb all over nearby plants. It’s easy to grow and tolerant of moist to dry conditions, partly thanks to tuberous roots that keep it alive in times of drought. Moderate light is fine, but it also grows in full sun.

Scented Geraniums

peppermint-scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum)
One of the fuzzier scented geraniums is the peppermint-scented geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum). Photo: Florez Nursery

There are dozens of varieties of scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.), all somewhat fuzzy and all giving off extraordinary aromas when stroked. Among the fuzziest are the peppermint-scented geranium (P. tomentosum) and the apple-scented geranium (P. odoratissimum).

Pelargonium sidoides
Black geranium (Pelargonium sidoides). Photo: Ram-Man, Chanticleer Garden

There’s an even more silvery pelargonium: the black geranium (P. sidoides), best known for its tiny black flowers, but with nicely silvery leaves that are soft and comfy to the touch. But don’t smell your fingers after you stroke them: the plant’s smell is rather unpleasant!

All scented geraniums like full sun or at least bright light and moderate watering. Most flower moderately and prettily.

Silvery Senecios

Woolly senecio (S. haworthii).
Woolly senecio (S. haworthii). Photo: World of Succulents

The genus Senecio is a huge one: over 1,250 species including everything from annuals to hardy perennials to succulents and even trees. Many are hairy. In fact, the name Senecio is from the Latin for “old man”, signifying white hair. However, only a few are commonly grown as houseplants. 

In the succulent branch of the genus, there is the woolly senecio (S. haworthii, now Caputia tomentosa), with an upright cluster of densely felted, white, tubular leaves showing no visible trace of green. S. scaposus (now Caputia scaposa) is somewhat similar, but with a strictly ground-hugging rosette with longer silver leaves, sometimes toothed. And there are other silvery succulent senecios. All will need full sun and dry conditions.

Angel Wings senecio (Senecio candicans ‘Senaw’)
Angel Wings senecio (Senecio candicans ‘Senaw’). Photo: lowes.com

Fairly new to the market and still sold, so far, mostly as a tender perennial for outdoor use, Angel Wings senecio (S. candicans ‘Senaw’) is a stunning plant with broad, silver, strokable leaves that does well as a houseplant if you give it full sun and cool, fairly dry winter conditions.

Dusty miller ( Jacobaea maritima)
Dusty miller ( Jacobaea maritima). Photo: bobvila.com

And the classic garden annual, dusty miller (once S. cineraria, then Cineraria maritima and now Jacobaea maritima), with either entire toothed leaves or deeply cut ones, always silvery, makes a great houseplant too. Just give it great light and moderate waterings.

Brazilian Edelweiss

Brazilian edelweiss (Sinningia leucotricha)
Brazilian edelweiss (Sinningia leucotricha). Photo: skylark, garden.org

Brazilian edelweiss (Sinningia leucotricha, formerly Rechsteineria leucotricha) is a strange name for this stunning tuberous plant, not in any way related to the true edelweiss (Leontopodium spp.), but instead a close relative of florist’s gloxinia (S. speciosa). Its partly exposed tuber becomes huge over time and incites a certain interest, but it’s mostly grown for its intensely silver leaves and fuzzy pink tubular flowers. It’s simple to grow if you remember it will go fully dormant, losing all its stems and leaves, before starting a new cycle. Full sun to bright light and moderate watering during the growth cycle will work wonders. No light or water is required while it’s dormant.

Fuzzy Begonias

There are actually quite a few begonias with fuzzy leaves, not surprising in a genus of some 1,800 species and untold thousands of cultivars! 

Fuzzy leaf begonia (Begonia peltata)
Fuzzy leaf begonia (Begonia peltata). Photo: ortofiorito.it

Let’s start with the “fuzzy leaf begonia”, Begonia peltata (syn. B. incana), an upright begonia with peltate (shield-shaped) leaves covered with white fuzz, densest on the underside. It’s a succulent begonia that needs succulent treatment (full sun, limited watering) to do well and it’s more curious looking than attractive. Tough to grow well.

Elephant-leaf begonia (B. scharfii)
Elephant-leaf begonia (B. scharfii). Photo: unquadratodigiardino.it

The elephant-leaf begonia (B. scharfii) is an upright, shrubby, easy-to-grow begonia with large furry leaves that are red underneath. It flowers abundantly with pale pink blossoms.

Begonia ‘Hairy Thing’, also called ‘Bill Morris’
Begonia ‘Hairy Thing’… or is it ‘Bill Morris’? Photo: Dr Dale Dixon, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

There is even a rhizomatous begonia called ‘Hairy Thing’ (actually, I think its real name may be ‘Bill Morris’, possibly named for a really hairy guy of that name). It has big burgundy-backed maple-shaped leaves covered with plenty of white whiskery fuzz. Lots of white flowers.

‘Curly Fireflush’ is an example of a rex bégonia with a heavy coating of red hairs. Photo: buxtonbegonia.org

Many rex begonias are fuzzy, too, often with red hairs. 

Begonia ‘Immense’ (B. × ricinifolia ‘Immense’)
Begonia ‘Immense’ (B. × ricinifolia ‘Immense’). Photo: pepiniereezavin

Begonia ‘Immense’ (B. × ricinifolia ‘Immense’) is a classic hand-me-down houseplant with thick creeping rhizomes and huge (as the name suggests) maple-shaped leaves, but it’s the petioles that are hairy, dotted in curious whorls of hairy red scales. 

And I could go on and on: there are hundreds of fuzzy begonias. Except for B. peltata, they like moderate light and even watering.

Hummingbird Plant

Hummingbird plant (Dicliptera squarrosa)
Hummingbird plant (Dicliptera squarrosa). Photo: fbts.com

Although often sold as a shrubby summer annual for containers where its abundant orange tubular flowers do attract hummingbirds, the hummingbird plant (Dicliptera suberecta, now D. squarrosa), also called the Uruguayan firecracker plant, doesn’t bloom forever, so cut it back, bring it indoors and enjoy it velvety gray-green leaves in the off-season. Give it full sun and moderate watering.

Felted Pepperface

Felted Pepperface (Peperomia incana)
Felted Pepperface (Peperomia incana). Photo: peacetreefarm.com

(Pepperface? Where do they get those names?) This is an easy-to-grow peperomia (Peperomia incana) bearing fairly thick stems and thick, grayish, rounded heart-shaped leaves dusted with white felt. It grows upright at first, then the stems bend and trail … so would look good in a hanging basket. It flowers readily, but the shepherd’s hook shaped flower spikes aren’t too special. Give it medium to bright light and go easy on the watering: consider it a semi-succulent. 

Pickle Plant

Pickle plant (Delosperma echinatum)
Pickle plant (Delosperma echinatum). Photo: planetdesert.com/

Truly odd-looking, the pickle plant (Delosperma echinatum) looks as if it bears pairs of little spiky haired cucumbers on upright to spreading stems. The bristles appear brutal, but are actually soft to the touch. It may flower modestly with small star-shaped flowers in white or pale yellow. Give it full sun and let it dry between waterings. Expect some dieback in winter when it needs to be kept very dry.

And the Others

There are other hairy houseplants, of course, like African violets (Streptocarpus ionanthus, formerly Saintpaulia ionantha), flowering maples (Abutilon spp.), piggyback plants (Tolmeia menziesii), strawberry begonias (Saxifraga stolonifera) and streptocarpus (Streptocarpus spp.), but usually they’re grown for other reasons than their hairiness and their fuzz is not a major factor when it comes to choosing them.  The plants described above and in yesterday’s article, though, truly are plants where fuzziness is next to godliness.

Huggable Houseplants

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Some indoor plants seem to be made for touching. Covered in fuzz or soft hair, they just seem to invite stroking, like a puppy or a kitten. Even when you see them in a garden center, it’s hard to keep your fingers off them. 

Of course, plants don’t cover themselves in down just to please humans. Abundant hair (plant hairs are called trichomes) has a purpose, but that purpose depends on the plant. It can be:

  • To protect against nibbling animals and insects (many avoid fuzzy plants);
  • To better diffuse chemical repellents;
  • To keep drying winds from damaging leaf and stem cells;
  • To catch insects (sticky hairs are found on many plants, including carnivorous ones);
  • As protection from cold and frost, especially for plants growing at high altitudes;
  • To allow the plant to absorb water (the case wth bromeliads);
  • As vegetal sunscreen, protecting against harmful UV rays, in the case of plants growing in extremely sunny sites;
  • To reduce evaporation and prevent water loss.

There is price to pay for hairiness, though: less light gets through the fluff to reach the photosynthetic cells on the leaves or stems. The result is that most hairy plants need intense light or even full sun; you just don’t find many of them in shady nooks.

A Bit of Vocabulary

A plant’s botanical name often hints clearly at its downiness. The following endings may change from -um to -a or -us, but they all have meanings having something to do with hairiness:

  • barbatum;
  • canescens;
  • ciliatum;
  • echinatum;
  • floccosum;
  • hirsutum;
  • hirtellum;
  • hispidulum;
  • hispidum;
  • incanum;
  • lanatum;
  • lanuginosum;
  • piliferum;
  • pilosum;
  • plumosum;
  • puberulum;
  • pubescens;
  • pulvinatum;
  • senilis;
  • sericeum;
  • setosum;
  • strigosum;
  • tomentosum;
  • velutinum;
  • villosum.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Houseplants

Here are some of the better known fuzzy houseplants you could grow in your home.

Echeverias

Echeveria pulvinata
Echeveria pulvinata. Photo: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons

Most echeverias are smooth-leaved, often covered with whitish, waxy coating called bloom, a different kind of protection from the burning sun of their arid native home in Central and South America. But many do have true trichomes and abundant fuzz, including such species as Echeveria pulvinataE. harmsiiE. setosa and such popular hybrids as E. ‘Doris Taylor’.  

Echeveria ‘Doris Taylor’
Echeveria ‘Doris Taylor’. Photo: World of Succulents

Typically, echeverias form dense ground-hugging rosettes of succulent leaves and no visible stem, although many of the hairy types are more upright with thick stems and less densely spaced foliage. They produce arching terminal flower stems of red, orange, yellow or pink flowers. All like intense sun and will etiolate in even medium light. They’re succulents, so let them dry out well before watering again.

Purple Passion Plant

Purple passion plant
Purple passion plant: (Gynura aurantiaca). Photo: lineofcosmetics.com

Stunningly different, this creeping plant (Gynura aurantiaca or G. sarmentosa: the exact botanical name seems a bit sketchy) bears toothed leaves covered not with white or gray hairs, but purple ones. They’re most concentrated on new growth and become diluted as leaves expand. They’re not as soft as they look, but rather a bit scratchy. There are also variegated versions of this plant, such as ‘Pink Ice’, with pink markings.

The purple passion plant is not a succulent and needs regular watering. Bright to medium light are fine … and you’d to best to remove the unattractive and rather stinky orange flowers.

Woolly Spiderworts

White velvet plant
White velvet plant (Tradescantia sillamontana). Photo: nurserylive.com

The spiderwort family (Commelinaceae) has more than its share of fuzzy plants. Most have a similar creeping habit and sessile sword-shaped leaves and are often grown in hanging baskets. Most have blue, purple, magenta or white 3-petaled flowers that last only one day. Hairiness seems to show up here and there in more than one genus, so related species are often glabrous (smooth). Here are a few examples:

The white velvet plant (Tradescantia sillamontana) has green leaves covered in soft white fuzz. There is a variegated form (Tradescantia sillamontana ‘Variegatad’) with irregular white streaking. 

Pussy ears (Cyanotis somaliensis)
Pussy ears (Cyanotis somaliensis). Photo: planetdesert.com

Pussy ears (Cyanotis somaliensis) bears smaller green leaves with a modest amount of hair on the leaf surface, but a fringe of white hairs around the edges like a kitten’s ear. 

Teddy bear vine (Cyanotis beddonomei)
Teddy bear vine (Cyanotis beddonomei). Photo: World of Succulents

C. kewensis, now C. beddonomei, is so covered with brownish hairs it’s called the teddy bear vine. 

The plants above are semi-succulent, so give them good light and let them dry between waterings.

Callisia gentlei elegans
Pinstriped inch plant (Callisia gentlei elegans), Photo: plantica.cz

Less fuzzy looking, but a real joy to touch is the pinstriped inch plant (Callisia elegans; now C. gentlei elegans). The silver striped leaves are covered in barely visible short hairs, giving a curiously slippery feeling. It’s not a succulent and will appreciate watering as soon as its potting mix is dry. Medium to bright light is fine.

Fuzzy Kalanchoes

Panda plant
Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa). Photo: unusualseeds.net

Kalanchoes are desert plants, mostly from Madagascar, although some are from southern Africa, with succulent stems and leaves. They’re in the crassula family, so come by their succulence naturally. Many have smooth leaves, but some are quite hairy. 

The popular panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) may appear dense and rosettelike when you first buy it as a young plant, but will soon show its upright nature, with thick fuzzy stems and equally fuzzy gray-green leaves with red-brown teeth. There are many clones with more or less fuzz, differing leaf shapes and varying brown markings.

Felt bush
Felt bush (Kalanchoe beharensis). Photo: plantcaretoday.com

Many other kalanchoes are hairy, although not always as cuddly looking. I find the felt bush (K. beharensis), a huge variety (it can turn into into indoor tree!) with giant gray-green arrow-shaped leaves quite forbidding: I certainly wouldn’t want to hug it! The leaves take on a reddish tinge in full sun. There are plenty of cultivars, including the ever so spiky and definitely uninviting ‘Fang’.

Copper spoons
Copper spoons (Kalanchoe orygalis). Photo: instylesucculents.com

Copper spoons (K. orygalis) can be gray and fuzzy, although the hairs are very short. However, its claim to fame is the coppery coloration of its young leaves.

Give all kalanchoes full sun and drier conditions. The species mentioned are all easy to grow, but shy bloomers. And don’t eat them: they’re poisonous.

Bear’s paws
Bear’s paws ((Cotyledon tomentosa). Photo: succulentcity.com

Also poisonous is their close relative and panda plant lookalike, bear’s paws (Cotyledon tomentosa, including C. t. ladismithiensis, formerly C. ladismithiensis). Bear’s paws is a succulent shrub with extremely fat fuzzy leaves with “claws” at the tip that, in some cultivars, turn brown when grown in full sun. Give it the same conditions as a kalanchoe.

Woolly Cactus

Old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis)
Old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). Photo: florawww.eeb.uconn.edu.

The best known of these is the old man cactus (Cephalocereus senilis), a columnar cactus totally covered in long white hair. Don’t hug this one, though: it hides vicious spines under its woolly covering. Cute and very slow growing. 

Peruvian old man cactus (Espostoa lanata)
Peruvian old man cactus (Espostoa lanata). Photo: World of Succulents

The Peruvian old man cactus (Espostoa lanata) is quite similar, but with golden spines that peek out from the white hair.

Silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus straussii)
Silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus straussii). Photo: giromagi.com

The silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus straussii) has narrower, often clustering stems and white hair that is not as long or dense. It’s one of the rare columnar cacti that is likely to bloom in the average home, with curious tubular red flowers, but only after many years.

Powder puff cactus (Mammillaria bocasana)
Powder puff cactus (Mammillaria bocasana). Photo: rareplant.me

There are also fuzzy cactus among smaller species, like the powder puff cactus (Mammillaria bocasana), a small clumping ball-shaped cactus with plenty of white fluff and pretty pink to white flowers to boot!

All woolly cactus need intense sun, careful watering (let them dry out thoroughly before watering again) and cool to cold but frost-free winters.

Hair in the Air

Tillandsia ionantha
The commonest air plant, Tillandsia ionantha, is covered with fine trichomes. Photo: airplantsupplyco.com

Most tillandsias, also called air plants (Tillandsia spp.), are at least somewhat grayish and if you look closely, you can see they are in fact covered in short white trichomes (hairs). They’re bromeliads, most growing as epiphytes, clinging to other plants by their short but grasping roots. Unlike most plants, the roots don’t absorb water. Instead, their trichomes are water absorbant, allowing the plant to get all the water its needs from rainfall, mist or even dew.

Tillandsia tectorum
Tillandsia tectorum is probably the hairiest of the common air plants. Photo: airplanthub.com

Most stores that carry tillandsia have a least a few totally fuzzy tillandsias, like T. tectorum, which is so white with trichomes you have to wonder how it carries on photosynthesis.

These more silvery the plant is, the more sun it will need. Water these plants not by their roots, but by soaking them in water, then letting them dry. Grow them by fixing them to a piece of wood or some other object. Normal indoor temperatures are fine.

There’s more on growing air plants in the article How to Make Your Air Plants Thrive.

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If you enjoy soft, fuzzy, hairy plants, come back tomorrow for the second part of this article.