Carnivorous Plants: August 2019 Houseplant of the Month

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Freakish to look at, unusual shapes and a good story: carnivorous plants attract spiders and insects with their colorful and bizarre appearance. They then catch and digest these creatures to obtain their nutrients. The best known carnivorous plants are the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia), sundew (Drosera) and tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes).

Their hunting techniques differ from plant to plant. The Venus flytrap uses trap leaves that slam shut incredibly quickly. With sundew the prey gets stuck to the tentacles on its leaves. The ingenious trumpet pitcher’s leaves are pitcher-shaped and insects are trapped in them. The tropical pitcher plant also uses pitchers that hang from the ends of its leaves.

Origin

In the wild carnivorous plants grow in fairly damp regions with nitrogen-poor soil such as swamps. The tropical pitcher plant does that in Southeast Asia, the Venus flytrap and the trumpet pitcher come from North America while various species of sundew grow on all the continents apart from Antarctica.

What to look for when buying carnivorous plants?

Consider using magnifying lenses to show off the subtle traits of the smaller carnivorous plants. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

• For each species, the color, the length of the pitcher (Nepenthes) or trumpet (Sarracenia) and the number of leaves (sundew and Venus flytrap) can be factors in your choice.
• The plant’s growing mix must be sufficiently damp at purchase time.
• Avoid plants with drying or yellowing leaves.
• Their need for high humidity and light means that they should not spend a long time at the point of sale.

Range and Assortment

Carnivorous plants are often sold in mixed trays. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

The tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes) is usually sold on its own, while Venus flytrap (Dionaea), sundew (Drosera) and trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia) are often offered in mixed trays, often in mini-greenhouses.

Tropical Pitcher Plant
(Nepenthes spp.)

Tropical pitcher plant. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

This bizarre feature plant’s pitchers range in length from an inch or so (a few centimeters) to up to more than 1 foot (30 cm). They are actually modified leaf tips that develop when the plant gets enough light. Insects find nectar on the lid above the pitcher and creep around into the pitcher in search of more. Just beneath the edge of the pitcher they do find more nectar, but directly below it is a waxy surface. They slip on this and so fall into the pitcher. The insects’ struggles activate the glands in the pitcher which then release a strong acid. In the space of two days, this acid digests the insects. Only the insect’s casing remains. The plant grows on trees as a climber or epiphyte.

Venus Flytrap
(Dionaea muscipula)

Venus flytrap. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

Venus flytrap is the most spectacular of the carnivorous plants. The leaves of this carnivore consist of two parts that can slam shut. Contact by an insect or small spider triggers the closing mechanism. However, the plant is not easily fooled. To be sure that the prey is present and not just a fallen leaf or a raindrop, they must touch two trigger hairs on the leaf or a single hair twice in rapid succession. The leaves won’t react to a single touch.

Sundew
(Drosera spp.)

Sundew. Photo: curiousplant.com

Sundew forms perfect rosettes on the ground. Its leaves come in various forms, but are always equipped with red tentacles with a glistening drop of sticky mucilage at the tip that glitters in the sunlight. This gives the plant its common name: sundew. Small insects and others get stuck on the mucilage and are then pushed by the active but slow-moving tentacles towards the leaf surface, where they are digested.

Trumpet Pitcher
(Sarracenia spp.)

Trumpet pitcher. Photo: http://www.gardentags.com

The trumpet pitcher is very effective at catching insects. The plant lures the creatures with nectar and they then tumble into the pitchers where they are digested. 

Care Tips 

• Most carnivorous plants like full sun.
• Simulate a swamp environment: the plants like acidic damp potting soil.
• High humidity is a must. In many homes, they’ll need to be grown in terrariums.
• Carnivorous plants prefer rainwater, distilled or soft tap water. Don’t water them with hard tap water (and most municipal water sources are hard), too rich in minerals for their taste.
• They don’t need any fertilizer—they catch their own meals.
• Remove dead or brown leaves and pitchers to prevent fungi.
• Repot them in the spring every other year.
• Don’t give carnivorous plants any meat; this can cause the traps to rot. However, they’ll gladly accept the occasional fly or mosquito.
• In many species, the plant’s traps will wither in winter. Don’t worry—they’ll reappear in the spring!
• The Venus flytrap needs to go entirely dormant in the winter. Keep it cold but not freezing and cut back on watering.

Display Tips

Grouping carnivorous plants together brings out their interest. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Small carnivorous plants do well in open or closed terrariums or in a large low bowl that can be set up as a mini swamp, meeting their growing needs.

The specimens look best in their own cachepots, but can provide interesting tableaux when grouped together. 

Nepenthes is a real soloist that is best grown as a hanging plant to show off its spectacular pitchers. 

The plants’ primeval look contrast nicely with modern geometric cachepots. However, for a more natural display, you dress a table with bark, stones and water plants and create your own little carnivorous plant environment.


Carnivorous plants: no, they won’t bite you, but they will fascinate you!

Text adapted from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

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Sunflower: June 2019 Houseplant of the Month

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The Story of the Sunflower

The potted sunflower is a not a permanent houseplant, but rather a temporary one, designed to beautify your home for a month or so. Usually available only during the summer months, it can make a wonderful and sunny gift plant.

Potted sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are dwarf varieties and don’t grow as tall as the garden variety. They do, however, offer the same unique and cheerful bright yellow flowers with a dark heart and attractive dark green leaves. A perfect companion for the kitchen worktop, the (garden) table, an office, or any room that could do with a touch of summer. Place a couple together in a container or in a group to make it feel like a flowering field. You can add a touch of lilac or purple to visually offset all that yellow.

Origin 

The sunflower originates from North America, but is now grown all over the world. It grows quickly from seed and turns into a fabulous yellow sunflower in just a few months. Potted sunflowers are widely grown in greenhouses specially for indoor use. 

Sunflower Range

Indoor sunflowers are dwarf plants, well-adapted to home décors.

The sunflower is best known as a garden plant: one tall stem bearing one enormous flower. The potted range is more compact, better suited to pot culture. Also, it is pollenless, without the yellow pollen that can fall on clothes and furniture. This also keeps the heart nice and dark, giving an attractive contrast with the yellow ray flowers (petals).

The sunflowers that Vincent Van Gogh painted—flowers with yellow ray flowers and a dark heart—are the most common form offered as cut flowers and container plants. But there are also potted sunflowers with a yellow or brown heart and with lemon, orange or brick red petals. Cultivars such as ‘Sunsation’ or ‘Funshine’ are among the most popular.

What to Look for When Buying Potted Sunflowers  

  • Look at the proportions between the pot size, the number of plants per pot, the number of buds per stem, the height and maturity of the plant.
  • The main flower should be half to fully open at the time of purchase. 
  • Also check that the stems are healthy and sturdy, and the soil is sufficiently moist: wilting leaves are an ominous sign.
  • Give the plants a thorough inspection. Sunflowers are vulnerable to aphids, leaf-miner flies and slugs. Botrytis mold on leaves, stem or flower does nothing for their decorative value either. 

Care Tips  

Give sunflowers a lot of sun.
  • As their name suggests, sunflowers love sunshine and can tolerate a lot of light.
  • The plant needs a lot of water. The soil should always be a bit damp.
  • Wilted flowers can be removed to give the new buds more space.
  • A bit of fertilizer once a week keeps the flowering going.
  • Once the last flower has faded, the plant’s useful life is over and you can put it into the compost bin without feeling any guilt. 

Can You Grow Your Own?

It’s easiest to buy potted sunflowers in bloom rather than grow your own.

Seed for dwarf pollenless sunflowers suitable for container culture is widely available, but growing sturdy, attractive dwarf sunflowers indoors is a huge challenge, as it’s hard to find an indoor spot with enough sun to bring it off. Instead, start yours in pots outdoors in late spring or early summer in full sun, then bring them indoors as they come into bloom.


Potted sunflowers: they bring a touch to summer to any décor! 

Text and photos adapted from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

Houseplant of the Month for April 2019: the Begonia

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The Story of the Begonia

Flowering begonias have full, plump flowers in cheerful colors such as red, pink, orange, white and yellow. The enthusiasm with which the plant blooms means in practice that you can hardly see the plant for the flowers. 

Foliage begonias have their own distinctive beauty in the form of velvet leaves that are beautifully marked with silver, pink, burgundy and green patterns that more than make up for the absence of flowers. 

They’re both plants with a luxurious look, yet still surprisingly simple and easy to care for. 

Begonias fit well with the trend where plants provide a soft, friendly buffer against non-stop news updates and the harsh outside world. 

Origin

There are 1895 different species of begonia, most of which grow in warm, damp forest regions in South and Central America, Africa and southern Asia. The wild species come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but are generally herbaceous (non-woody) plants with asymmetric leaves and numerous flowers borne on branching stalks. The flowers are monoecious; that is, there are separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Most begonias have upright or creeping stems, often with distinct nodes. Many have tubers or rhizomes.

Begonia Range 

Elatior begonia flowers and rex begonia leaves. Styling: Elize Eveleens – Klimprodukties

The begonia range is very extensive. 

The most common flowering houseplant begonia is the Rieger or Elatior begonia (Begonia × hiemalis) with single, semi-double or double flowers. One new addition is the Bodinia Line with extra full flowers and curly foliage. The Betulia line is also very suitable for use both indoors and out. 

There is even more diversity among foliage begonias. 

Rex begonias (B. × rex-cultorum) are available in various attractive leaf colors, structures and shapes. The Beleaf line has an attractive structure and eye-catching colors. 

Another popular group are the various rhizomatous begonias, including the eyelash begonia (B. bowerae), with creeping rhizomes and colorful leaves. They’re classics within the foliage range. 

And then there are the upright varieties with canelike stems, often called angelwing begonias, like B. maculata, many characterized by pink flowers and leaves with silvery-gray spots.

What to Look for When Buying Begonias 

  • Pot and plant must be in proportion, and the plant must look attractive and full.
  • With flowering begonias, there should be sufficient ripe buds visible. 
  • To be on the safe side, check whether it’s an indoor or outdoor begonia. 
  • Damaged leaves or leaves with marks indicate shipping damage, yellow leaves indicate a lack of water.
  • The plant must be free of pests and diseases. 

Care Tips 

Begonias need bright light, but not necessarily direct sun.
  • Begonias need a lot of light, but don’t like bright sunlight in the summer months.
  • Water as needed to keep the growing mix slightly moist at all times.
  • Try to avoid spraying your begonia; it can cause mildew (a fungus).
  • Removing wilted flowers can help stimulate new ones.
  • Fertilize lightly at each watering to keep blooming begonias in flower.

Showing Off Your Begonias

Rex begonia (left) and Elatior begonia (right). Styling: Elize Eveleens – Klimprodukties

The fabulous display of begonia flowers and foliage is always appealing. 

Reinforce the soft, plump appeal of Elatior begonia flowers with soft ornamental grass and plants with velvety leaves. 

Foliage begonias can be effectively displayed in different sizes to show how versatile they are. 

For both the setting should be soft and friendly: fluffy rugs, lovely cushions, planters that seem covered in fur.


Text and photos from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.

For more information on begonias, read 2016: Year of the Begonia.

Houseplant of the Month for March 2019: The Lily

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Lilies (Lilium) can make wonderful if temporary houseplants, adding beautiful color and often exquisite perfume to the décor. 

Forced lilies start to come onto the market in March and remain available until fall. Potted lilies are characterized by an upright stem bearing dense lanceolate leaves and a cluster of long buds at the top that soon open into exotic flowers. 

The choice of colors in potted lilies is extensive: from red, yellow, orange and pink through to bicolors and pastel shades.

Origin

Slip the pot into a cachepot for instant charm! Photo: http://www.thejoyofplants.co.uk

The lily is a bulbous plant that gave its name to an entire plant family: lily family (Liliaceae). There are more than 100 known species of lily. 

It’s believed lilies first evolved in China, spreading first throughout Asia, then, via the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Alps, to Europe, and, from Siberia, to the New World. They remain largely plants of temperate climates, although a few Asiatic species are tropical. 

In the wild, lilies usually grow in a woodland setting or on grasslands with their bulb completely out of sight underground, but a few tropical species are epiphytes and grow on tree branches.

Potted Lily Range

The range of potted lilies is growing. The best-known varieties come from the Asiatic Group, often with brightly colored but scentless flowers, and from the Oriental Group, with large, highly perfumed flowers, while the Trumpet Group contributes the popular and highly scented Easter Lily (L. longiflorum). In addition, there are double-flowered lilies in pink and white, without pollen and with a light sweet fragrance. There are also compact varieties in pink or white with rounded leaves and a light fragrance. 

What to Look for When Buying Potted Lilies 

Use lilies extravagantly: you deserve them! Photo: http://www.thejoyofplants.co.uk.
  • Look for a large number of swelling buds per stem. The buds should not be open at the time of purchase but can show some color.
  • The bulb must be well rooted so that the stems are firmly supported. 
  • The plant should not have any dried-out buds or yellow leaves. 
  • If there is botrytis (gray mold) present on the flower or the foliage, the plant has been kept in damp conditions or has been given too much water. Such plants should be avoided.

Care Tips 

  • While indoors, lilies like a lot of light, but not bright sunlight.
  • The cooler the plant’s position, the longer the flowers will last (up to 2 to 3 weeks).
  • Water regularly—it’s better if the soil doesn’t dry out.
  • Removed wilted flowers. 
  • After its lavish flowering, the plant won’t bloom again indoors and the bulb can be planted in the garden for flowers in future years.

Potted lilies: they’re more than a throwaway gift plant. Try them and see!


Text based on a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.

Houseplant of the Month for February 2019

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Ferns are among the trendiest houseplants. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Ferns

From bushy to stylized, and from dark green to silvery gray-green: ferns come in many forms with leaves (called fronds) that can also vary considerably. One has curls, another featherlike plumes, and a third has no frills at all. Together they form an attractive group of foliage plants that fit with the growing interest in botanical elements and collections in the home. As a bonus, ferns also help keep the air in the home healthy.

Origin

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Young fern leaves, called fronds, are often rolled up into a fiddle-head when the form, then unravel. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Ferns are amongst the world’s oldest plants. Fossil remains have been found dating back some 420 million years, and for a long time, tree ferns were the most common plant on the planet’s surface. Seams of coal are made up of the residue of dead ferns, amongst other things. There are some 10,000 different species that grow anywhere that gets some rain. Only in deserts and locations with permanent snow are there no ferns in the landscape.

The ferns used as houseplants come from tropical and subtropical regions.

Spores, Not Seeds

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Spore cases are most often found on the underside of fronds. Photo: kaibara87, http://www.flickr.com.

Ferns propagate by means of spores. Spore casings are usually located on the underside of the frond: along veins, on leaf edges, on the end of the frond or scattered. Once the spore casings are ripe, they burst open and the spores, as light as air, drift to damp places where ferns can naturally grow.

Variety

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Blue star fern (Phlebodium aureum). Photo: http://www.leroymerlin.pl

The most popular ferns for use as houseplants are:

  • Boston fern (Nephrolepis)
  • Staghorn fern (Platycerium)
  • Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium)
  • Deersfoot fern (Davallia)
  • Blue star fern (Phlebodium)
  • Maidenhair fern (Adiantum)
  • Holly fern (Cyrtomium)
  • Brake fern and ribbon fern (Pteris)
  • Cliff brake fern (Pellaea).

Species with harder and tougher foliage are easier to look after because they lose less moisture to evaporation.

Boston ferns and staghorn ferns are best suited for use as hanging ferns.

What to Look for When Buying Ferns

  • Size, pot and height should be in proportion.
  • You’ll find the greatest variety in mixed trays of ferns.
  • The growing mix must be slightly moist. Small pot sizes in particular dry out quickly. Ferns that have been left dry for too long will quickly suffer from shed fronds, dry fronds or brown leaf edges.
  • Look for plants free of yellowing foliage. The staghorn fern’s gray-brown basal frond, though, is part of the plant.
  • Check for mealybugs and scale insects. If you discover the plant is infested, leave it in the store. They are very difficult to eradicate once you get them home.

Care Tips

  • Ferns like a bright spot, but not full sun.
  • When watering, completely moisten the potting mix, but don’t get water on the fronds. Ensure that the growing mix is always at least slightly damp.
  • Ferns do well in a spot with high humidity like the kitchen or the bathroom.
  • If the fern is placed in a room where the air is dry, place the planter on a humidity tray so water can evaporate and rise around the plant.
  • Average room temperatures are fine for most indoor ferns. Most tolerate or even prefer cooler temperatures (down to 50 °F/10 °C) in the winter.
  • Apply an all-purpose fertilizer once every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season.
  • Cut off yellow or dying fronds.

Displaying Ferns

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Ferns offer a wide choice of decorative uses indoors. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

A modern way to display ferns is to place various species in a row in identical jars like in a laboratory. Also play with the various ways in which they can be used: show hanging varieties, but also ferns placed on water (evaporation creates good humility) and in a moss ball (kokedama) on a dish. Bird’s nest fern and staghorn fern can also cope with being mounted on a piece of wood.

Text based on a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.