Tag Archive | Houseplants

Do You Know the Genus Sansevieria?


Most people are familiar with this common green variety of sansevieria, or snake plant. The plant also goes by the common name of mother in law’s tongue,  or, less commonly, vipers bowstring. It’s easy to obtain at box stores, grocery stores and garden centers.

Unless you grow the plant in higher light, you probably don’t know that it flowers. Snake plants are amazingly adaptable in terms of light.

While I have said that they practically will grow in a closet  (but I wouldn’t test that out–certainly not in a closet with a door!), they will also grow in East or west exposures.

All of mine grow inside in West windows.  I have grown them outdoors in eastern exposures as well. Depending on the amount of light,  you increase or decrease water accordingly  (and if you try the closet, I would withhold all water).


This is a close-up of the flower spike. It’s incredibly beautiful and incredibly fragrant. I have no doubt if this were outdoors,  some pollinator would love it, although these plants are native to Africa.


This is probably the most common variety,  although this variety with an outer leaf variegation, sansevieria triasciata, is also popular.

Both of these plants can get quite large,  although you can often buy them as 2.5″ starter plants. Both of my “monster” sized plants started in these small pots.

Give them bright light and water  (because in high light they will need more water) and watch out!


Happy Labor Day

This is a mosaic of some of the house plants that I will be bringing into the house today.  Happy Labor Day indeed.

I don’t usually bring the plants in quite this early  but we have been having  record low temperatures and more cool weather is predicted later week.

Add to that an unpredictable hurricane  (Irma) wandering around in the Atlantic,  and I am taking no chances.

So while I will miss the freedom of watering with a hose, I want my true house plants safely indoors.

The annuals, herbs and vegetables can stay–at least until I know about the hurricane’s path. Then I might have to rush those to safety too.

Easier Care “Figs”

20170819_084050Okay, first let’s get something out of the way: the darling of the designer world, the fiddle leaf fig, (ficus lyrata) is not easy care. In fact, after looking up care in several reputable places, mine is going to hit the compost heap because it is clear that my cold and drafty New England house is completely unsuitable for it. My bad.

In addition to liking temperatures well above the 62 degrees that we keep our winter temperature heated house at, it needs nearly perfect watering (the famous “not too wet and not too dry”). That never happens with me and 150-180 plants at a time. It’s survival of the fittest and it’s clear that this plant isn’t fit–at least for my home.  I’m sorry I have brought this plant in, only to kill it off. But, live and learn.


Something that is much easier care is the rubber plant or tree (ficus elastica). These once came only in green but they now come in several variations like my ‘variegata.’ There’s also a variety with a dark leaves called ‘burgundy’ which is very pretty.  These are so hardy and nearly impossible to kill–the Spoiler’s plant once survived a break in at his office in February which left it exposed to freezing temperatures for hours. It’s now almost 60 years old!


The mistletoe fig  (ficus deltoides) is similarly carefree. With enough light, this plant will actually produce small, edible figs (but I mean small–the size of peas or so!). And talk about adaptable! This plant will take sun or shade and will adapt to very dry conditions. This is clearly the perfect plant for my neglectful home!


And finally, there is the creeping fig, ficus pumila. This plant is actually grown outdoors in warmer climates and some states consider it an aggressive pest. Hard to think of a fig as aggressive, isn’t it?

It comes in both green and variegated varieties and makes a nice trailing plant for containers. It can also be trained as a topiary.

That concludes our tour through the world of figs as house plants. With any luck, one of these will suit your needs and become a beloved part of your home.

Don’t Ignore the House Plants

It’s summer.  Even when there isn’t a drought,  there’s enough to do outside  (weeding, deadheading, trying to figure out how to outsmart the pesky chipmunks so that I finally get a tomato from them [or not, after the poisoning incident]–you get the idea) that generally all I do with the few house plants that have stayed indoors is water.

So this year, even though more house plants than usual remained indoors (meaning that I have more watering than usual), I am still not thinking much about the indoor plants.

When a couple of my big philodendron started to get yellow leaves, I shrugged and figured that I was keeping the light in the room too dark.

When I adjusted that and then they started to sunburn,  now I looked closer.


Ick! So this is not a light problem at all! This is why I always say in my house plant lectures “be ever vigitant, I  beseech you!” (It’s a malapropism from Shakespeare).

Luckily,  I caught this before they became worse although they are pretty bad as it is. These are aphid nymphs. In a few more days, they probably would have begun sprouting wings and moving among my other plants. Ugh.

I took the two affected plants outdoors,  removed the most badly infested leaves and hosed the plants down. I also washed the trays the plants had under them.

I will continue to hose the plants down for the next couple of weeks.  And once they come in,  I will watch them closely for repeat infestations.

And I guess I have learned not to presume that insect infestations only strike in spring and fall (generally, in my house, anyway). I will need to follow my own advice.

Wordless Wednesday–The Trouble With….

Since my Wednesdays, are never truly “Wordless” this is a two-fer on vining plants and common names.

True Jasmine

This is “true” jasmine, jasmine officinalis. It’s a little sunburned from a south window; I’ve since moved it to the East and given it a pruning.

Madagascar Jasmine

Some of you may remember this plant when it was in full bloom just before Christmas. It’s a Stephanotis, otherwise known as Madagascar Jasmine.

Confederate Jasmine

For yet anopther plant with “Jasmine” in its name, here is a variegated Confederate Jasmine. It’s the best behaved of the bunch. It’s also in bloom now. Its botanical is trachlospermum.

That’s why just asking for “Jasmine” could get very confusing!


And speaking of “better behaved”–not!–this is a dipledenia. It’s supposed to be Mandevilla’s better behaved relative. If this is better behaved, forget it! I’ve already pruned it 3 times since December. And now that it’s budding and starting to bloom again, I won’t have the heart to prune it. I’m going to need some better staking system, I can see that right now!

Wordless Wednesday–Winter Interest Houseplants–“Ephemerals”





It’s a good thing the Spoiler doesn’t know anything about plants really.






He has these deep seated hatreds from childhood: meat loaf, asparagus (what a shame), pelargoniums (better known as geraniums in the “real” world) and these lovelies, african violets.


Every so often I’ll show him one of these in bloom, as they are almost constantly, and he’ll mumble, “They didn’t look like that when I were growing up.”


Surely not.  African violet breeding has come a long way.  These look great even when not in bloom because of the variegation in the leaf.  The only drawback–no more of that propagation in water like our grandmothers used to do. That’s why they’re called “ephemerals.”






The Genus Dracaena

First, Happy Veterans’s Day, and a heartfelt thank you to all those who have served and are serving our country so that the rest of us can continue to live here and enjoy our freedoms.

As we continue this dark and dreary month with some easy-care house plants, I wanted to talk about another plant that everyone’s seen and knows about but perhaps hasn’t grown.  This is another varied genus (and when I talk genus, I mean plant family) and then within that plant family there are many varieties of individual species to choose from.

I know you’ve all seen this plant–my own hair salon has several stunning examples of it, trained as topiary, in the lobby.  If it’s not in your hair salon, it’s in your doctor’s office, or your office building lobby, or, the mall common area.  It’s so common we just overlook it because it is one of those low-light, easy to grow, can withstand temperature extremes (think drafts in your own home) and pests and low humidity–so what’s not to like?

Are you thinking “boring” yet?  Maybe it’s time to re-adjust your thinking.  In the NASA study on air cleaning plants, 4 of the top 10 plants were dracaenas.  Most of the rest–with the exception of a florist mum and Gerber daisy–were foliage plants as well.  And while some, like English ivy and the bamboo palm can be notoriously finicky in dry, heated homes in the winter, many of the rest can be what I call “bullet-proof” plants.  In fact, two more of them you will probably see here because they can, as I am fond of saying, grow in a closet.

But back to dracaena.  The variety ‘Janet Craig’ has done very well for me for years.  I’ve probably had it for 7 years and only transplanted it once.  What I am particularly fond of is the variegation down the center of the leaf.  That’s an unusual color pattern in a plant–most variegation occurs along the edge.

The other is what is commonly sold as “lucky bamboo.”  Yes, this too is a dracaena–dracaena sanderiana if you must get technical about it.  Normally these are short-lived because they would prefer to live in soil and not water.  They are, after all, more traditional house plants and the little slips that are sold as cuttings, technically, can only live so long in water without developing some sort of nutritional problem.

But this fine little specimen has perked along quite nicely for me again for almost 2 years without developing any of those issues yet so I’m quite pleased.  And when it begins to show signs of flagging I’ll pot it up.  If that doesn’t solve it–that’s why there’s compost.  Meanwhile, like its brethren, it’s cleaning the air.