In the last three articles, we explored a few of the high performing, easy-to-grow indoor plants for our Northern homes. Tropical, succulent, and cactus plants are all wonderful additions to your indoor space; offering beautiful foliage, shape, and texture, these plants can be mainstays in your interior decorating for years to come. But what if you already have green plants in your home and are looking for some pizzazz for a dining room table, or a quaint burst of fragrance for a your bathroom vanity, or need a show-stopping house warming gift for a friend? The answer is flowering houseplants.
Typically, indoor flowering houseplants are those that produce an abundance of gorgeous blooms on plants that are not long-lived. They tend to be cultivars of their wild counterparts, hybridized for reasons such as to increase bloom size, heighten petal color, reduce light requirements, reduce overall plant size, and/or to increase fragrance. Plant breeders around the world are constantly trying to develop the reddest African violet, the most scented jasmine, the most compact Easter lily, and the longest blooming pot mum. In keeping with the holiday spirit, following are some of my favorite seasonal houseplants.
Poinsettia – Originating from Central America and Mexico, poinsettias have a long history of adulation by human civilizations. Aztecs used the leaves to create dye for their fabrics and harvested the plant’s sap for medicinal uses. Aztec royalty in particular were recognized as being such avid fans of the plant that they often surrounded themselves and their loved ones with this “skin flower” as it represented purity. Introduced to the United States and shortly thereafter to the British Commonwealth by Joel Poinsett (the American ambassador to Mexico in the early 1800’s, after whom the plant was named), poinsettias quickly made their way into mainstream North American and European culture. They are also known as “the Christmas flower”, and are arguably the most recognized holiday plant worldwide. A member of the spurge family, poinsettias are prized for their brilliant bracts (yes bracts – the colored, petal-like leaves on the plants are just that – the flowers themselves are bland and insignificant) in rainbows of color. Care for the plants is simple: set into a medium-brightly lit, warm area in the house and keep well watered (without allowing the plant to sit in water; drain saucer a few minutes after watering).
Amaryllis – Simply one of the most beautiful plants you can cultivate indoors, amaryllis feature huge, artistic, and elegant blooms on sturdy stems produced by oversized bulbs. Named after a Greek Shepardess, the English word “amaryllis” roughly translates to the Greek word “amarysso”, or “to sparkle”; one look at the amazing flowers of this plant and there is little question as to why it earned such a vivid moniker. These flowering beauties enjoyed their debut into European civilization in the early 1800’s, shortly after their discovery growing wild on a Chilean mountainside by Uduard Frederich Poepping. Botanically speaking, amaryllis is a controversial member of the Hippeastrum genus (some say it belongs in this category; others say it is a true amaryllis), and it tends to appreciate the same care as any of the 90 or so hippeastrum species: place in a bright area indoors, keep evenly moist (but do not allow to sit in water), and fertilize with a well-balanced fertilizer once every other week through the bud and bloom stages. Where amaryllis are easily kept as houseplants once the bloom has faded, they are somewhat difficult to bring back into bloom. Unless you are an avid horticulturist with ample time on your hands, probably the best way to ensure beautiful amaryllis blooms for next season is to simply throw out the old plant once it has finished blooming and purchase a new plant next fall.
Azalea – I love this plant as both a long-blooming, easy-care houseplant indoors (Rhododendron simsii; place in filtered light with consistent moisture, fertilize regularly) and as a tender perennial outdoors (Rhododendron indica; place in shade with consistent moisture, fertilize regularly), although hybrid plants grouped under either name may often be grown in similar conditions and enjoy similar hardiness. Admired as symbols of patience, temperance, and passion, azaleas are native to Southeast Asia and were first introduced to Europe in the late 1600’s. So popular have been the brightly flowered, drought-tolerant plants (even the name “azalea” means “dry” in Greek, and indeed you can dry the plant out to the point of wilting and it will recover without any damage after a thorough watering) that there are currently an estimated 100 million plants in cultivation worldwide. With its dark green, glossy leaves, and ruffled flowers produced in abundance, azaleas are wonderful holiday plants that transition easily into the New Year.