Last week, we talked about what a houseplant actually is – namely a plant that natively grows outdoors in warmer climates and which we import to our indoors. Care for these plants is dependent upon the area from which they herald: houseplants from arid regions should be kept on the drier side, and plants from tropical regions should be watered more often and require a higher relative air humidity. This week, we explore some of the excellent tropical varieties that can be grown with relative ease in our Northern homes.
The name itself tells an interesting story: coming from Greek, “philo” means “love” and “dendron” means “tree.” Love trees are native primarily to the West Indies and can be found in many shapes and sizes; where most leaves resemble, if at least vaguely, a heart-shape, the true reason the plants are called Philodendrons is because they love to grow on trees (sorry, all of you romantics – sometimes the Greeks were just pragmatists!) Philodendrons are renowned for how easy they are to grow, as they thrive in low light conditions (the norm in most houses), are relatively pest-resistant, and can live for decades. A member of the Araceae family, the philodendron genus is quite large. Basically it is divided into two types: climbing and non-climbing (also know as self heading.)
The best-known and easiest to grow climbing varieties are Sweetheart Plant (p.scandens; very heart shaped leaves on a slow-growing, vining plant, leaves are sometimes variegated), Red Blushing Philodendron (p.erubescens; beautiful green leaves with red petioles and red-streaked vines), and Black Gold Philodendron (p.melanochrysum; huge, elongated, heart-shaped leaves on sturdy vines.)
The most popular non-climbing varieties are so named because they would rather spread out from their own central stem than necessarily creep up another plant’s stem. Grown as floor plants, give these beauties ample room to spread as their large leaves tend to arc out in all directions from the plant centre. A few notables from the self-heading philos are Split Leaf Philodendron (p. bipinnatifidum; gorgeous waxy green leaves with numerous, lateral splits. This plant will reach enormous sizes in the wild, but rarely gets overly large in our home environments; trimming back every couple of months is all it takes to keep this plant to a smaller size,) Winterbourn Philodendron (p. xanadu; similar to split leaf philo, but smaller, with c-shaped stems), and Flask Philodendron (p.martianum, large, exotic leaves form a basal rosette.)
Arguably one of the best houseplants, peace lilies (Spathiphyllum) are very easy to grow and feature gorgeous shiny, deep green leaves and elegant white flowers (actually a combination made up of a spadix and spathe.) Thriving in low light and requiring very little additional care besides regular watering and fertilizing, peace lilies are valued because they are excellent air-cleaners, removing such toxins as formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
Crotons (Codiaeum variegatum) are one of the great houseplants that grace the homes and businesses of plant lovers around the world. Featuring interesting foliage in colors ranging from deep green to orange to yellow to purple and red, these plants are vigorous growers, require medium light and ample water, and add dimension and interest to any setting.
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are probably the easiest to grow of all the tropical houseplants. An abundance of slender green (sometimes variegated) leaves grow from a central base. When the plant reaches maturity (usually only a few months from plantlet,) it produces small with flowers that it throws out as runners; the runners form small plantlets that resemble spiders. Enjoying medium to high light, spider plants require little care, are vigorous growers that self-propagate readily, and are generally pest-resistant.