Many of our large, lush, exotic and most treasured houseplants are tropical in origin. While they may differ a great deal in appearance, they all share a love of warmth and bright light that reminds them of “home” in the tropical rain forests.
In their tropical homeland there are usually two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The wet season corresponds to our summer months when the tropics are steamy, wet and hot.
The dry season corresponds to our winters when conditions are cooler, sunny and very dry, sometimes with no rain at all for months! To grow tropical plants indoors we need to attempt to recreate these conditions for our tropical friends to feel happy and stay healthy.
Thus in winter keep these plants in a bright, warm spot (attempt to keep temperatures above 15 C degrees), out of cold drafts and water very sparingly. A 15cm (6”) pot might get one or two tablespoons of water a week!
Once the weather warms in spring increase the watering and start feeding regularly while maintaining very bright light. If you wish to take cuttings or need to prune the plant back do so once active growth has begun in the spring/summer.
If you want rapid growth rates at “jungle” speed just increase the temperature, light moisture and food. Many of these tropical rainforest plants are very active producers of oxygen and can kill bacteria and remove toxins from home and office air very quickly.
Because of this factor and their hardiness they are popular subjects of plant hire services and will probably be the plants used to supply clean air in NASA’s space stations of the near future.
Among the easiest to grow are: DIEFFENBACHIA, sometimes known as the Dumb Cane because the plant’s juices if chewed can temporarily paralyse the vocal chords (don’t try this as the resultant burning sensation in the mouth is not a pretty picture).
The plants rise on stout canes topped with beautiful, broad, spade-like leaves often speckled or frosted with white, cream or silver creating an exotic palm-like appearance. They will withstand low light if kept warm and very dry in winter.
DRACAENA are members of the lily family that closely resemble our native cabbage trees (once classified as dracaena australis). They arise on stout woody canes topped with colourful, long, thin, spear-like leaves that are exceedingly decorative in an architectural way. These can tolerate dark, dry spots for extended periods. Under ideal conditions dracaenas like massangeana, the Chinese Happy Plant, produce exotic, deeply fragrant blooms that by Chinese tradition reward the grower with lifelong blessings of good fortune. Perhaps we should call it the Lotto Plant!
FICUS includes the weeping fig, fiddle leaf fig, the fruiting fig and hundreds more. These are hardy trees that can grow to considerable size making them invaluable wherever a large, dramatic splash of green is needed.
Ficus are hardy enough to withstand most home and office conditions easily if not over watered in winter. Grouped together these lovely plants can create a little piece of tropical paradise that will warm even a cold winters day!