Friday, August 21, 2020

The Black and White of Indoor Plants

Black and white translucent flower heads. Photo by Matthew Schwartz on Unsplash.
Some of us are very color-conscious and need to have the colors in our home match, or at least reside harmoniously together. So, why not incorporate your plants into your color scheme? The fun will be in the challenge to find and nurture the beauties that will be the perfect enhancement to your space. If you are a green-lover, congratulations – you have all the choices in the world. Reds, purples and other colors are also well represented. But for those that want something less run-of-the-mill, I’d like to offer some ideas and suggestions on the most basic of neutrals - black and white.

BLACK: Plants in this hue are highly in demand for trendy Goth Gardens. These outdoor gardens amp up the spooky factor with black plants or plants with ominous names or histories. They often contain decorative pieces that continue the dark theme (here is one celebrity’s cool Goth Garden). You may not want to go all Goth, but decorating with black plants can be an elegant way to add a time-honored neutral to your décor. When choosing a black plant, you should be aware that not all of them start or stay black and that many need specific conditions to maintain their color. Just do your research and pick carefully and you will be rewarded with beguiling black beauties.

A Zamioculcas Zamifolia Raven plant in an orange pot with a ceramic rabbit sitting next to it.
ZAMIOCULCAS ZAMIIFOLIA “RAVEN” - aka Raven ZZ. This plant is so easy to grow that some people claim it’s virtually impossible to kill. Be that as it may, this African native is definitely undemanding. It can survive quite well in very low light, really thrives when placed near direct sunlight, and is okay with irregular watering. Lighting does not affect the colors of this plant, the darkness of its glossy leaves increases over time from bright green to deep violet-black. Learn more here and watch a video here.
SINOCRASSULA YUNNANENIS aka Chinese Jade in a beige pot.
SINOCRASSULA YUNNANENIS – aka Chinese Jade.  This perennial rosette succulent originated in the Yunnan province of China. It grows up to 4” in diameter and has densely packed, very dark green (close to black) leaves. If possible, put this beauty in full sun - it likes the warmth and the light helps it keep its darkest shade. For more on how to get the most from your Chinese Jade, read this and watch this short video.

A close up of the dark leaves of a BLACK PATENT LEATHER COLEUS – aka Shiny Shoes BLACK PATENT LEATHER COLEUS – aka Shiny Shoes – Most people are familiar with the coleus as a houseplant, but this variety has a special look. A native of Southeast Asia, this upright plant grows to about 18” x 18” and does little to no flowering –it’s all about the leaves. They have a shiny, bubbly texture and ruffled edges and are all-together delightful. Unlike some black plants, this one holds its color in the shade. There are several varieties of black coleus, some of which are hard to come by; so, if the one you want is not available, give another one a try. They are all beautiful. Here is a helpful article on growing coleus indoors.
A OPHIOPOGON PLANISCAPUS “NIGRESCENS” – aka Black Mondo Grass plant in a beige pot. There are berries on it.

 OPHIOPOGON PLANISCAPUS “NIGRESCENS” – aka Black Mondo Grass, Black Lilyturf, Black Dragon, Ebony Night, and more. If you’d like a change from run-of-the-mill houseplants, this flashy perennial from Japan really brings the drama. Black Mondo Grass sports dense, slender and long (8”-12”) leaves that arch gracefully out in all directions. This plant has traditionally been used as a groundcover in landscaping, but there’s no reason it can’t move indoors (here’s more on that). You can enjoy its foliage year-round, its small pale-pink flowers in the summer, and its glossy berries in the fall.

A COLOCASIA ESCULENTA “BLACK MAGIC” – aka Black Elephant Ear in a black pot on a green surface.
COLOCASIA ESCULENTA “BLACK MAGIC” – aka Black Elephant Ear, Taro, Taro Black Magic, Elephant Ears Black Magic. This beast of a plant can grow 3-6’ tall and produce leaves as long as 2’. Plants in both the Alocasia and Colocasia families are known as Elephant Ears; one difference is that the leaves of the Alocasia point up and the leaves of the Colocasia hang down. Elephant Ears are popular houseplants for their dramatic look and this variety will not disappoint - it will produce abundant, gorgeous deep purple/black leaves. Keep in mind that this plant grows from a bulb and may go dormant in winter. For more on growing this plant indoors, check out this article and for some more quick info, watch this video.

Attempting an all-white houseplant theme may be surprisingly challenging. The reason is pretty simple - most plants have green stems and/or foliage (at least at some stage). So, when searching for white plants, you will soon find yourself looking mostly at plants with white flowers. Of course, there are some exceptions (with Nature there always is); check out the White-stemmed Bramble (which looks more grey to me) and the Ghost Plant. With such a paucity of truly white plants, I’ve expanded my white selections below to include a couple of silver (again, some may call them grey) choices. As far as white-flowered plants go, I’ll leave it to you to sort through the many thousands to find the ones that suit you, should you go that route.

A close-up of the furry leaves of the SRACHYS BYZANTINA – aka Lamb’s Ear plant.
SRACHYS BYZANTINA – aka Lamb’s Ear – This pretty perennial has silvery leaves that are as soft and fuzzy as a lamb’s ear, and somewhat the same shape. These captivating leaves are what most people like about this plant, but in the summertime, it produces a tall flower spike with little purple blossoms that is equally interesting. Lamb’s Ear is usually used as a ground cover because it likes to spread, but it can be grown indoors if it’s given the proper conditions. Read more about how to grow this here.

A WHITE CALADIUM plant in a stand next to a blue chair.CALADIUMS– aka White Queen Caladium, Moonlight Caladium, Caladium Florida Moonlight, Angel Wings Caladium, and many more. These tropical perennials, with their elaborately mottled and almost translucent leaves, are real show-stoppers and with their nearly-endless varieties, there is something for every taste. Despite their huge popularity, these plants are not easy to keep healthy and are seasonal, so you will only get the foliage from spring to autumn. They grow from a tuber, however, so when winter approaches you can store the tubers and begin again the following spring. Here’s an article on how to grow them indoors and here's a video you may find interesting.
A HELICHRYSUM PETIOLARE – aka Licorice Plant in a black pot.
HELICHRYSUM PETIOLARE – aka Licorice Plant, Trailing Dusty Miller, Silver Bush. This is a small (9”-12”) perennial that prefers to grow out rather than up. The small, roundish leaves are plentiful and covered with soft grey hairs that shine with an iridescent glow. This plant is not the edible type of licorice, but it has a delicious fragrance nonetheless. There are several varieties of licorice with varying degrees of silver-shine; take your time and pick the one that is right for you. Here’s more on how to grow this in containers.

WHITE PAMPAS GRASS in a black pot with 2 ceramic owls sitting next to it.MONEY PLANT aka Lunaria Silver Dollar dried seed pods in a white vase.A fun option to add white to any room without bringing in a plant itself is to bring in some dried accent pieces. You could go with White Pampas Grass - it is absolutely stunning. However, it can grow very tall (10’-13’), so it's not practical for most indoor settings. But, if you have a place to grow it on the patio or in the yard, you could harvest and dry the plumes for indoor decorations. According to this article, White Pampas Grass is the newest Instagram craze. (Here is more on how to grow them in containers.) Another fabulous option is the Money Plant (aka Lunaria Silver Dollar), these biennials have beautiful magenta flowers, but they are coveted for their silvery, translucent, coin-shaped dried seed pods. You can enjoy all stages of this outside plant and then bring the pods indoors to add glamour to your fall and winter décor.

Morticia Adams from the Addams Family show cutting off white rose heads.I hope this gets you thinking about some of the endless possibilities of using plants as a basis for interior design and that you will find your way to your own uniquely beautiful decor.

Submitted by Pam

Thursday, August 13, 2020

10 Super Succulents and Cool Cacti

A figurine of the Marvel Comics character Groot standing next to cacti and succulents in brown pots.As part of the Plant Parenting craze that has surfaced in the last few years, succulents have seen a rise in popularity that is more of a tsunami than a surge. As a person who lives in and loves the Sonoran Desert, it pleases me to know that cacti and succulents are getting the appreciation and respect they deserve. On the other hand, as with many things that suddenly become popular, their very popularity can be devastating to them. Desert habitats may seem tough and durable (and in many ways they are), but they are also finely balanced and the flora that thrives in them can be quite delicate. They can be damaged irreparably by the smallest amount of foot traffic, not to mention rampant and/or random harvesting. Here are two excellent articles on the effects of the succulent/cactus trade: This one explains how all cacti are endangered and this one lists the succulents that are almost gone already. There are several plants on the following list that are endangered and/or rare. If you are interested in them or are actively collecting any cacti or succulents, always order from a reputable dealer and never purchase from unknown sources online or attempt to collect them yourself.

As an aside: If you are unsure as to the difference between cacti and succulents, this article explains it simply.

SEDUM MORGANIANUM hanging in front of a white-paned window.SEDUM MORGANIANUM – aka Burro’s Tail, Burrito, Donkey’s Tail, Lamb’s Tail, Horse’s Tail, Sedum Burrito. Originally from southern Mexico, this is a dramatic yet easy-to-grow succulent, with long, thick, trailing stems of overlapping grey-green leaves that look almost braided. This plant can get quite long (up to 4’) and heavy; it looks fantastic as a hanging plant, but make sure you have a strong enough pot and hanger. Here's more on their care and here's a video as well.

Close-up of the leaves and flowers of a CRASSULA UMBELLA CRASSULA UMBELLA – aka Crassula Wine Cups, Wine Cup Succulent. This unique succulent is native to South Africa. It has erect, smooth stems that end in leaves that are roundish and curved under around the edges to form an upside-down umbrella-like shape. Flowers will appear around an erect, inflorescence that pops out of the middle of the leaf. This lovely succulent is easy to grow but hard to find commercially, making it a desirable addition for any collection. Learn more here.

ESCOBARIA ABDITAESCOBARIA ABDITA – This cool-looking cactus was named after the Mexican naturalist Romulo Numa Escobar. It comes from a very dry basin in the Mexican state of Coahuila. In times of extreme drought, this plant can retract its stems and live partially (or even completely) underground. The unique spines that thickly crisscross the surface are white and look like spindles or flowers. The actual flowers are large and daisy-like and pop out from between the spines. This cactus is not easy to keep alive and thriving – it’s hard to duplicate the harshness of the environment it is accustomed to without actually killing it. But that does not mean it is impossible; here's more.

CONOPHYTUM BURGERI – aka Burger’s Onion, Little Light Bulbs. This endangered South African plant is a simple, single-bodied succulent that can be green, white, strawberry-colored, vaguely purple, or some mix of each. It has a roundish, almost onion-like shape and a big ole purple and white flower that perches on top like a lady’s sun hat. It is reported that the flower smells like honey. The native habitat of this little gem is protected by the current owner – a mining company, no less. Read more about his cute little plant here and here’s a video on the always-important watering of this family of succulents.
PSEUDORHIPSALIS RAMULOSA – aka Red Rhipsalis, Red Mistletoe Cactus. This stunning epiphytic cactus is native to rainforests in large parts of the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America. The Red Mistletoe Cactus has long (up to 2’) stems full of flat, ribbon-like leaves. It starts out green, but bright sunlight will cause it to color up in shades from peach or light violet to a deep burgundy-red. Along the leaf edges, it will produce small white flowers that look like a trim of seed pearls. To learn more, read this and watch this short video.

BOOPHONE HAEMANTHOIDES BOOPHONE HAEMANTHOIDES – aka Namaqua Century Plant, Cape Century Plant. This southern African native is unusual among succulents in that it does its active growing during winter months (because that’s when the rains come in its native land). The wavy, bluish-green leaves can get 15”-18” long and protrude from a massive (8+ inches) bulb. This bulb grows in layers like an onion and displays most of its bulk out of the ground. This plant will bloom, and the flowers are indeed beautiful and fragrant, but it is extremely slow to flower. This is because Boophone Haemanthoides is a long-living plant, with some bulbs living as long as 100 years in the wild, so it can easily take as much as 8-10 years for them to reach their blooming stage. Luckily, the foliage of this neat plant is so entertaining you may not care if it ever flowers. More on the intriguing plant here and watch a woman talk about her first bloom from one here.

XEROSICYOS DANGUYI – aka Silver Dollar Vine, Silver Dollar Plant, Dollar Vine, Penny Plant, String of Coins. This fast-growing vine from Madagascar is actually a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which makes it a relative of the cucumber. This succulent is nearly all tendrils, which have thick, coin-shaped leaves at intervals along their length. In mid-to-late spring, you can expect tiny, four-petaled pale yellowy-green flowers. The arms of this succulent can get quite long (20” or so) and will spread nicely along a windowsill or tabletop - or allow it to make a statement as a hanging plant. Watch this video and/or read this for more information.

EUPHORBIA TIRUCALLI EUPHORBIA TIRUCALLI – aka Pencil Cactus, Sticks on Fire, Milk Bush, Firesticks, Firestick Plant, Indian Tree Purge, Naked Lady. Think you have the chops for a “dangerous” plant? And the space for a large indoor tree? If so, this succulent may be for you. Euphorbia Tirucalli hails from the warmest climes of Africa and India, where it can grow up to 30 feet. Grown indoors, it can achieve six feet and, at certain times of the year, it glows in shades of orange, yellow, and pink. Its danger lies in its milky-white sap. The sap carries toxins that, for most people, are not a huge concern. But for some people, it can cause severe, even anaphylactic, reactions. And everyone should take precautions to keep it away from their eyes. If you take proper safety measures when handling and don’t have children or pets to worry about, this gorgeous plant could be a stunning addition to your collection. For more on the inherent risks in keeping this succulent, read this article. For general information on this plant, check out this article and video.

CRESTED SENECIO VITALIS - it looks like a mermaid's tail coming out of a white pot filled with blue stones.CRESTED SENECIO VITALIS – aka Mermaid Tails, Whale’s Tail, Blue Chalk Fingers, Blue Chalksticks, Narrow-Leaf Chalk Sticks. Here is another terrific South African succulent and this one gives off some serious under-the-sea vibes. The particular shaping of these specimens is caused when they crest, meaning they stop producing stems and branches and, instead, flatten out and grow out wild shapes on top. This process is natural and may only last a few years, at which time they can begin to take one another more “normal” shape, These look really cool in a pot, but keep in mind that they can grow 3-5’ wide 2’ tall. You can grow them outside in some areas, but they’ll need to be watched as they can turn invasive in certain environments. Watch this video to see how to trim one and read this article for more information overall.

AEONIUM ARBOREUM ZWARTKOPT – aka Black Rose, Black Rose Aeonium, Black Tree Aeonium, Black Beauty. Are you ready to add some unusual color to your collection? This exotic succulent has its roots in the Canary Islands and its delightful deep-burgundy, almost-black-looking leaves are a real treat. There is a caveat, however: these beauties need plenty of direct light – about 6 hours a day. This preference for sunbathing (they’re from the Canary Islands, after all) allows them to maintain their gorgeous coloring. Without it, they will fade to an ordinary green. They also can get pretty big (4’ high and 2’ wide), which is something else to take into consideration for an indoor plant. As a patio plant, they would do well. Once you get their space and light requirements down, they require little attention. See more here and read more here.

A cartoon of a cat popping out of a pot surrounded by cacti and other plants.An essential component to growing any of these plants successfully is to have the right soil. We offer a really terrific one from a company right here in Tucson, where we know our cacti and succulents. Check it out here. And for all you cactus lovers, here is a way to safely adorn yourself with our iconic Saguaro Cactus.

Stay cool out there.
Submitted by Pam

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