Indoor Plants as Conver-sensation Pieces
Gardeners who have grown bored with the more common houseplants, such as angel wing begonia and spider plant, should be happy to hear that there are plenty of more playful and peculiar choices out there. They, too, often are named for what they resemble.
Keep in mind that some of these plants are at least mildly toxic. However, that should only be a problem where young children or pets are prone to gravitate to greenery.
Baseball Plant (Euphorbia obesa)
Round and “seamy” like the orb for which it is named, the baseball plant wears a greenish-gray and lavender plaid “sport coat” instead of cowhide. Although this succulent’s seedling has leaves, those soon drop off to allow the development of an obese “stitched-together” sphere that is technically a stem. It would be tough to strike out with such an easy-care plant, which can grow in any reasonably bright location, requires no water in winter, and only sparing amounts in summer.
Flapjack Plant (Kalanchoe tetraphylla)
Gardeners who like unusual succulents should flip over the flapjack variety, which forms rosettes of large leaves as big as pancakes. In The Unexpected Houseplant, Tovah Martin offers a more romantic take, describing the often red-tinged plants as looking like “gigantic roses with wavy leaves.” Those leaves reportedly blush best if given plenty of sunlight. However, savvy growers will prevent the sending up of flower stalks, since this jack comes back no more after it blooms.
Buddha’s Belly Plant (Jatropha podagrica)
The Buddha’s belly plant’s paunch is often described as bottle-shaped and it carries its lobed foliage way up top like Buddha’s parasol. The succulent also makes orange-red flowers which resemble coral right off the reef. Although its somewhat peculiar physique may cause a few belly laughs, this plant can thrive on partial sunlight and occasional watering. The dropping of its leaves in winter doesn’t imply bad karma, only that it is deciduous.
Chenille Plant (Acalypha hispida)
“Chenille” is French for caterpillars, and this plant’s long red catkins, which dangle from the leaf axils, might be said to resemble those wooly worms, feline tails, or the pipe cleaners popular for children’s crafts. Its large, heart-shaped leaves make it more challenging to grow than succulents, since it requires lots of sun, water, and pruning. Still, what other plant can be said to have its tails tucked between its leaves?
Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeeana)
Curled clusters of gold-tinged salmon-colored bracts with protruding white “streamers,” the shrimp plant’s flowers don’t exactly resemble shrimp, but they don’t exactly resemble anything else on earth either! Fortunately the easy-to-please plant will bloom almost as cheerfully on a sunny to partially sunny winter windowsill as it will outdoors in the south, provided that its soil is kept reasonably moist. The variegata version, an even more colorful character, offers silver-splashed leaves to put any gardener in a higher bract-et, houseplant wise.
Bottlebrush Plant (Callistemon citrinus)
The Australian bottlebrush plant flourishes red blooms which resemble the bristly implements used to scrub bottles. The lemon scent of its lance-shaped leaves also could remind some people of dish detergent, so it probably won’t prove popular with those who resent after-dinner chores. Still, although this plant prefers lots of sun, moderate water, and somewhat cool temperatures, it can survive under less than ideal conditions. So it would make an appropriate hostess gift for the chief cook and bottle washer!
Goldfish Plant (Nematanthus gregarius)
Schools of little orange, fish-shaped flowers float about among the glossy leaves of the goldfish plant during the spring and summer months. Granted, those “fish” do look a bit puffy, as if they are about to turn belly up in an aquarium. Gardeners for whom that revives unpleasant memories may want to opt for closely related columnea goldfish vines, whose blooms appear less bloated. This plant prefers bright indirect light and moderate watering to keep it in swimmingly good condition.
Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos flavidus)
Kangaroo paws is an odd Oz plant from a land which produces its share of amazing animals too. In her book, Martin asserts that compact cultivars of anigozanthos make excellent houseplants. Although their iris-like foliage isn’t showy, they produce velvety multi-colored flower clusters which resemble a kangaroo’s “fingered” front feet. As with the bottlebrush plant, this one prefers sunlight, medium moisture, and cool conditions, but doesn’t easily throw up its hands in defeat.
Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Davallia canariensis)
Speaking of animal extremities, the furry rhizomes of rabbit’s foot fern rest on the surface of soil as if on the verge of bounding away. Even though they may give the viewer “paws,” due to the suspicion that there must be a critter hunkered down under the lacy foliage, those “feet” should be left uncovered, as they may rot if buried. Like most ferns, this one prefers indirect light, damp soil, and high humidity to stay hoppy.
Corkscrew Plant (Albuca spiralis)
Also called Frizzle Sizzle, the corkscrew plant’s wiry leaves spiral into screwy contortions. Not only is it easy to grow in full sun with minimal watering, it also produces nodding, vanilla-scented yellow flowers in spring. Growers shouldn't pull their own hair out should the plant’s ringlets wither completely during summer, since it often goes dormant then. If the bulb still is intact and kept dry, it should screw up the courage to re-sprout in autumn.
String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
The String of Pearls plant dangles strands of pea-sized “beads.” Being green with a darker green vertical stripe, those spherical leaves don’t closely resemble pearls. Still, just like the actual gems, spherical leaves aren’t commonplace, and the plant also produces clusters of cinnamon-scented white flowers which age into tassel-like seed pods. With the help of lots of sun, a little water, and very well-drained soil, even a poor-as-dirt gardener can have fun asking guests, “Would you like to see my string of pearls?”
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