As our modern houses and flats are provided with all manner of comforts such as open-plan interiors, picture windows and thermostatically controlled central heating, it is not surprising that the interest in tropical plants is very much on the increase. Providing sufficient care and attention is paid to their individual needs, these more exotic plants will thrive in the home. You may, however, have to go to a little extra trouble to acquire one or two of the houseplants mentioned here.
- Medinilla magnifica (Rose Grape). A robust, large-leafed shrub, originating in Indonesia, with a beautiful show of wing-like rosy-pink bracts under which hang clusters of dusky-pink anthers, like a bunch of grapes. No easy houseplant, it is really needs a warm, humid greenhouse but it is possible to grow this elegant species in the house, provide it is carefully tended, given a light, sunny position and well shaded from the rays of the noonday sun. Flowering usually takes place during spring and summer. Water liberally during growth and feed with a proprietary fertilizer or natural humus every 14 days. Maintain humidity by spraying profusely and often; water less after flowering and maintain at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius.
- Coffea arabica (Arabian Coffee). Known as a Coffee Plant, this is a tall, evergreen shrub bearing leathery, elliptic leaves that look rather waxy along the central vein. The growth habit is remarkably willowy, with vertical and horizontal branches. Compact clusters of aromatic white flowers appear in the leaf axils in September, followed by fruits with turn red when ripe. These are stone fruits which usually contain two stones-the famous coffee beans, that are flat on the side where they grow against each other. The plant can flower and fruit in the greenhouse but this seldom happens in the home environment. Propagate from seed or lateral stem cuttings with a heel in late summer. It is advisable to add a little loam or clay to the potting compost.
- Callistemon citrinus. Better known as the Bottle Brush Plant because of the cylindrical, brush-like flower spikes, consisting almost entirely of red stamens. This is an evergreen shrub from Australia. The young leaf is covered with a silvery to red hairy down. If the blooms are not removed after flowering, new inflorescences can form. The Bottle Brush Plant is not very demanding, and even likes to be placed outdoors in the summer. Overwinter in a light, sunny position at 6-10 degrees Celsius. Propagate by stem cuttings, preferably with a heel, in August-September.
- Rhoeo spathacea (Moses-in-the-Cradle or Boat lily). Better known by the name Rhoeo discolor. Lance-shaped leaves with purple undersides. The cultivar ‘Vittatum’ is enhanced by having yellow strips along the upperside of its leaves. Emanating from Central America, the Rhoeo is related to the well-known Tradescantia. Position in a good light away from direct sun. It likes a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius during the winter and not below 12 degrees Celsius at night. Propagate from cuttings or seed in February-March.
- Scirpus cernuus (Miniature Bulrush). Found all over the world. Grass-like stems and leaves tipped with white, fluffy flower spikes. Grows straight up initially then arches far over the sides of the pot, a habit that makes it highly suitable as a decorative hanging plant. Like its cousin, the Umbrella Plant, it is real ‘water-baby’; if the environment is too dry, the tips of the thin leaves will quickly curl under and scorch. Position in a good light out of the sun at the temperature of 12-20 degrees Celsius. Spraying is better than watering, but always ensure that there is a water in the saucer or plant pot. Leaf mould mixed with clay or loam makes a good compost, although this plant also thrives in water with a feeding solution (hydroponics).
Authors: A. C. Muller-Idzerda, Elisabeth de Lestrieux, Jonneke Krans