Friday, December 30, 2011

Chlorophytum ‘Fire Flash’

If you are having trouble tracking down some decent information about this plant, you are not alone. The first obstacle to gathering proper data is the name confusion. You may find it listed as Chlorophytum orchidastrum, Chlorophytum amaniense, Chlorophytum amaniense ‘Fire Flash’, Chlorophytum orchidantheroides, Chlorophytum filipendulum amaniense (rarely) or simply Chlorophytum ‘Fire Flash’. Then there is the list of common names: Fire Flash (most popular), Mandarin Plant, Green Orange, Tangerine, Fire Glory and Sierra Leone Lily. And that’s just what I’ve been able to gather; there may be even more for all I know.

(In this article, I will refer to this Chlorophytum as ‘Fire Flash’)

The second obstacle is the differing information from web site to web site and from book to book. Of all the plant profiles I’ve ever written, I’ve had more trouble putting together care information for this multi-named plant than for any other. Usually my profiles are a blend of general advice and personal experience, but in this case, the general information has been a little more scattered than usual. So, this profile will be (mostly) based on hands-on care with just a sprinkling of information from my books and the internet.

Perhaps the confusion has to do with the fact that this native of Africa is fairly new to the market; from what I’ve been able to gather, the ‘Fire Flash’ made its way into the plant industry in the late 90s, which may not be long enough to come to a reasonable conclusion about its requirements, shortcomings and frustrating quirks (if there are any). In any case, everyone seems to agree that this plant has thus far proven to be an easy to grow, undemanding and relatively problem-free specimen - aside from the occasional black tips and patches that can develop on the leaves, which is mentioned further down.

Even though they look very different from one another, Chlorophytum ‘Fire Flash’ is a relative of Chlorophytum comosum, one of the most popular indoor plants that we all recognize as the ‘spider plant’. Bearing a beautiful rosette of broad and shiny dark green leaves that contrast with the bright orange petioles and midveins, ‘Fire Flash’ gives its well-known relative a run for its money; it’s undeniable that this new kid on the block is much more colourful and certainly more ornamental.

There are differing opinions on how much light this plant needs. Suggestions include: full shade, partial shade, bright light, bright but indirect light, some sun, filtered sun, no sun ever, medium light, low light and high light. Most of these terms are more confusing than anything else (what exactly is medium light?), and because there are so many recommendations, it’s difficult to determine exactly where this plant should go.

I believe that all the locations listed above are the right place to grow a ‘Fire Flash’ because light varies from home to home and is affected by so many other factors or obstacles. So here is my advice: place your ‘Fire Flash’ near a bright window, out of the direct path of sunlight, and watch for signs of approval or disapproval. If new leaves are small or there is little or no growth, your plant may not be receiving enough light; move it closer to the window or offer it filtered sun. If you do offer it some sun and the leaves become bleached or they develop black patches (this can be caused by other factors), it may be receiving too much light; move it to a shadier location. Unfortunately, you will need to experiment with this Chlorophytum to determine the best location for it.

Note: In terms of light, there are two things that I will not recommend: 1) very low light (the plant will tolerate it for quite some time and then it will begin to deteriorate) and 2) hot, midday sun (the leaves will eventually bleach and/or develop black patches)

‘Fire Flash’ has proven to be quite tolerant of over-watering and under-watering blunders, although I would not recommend that you make a chronic habit of either because sooner or later the plant will show signs of distress. Use a fast-draining, airy medium that retains some moisture without staying soggy. Keep it evenly moist during the active growing season from spring to early fall; reduce watering in the winter but do not allow the soil to dry out completely. If you do over or under-water occasionally, don’t fret; this plant will survive both blunders. Just be careful the next time.

This is an excellent choice for the hydroculture system. Wash the roots free of soil and pot up in the clay medium. Conversion is rapid and fairly painless. A leaf or two may be lost during the process but the plant handles the transition remarkably well. Once the plant settles into its new growing style, succulent water roots will develop within 3 – 4 weeks, possibly a little longer.

Although, under my care, the ‘Fire Flash’ has not made any major complaints when humidity levels are low, this does not mean that dry air is the preference; it may just be tolerable – for awhile. There is a wide range of opinions on just how much humidity this plant really needs. Although dry air seems to be handled fairly well, I would recommend average levels between 40 – 50 percent instead of the Sahara desert style ones of 20 – 30. Again, your plant will show signs of discontentment if it is unsatisfied; if the leaves develop brown or black leaf tips, increase humidity.

Average indoor temperatures are fine. Recommendations from many different sources range from 18°C (65°F) to 29°C (85°F), all of which seem to be acceptable. ‘Fire Flash’ will endure cooler levels, but exposure to very low temperatures should be limited. If the plant gets too cold, unsightly black patches will develop on the leaves and their tips. Feed once a month with a liquid fertilizer that is diluted to half strength. A weaker solution is wiser because over-feeding will also lead to black leaf tips and margins.

Occasionally wipe the leaves free of dust or give your plant a shower to keep it well-groomed. Remove dead or yellow leaves promptly and get rid of the inflorescence once it appears if you are not planning to use the seeds for propagation because it will compete for nutrients, which will delay new growth and may cause leaf chlorosis. Together with excessive light, improper feeding and low humidity, black leaf tips and margins may be caused by high concentrations of fluoride or sodium in the water. If you suspect that this is happening, you may want to consider switching to rain or distilled water.

A lot has been written about the care of this plant because it’s difficult to compress the diversity of information into a few short lines. Everyone has something to say, mainly based on their own personal experiences, which almost always differs in some way or another from person to person, home to home and business to business. Perhaps as time progresses, a general (and brief) opinion will emerge. For now, watch your plant for signs of contentment or discontentment, and adjust accordingly if need be. This beautiful plant is well worth the effort.

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