Friday, March 23, 2012

Fabulous Foliage

No doubt about it, I’m a foliage gal. More often than not, if the leaves of a plant don’t interest me, the plant does not come home with me - no matter how popular and cherished it is among other houseplant enthusiasts. For instance, I can’t for the life of me see the appeal in small, thin-leaved plants such as Ivy or in Ferns with narrow leaflets. It just doesn’t do it for me. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the delicate beauty of these types of plants. I do. And although I do realize that they are exceptionally popular, they certainly won’t take up a spot in my home. If by chance they ever do, it’s only for experimental reasons, usually to test their ability to grow in hydroculture.

But this doesn’t mean that I always rule out entire species. Sometimes - even in a plant group that doesn’t generally interest me - the occasional dynamic member can be found. For example: although I’m not much of a fan of any member of the Ivy clan, I do like some plants from the ancient – dating back to prehistoric times - Fern group. A couple of members that I adore include the Staghorn and Bird’s Nest; both very unique and stylish.

So although there are a great variety of leaf styles, only a few types interest me. My concentration lies mainly on dramatic, visually striking foliage that demands attention. When I’m snooping around at the garden center, one thing’s for sure: leaves that are long and narrow, large, oval, spiky, thick, leathery, unusually or interestingly-shaped, broad, variegated, streaked or splashed with colour will certainly draw my attention and reel me in to further investigate. And plants that are tall with huge leaves, such as some of the Philodendrons, leave me in awe – even though I never purchase any of these types because they’re much too large for my home.

I suppose I’m quite selective when it comes to what grows in my home, like anyone else. And while the size and shape of the plant certainly come into play in determining whether to buy or move on, if the foliage is ‘blah’, size and shape don’t really matter anymore – they take the back seat.

So, after all that rambling, the question is: are there specific plants that I am particularly fond of? You bet there are. And not just a few. There are a multitude of plants I am keen on, some of which I’ve had the good fortune to grow and some of which I’d like to grow but have yet to find locally.

And I’m going to share a handful of my favourites with you. Maybe you’ll like a few of them too.

Calathea Corona

This is one of the most spectacular Calatheas I’ve ever had the good fortune to set my eyes on. And although almost all of the Calathea members appeal to me, there’s something extra special about the Corona with its olive green leaves highlighted by dark green edges. This magnificent, shiny-leaved charmer makes a great specimen plant with its beautifully-designed foliage. Place it on its own, away from the masses, for a stunning ornamental effect that will draw attention and accentuate the spot it occupies.

The Corona is no different than any other Calathea member: it is very fussy about its needs and insists that they be met. If you do not provide the required care to this plant, which can be very unforgiving, it will decline rapidly and end up in the trash bin. Guaranteed. Keep its soil moist but never soggy, use a fast-draining medium to avoid root rot, make sure it receives bright, indirect light in a warm room, protect it from midday sun and cold drafts, and always, always satisfy its (unyielding) desire for ample humidity. This plant may be a little more demanding but it’s worth the added effort if you’re looking for a striking addition to your home décor.

* photo courtesy of *

Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata – Variegated Shell Ginger

I got my first glimpse of this striking plant a few months ago at a garden center near my home. And I’ve yearned for one ever since. I have not lugged one home with me because – much to my dismay – the only Gingers of this kind being sold are specimens that are much too large for my residence (the dwarf version would solve this problem but it’s nowhere to be found). To accommodate this large beauty, I’d have to get rid of some of my furniture. Or one of the kids.

This plant with stunning yellow and green variegated foliage makes a great houseplant if grown in humid conditions with adequate light and proper watering. While it tolerates a wide range of light conditions, it prefers bright light, including some sun, for optimal growth. Pot it up in a well-draining soil and keep it moist at all times; the leaves of this plant will brown on the edges if the medium is allowed to dry out. With proper care, this plant makes a gorgeous addition to any interior.

* photo courtesy of *

Stromanthe Sanguinea Tricolor (Triostar)

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful jewels of the tropical world, the Sanguinea Tricolor is one of the only Stromanthes available for indoor gardening. And although it can be a little more challenging, you can adorn your home with the eye-catching, multicoloured foliage of this dazzler all year round as long as you properly fulfill its needs.

Like its Calathea cousin the Corona, this Maranta member needs high levels of humidity to keep it healthy. A pebble tray filled with water or a humidifier nearby will increase the moisture in the air and help keep it in good shape. Keep the porous soil moist at all times and never allow it to dry out completely. Average room temperatures between 16°C (60°F) and 27°C (80°F) are ideal, and cold drafts must be avoided. Protect this specimen from direct exposure to sunlight, which will damage the leaves and cause them to fade, and place it in bright light to intensify the dramatic variegation.

Vriesea Splendens – Flaming Sword

Bromeliads, unfortunately, are not available regularly in my neck of the woods. And on the rare occasion when they are offered at the local garden centers, they’re usually the less glamorous varieties and alarmingly quite pricey. But lady luck came to town recently and brought with her the exotic Vriesea Splendens, a Bromeliad admired for its outstanding foliage and its spectacular flower display. The price tag was a little more than what I’m usually willing to dish out for plants, but since this dazzler has been absent for years, I decided to bite the bullet and take one home. Perhaps it’ll make lots and lots of babies (something Bromeliads are capable of before they expire) and I’ll get a good return on my initial investment.

This stylish, low-maintenance epiphyte can handle some morning sun but does best when placed away from direct sunlight in a brightly lit spot. Average room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) to 24°C (75°F) are fine and humidity levels of 40 to 60 percent are preferable, but not easily attainable. Increase humidity by adding a humidifier near your plants or by placing them on pebble trays. Pot up your plant in a porous soil that drains well, water it when it dries out considerably and then water thoroughly. You can also water this Bromeliad exclusively through its funnel of leaves and eliminate the soil entirely by growing it attached to driftwood. Keep the tank (cup) filled with water, flush it every 1 – 2 months and refill with fresh water.

Spathiphyllum Domino – Domino Peace Lily

I’m not a big fan of the ordinary, green-leaved Peace Lilies – although I think they’re pretty enough to warrant a shady spot in my home, mainly because of their flowers – but I am a huge fan of the marble-leaved Spathiphyllum Domino with its dark green and white spear-shaped leaves. Man-made, fairly new to the market, and the only variegated cultivar, this elegant Peace Lily is a stunning addition to interior gardens. And although it’s not the most prolific bloomer, the patterned leaves make the Domino irresistible.

Fairly easy to care for, this plant requires a little more light than its other Spathiphyllum cousins to maintain its variegation. Place it in a location that is not too warm where it can receive bright light or indirect, filtered sun; the morning rays of an eastern location are ideal. Keep the soil moist at all times during the active growing season and allow it to dry out to some extent during the winter. Humidity is important but not critical, and average indoor temperatures are fine. This Peace Lily deserves a spot on its own where its beautiful form can be fully appreciated.

Alocasia Amazonica – Shield Plant, African Mask

The first time I ever laid eyes on this plant, I knew I had to add it to my indoor plant collection. Years later, I’m still captivated by its glossy, dark green, elongated leaves with protruding bright, white veins and margins. This exotic specimen should be placed where it can be admired; its elongated, arrow-shaped foliage - that can reach over a foot long - demands attention and is worthy of center stage.

In order for Alocasia Amazonica to flourish indoors, there are certain cultural requirements that must be met. Because even though it makes an interesting houseplant, this exotic specimen is not the easiest to grow. High humidity is one of the main requirements for success. Levels can be increased by placing the plant on a pebble tray filled with water. Keep the soil evenly moist during the spring and summer but allow it to dry out slightly during the colder seasons when plant growth is significantly reduced. Alocasias are extremely susceptible to root rot so make sure you are using a well-draining medium. A shady location is tolerable but a brightly-lit spot out of the path of direct sunlight is best. Average household room temperatures are fine.

Dracaena Reflexa – Song Of India

Exotic-looking, rugged and carefree, this tropical indoor plant makes a bold statement with its beautiful yellow and green variegated leaves. The Dracaena Reflexa - widely used in office and commercial settings – is a wonderful choice for houseplant enthusiasts interested in adding a stylish plant to their collection. Sold throughout the year in local garden centers, florist shops, supermarkets, big box stores - and any other place that sells plants for indoor gardening - you’ll have no trouble obtaining one of these.

Place this Dracaena where it will receive bright light without being exposed to the sizzling afternoon sun. Ideal light can be received from the morning rays shining through an east window or the indirect sunbeams of a southeast window filtered through a curtain. All members of this plant family are very susceptible to root rot, so use a well-draining soil. During the growing season, allow the compost to dry out to some extent between thorough watering. Be extra careful with the watering can in the winter. High humidity is not crucial but healthy levels are recommended. With proper care, the Reflexa will add a spectacular touch to any interior for a long time.

Aechmea Chantinii

By now it must be obvious how much of a fan I am of Bromeliads. How can I not be when members of this spectacular group include plants such as the eye-catching Aechmea Chantinii? Don’t pass up this low maintenance, popular specimen that is perfectly suitable for the home if you ever find it available at local garden centers, which is – regrettably - hardly ever. With deep green leaves that are banded by silver, this epiphyte requires the same type of care as the Vriesea Splendens – Flaming Sword.

A location away from direct sunlight in a brightly lit spot is best but a little morning sun is also no problem. Average room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) to 24°C (75°F) are fine and humidity levels of 40 to 60 percent are best. For extra humidity add a humidifier near this Bromeliad or place it on a pebble tray. Use a porous soil that drains well, allow it to dry out considerably and then water thoroughly. You can also water this Bromeliad exclusively through its funnel of leaves and eliminate the soil entirely by growing it attached to driftwood. Keep the tank (cup) filled with water, flush it every 1 – 2 months and refill with fresh water. If you’re looking for a jazzy addition to your home, an Aechmea Chantinii is just the thing.

Strobilanthes Dyerianus - Persian Shield

This charming plant with its shiny, lance-shaped, marbled, dark green and metallic purple leaves commands attention and is best displayed on its own. Although it is an exceptional choice for indoors, it requires specific care to look its best. High humidity is essential; add a humidifier nearby or place the plant on a pebble tray. Average temperatures and a brightly-lit spot away from the direct rays of the summer sun will keep this plant thriving. Keep the soil evenly moist during the warm months, allow it to dry slightly between waterings and then water thoroughly. During the cooler months, water sparingly to avoid root rot.

While it’s true that the plant declines as it ages and looks best only in its juvenile stage (colours fade as it gets older), there’s no reason to treat it as a temporary room accent. This fast-growing specimen roots easily and new stock can be raised from cuttings, allowing you to enjoy its majestic presence in your home indefinitely. Prune often to promote a more compact appearance and avoid lankiness.

Ficus Elastica Tricolor – Variegated Rubber Plant

My home has never been without the cherished Ficus Elastica. Its durability and low-maintenance requirements - combined with its bold, rubbery leaves - make it irresistible as an indoor plant. Imagine my surprise – and delight – when the ‘Tricolor’ showed up at the garden center, which is beautifully-variegated and just as easy to care for.

Like its all-green cousin, the multicolored Rubber Plant can tolerate shade but requires bright light – even direct sun once it’s acclimatized to it - to maintain its impressive leaf coloration. Keep this lovely plant evenly moist during the active growing season, fairly dry during the resting period, in a loose, fast-draining medium, and away from cold areas and drafts. Average room temperatures are fine and humidity is not critical.

So there you have it folks – some great choices if you’re searching for plants with impressive foliage. Of course there are many, many more that belong in this article, but the above-mentioned are a few of my favourites. Houseplants with attractive, variegated foliage can be found all year round at your local garden center from plant groups such as Coleus, Dracaena, Cordyline, Croton, Peperomia, Dieffenbachia, Aglaonema and Rex Begonia, which are not only ornamental but also affordable and easy to maintain.


  1. WOW! Great post Martha! You certainly are a plant enthusiast and know what you like. These are beautiful specimens you have!
    We used to have a lot more house plants but have gotten it down to a couple of Begonias which I think you would like: one is black on the outside leaf and red/wine underneath. We've had it for years with many generations.
    The other is the Crown of Thorns from South Africa....guess it is wild there! Always flowers, I mean ALWAYS!!
    Just to name a couple.
    Good post.

  2. I sure am, Jim. Both indoors and out. I don't have all these plants anymore. When we moved here, I couldn't bring them all, but I'm picking up new ones as I go along. Begonias are beautiful plants. I enjoy growing them in the house and in my garden. And the Crown of Thorns is an absolute favourite of mine! When it's happy in its spot, it will flower non-stop, so you guys are definitely doing something right by it. I can't imagine my world without plants. How dull it would be.