Indoor plants: no easy guest

The Covid-19 lockdowns have sparked an appreciation for the environment we live in and spurred an interest in houseplants, but it’s not as easy as you might think, reports Simon Henderson.

Exotic and shapely, fantastical and alluring, houseplants are an alluring yet frustrating joy to many.

While their fronds can excite and their blooms delight, the challenges of keeping them lush and pert can overwhelm even the most dedicated gardener.

Tuhura Otago Museum gardener Danielle Lomas said that despite the challenges, the benefits were worth it.

Caring for houseplants was “really, really difficult.”

“My message is always that if you’re unlucky with houseplants, don’t feel too bad about it…it doesn’t mean you’re failing as a gardener.”

Many popular houseplants are native to very different climates such as the hot and humid tropical rainforests of South America.

“And then we bring them to Dunedin, put them in houses and keep them in a jar.”

A visit to the museum’s tropical butterfly garden was a great opportunity to understand how different the environment was for plants when they grew wild.

An example was the fruit salad factory, Monstera deliciosaa popular houseplant that is common throughout Central America.

In its natural habitat, it would dash across the forest floor until it found a tree, then “throw” itself up a tree trunk to find sunlight, often reaching well over 10 m high.

“So that will be his typical behavior, but obviously we have a hard time recreating something like that.”

Another example was the moth orchid, Phalaenopsis. “They are a rainforest plant.”

In nature, the moth orchid could take root on the branches of other trees or even on rock faces.

“They actually don’t need soil to grow.”

“It’s really easy to over-care or over-water certain plants like those that are used to perching on top of branches.”

As for houseplants, her advice was to try different species to find one that would thrive in the conditions of your home. “Sometimes it’s just a bit of trial and error.”

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