If you are looking for easy but exciting houseplants, here are a few superquirky alternatives
There is no reason why the onset of autumn needs to stop you getting your horticultural fix thanks to the wonders of houseplants. But if you’re looking for resilient, easycare species just a bit more exciting than the boring old aspidistra or sansevieria, here are a few superquirky alternatives.
Ant plants are a group of bizarre species from southeast Asia that have adapted to grow on the branches of trees, baked by sun and lashed by monsoon winds. Beneath a neat crown of emerald leaves lies a massively swollen, bulb-like stem, covered in spikes in many species, like something straight out of The
Flintstones . They get their name as in the wild their curious swollen stem, full of a honeycomb of winding passages and air pockets, provides a home for tropical fire ants.
It’s a miraculous evolutionary strategy to help enlist an army of insect defenders to ward off pests – but don’t worry, UK ants won’t be tempted to set up home in them. All the plants need is a bright windowsill protected from freezing draughts and to dry out a little between waterings. Treat them like a cactus or succulent.
Hydnophytum ‘Treasure’ and Myrmecodia ‘Adventure’ are varieties which perform well in indoor conditions in temperate climes.
On the subject of succulents, Mother of Thousands, aka Kalanchoe
daigremontiana, is real show-stopper. This prehistoric-looking plant from the deserts of Madagascar produces fleshy, grey-green, triangle-shaped leaves, splashed with tiger-like striations. A real beaut. But what makes it so fascinating to me are the rows of tiny baby plants that are produced by the hundreds, quite literally, along the edges of its leaves. These have evolved to fall off eventually, acting like self-sowing cuttings – meaning you will always have plenty to give away to your mates. The variety ‘Pink Butterflies’ produces little bright pink babies like lace around its silvery leaves and even rosy flowers in winter, just when you need them most.
If your home isn’t all that sunny, the miracle of nature that is
Biophytum sensitivum is a must have. Like a bonsai coconut palm just 10-15cm high, its canopy of ferny leaves held up on little pencil-thick trunks will close each night and even when touched, much like the sensitive, spectacular Mimosa pudica . They prefer filtered light and moist, yet well-drained conditions, similar to ferns. In tropical greenhouses these cute mini “palms” are so easy to grow they often become weeds, selfseeding everywhere. I grow mine in a dish filled with moss and gravel to make a tabletop “palm island”.
I sourced all of these through the cool, houseplant-focused N1 Garden Centre in London, but you can also buy them online.
Off the wall: (from top) Hydnophytum ‘Treasure’; Mimosa pudica; and Kalanchoe daigremontiana