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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label holiday plants. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label holiday plants. Show all posts

      Monday, December 29, 2008


      A few amaryllis bulbs transform my living room into a plant conservatory for at least six weeks in winter. I buy and plant them in mid-November, leaving their shoulders and necks exposed. When they hit daylight and drink some water the flower buds shoot up.
      It’s not too late to get amaryllis started in January. Those you buy now have gone through a dormancy period at the bulb company and are ready to spring into flower.
      Since flower stalks usually appear before foliage, I sometimes display amaryllis with houseplants and other winter experiments. Here from left , pineapple top rooting in a dish, hyacinth bulbs forcing in water, my aged
      succulent carrion flower
      (Stapelia gigantea)
      in bud, and a cutting
      from Ming Aralia rooting
      in a vase.

      The Stapelia bud soon
      blooms like a giant
      starfish, and
      compliments the
      amaryllis flower.

      For the coffee table,
      I stake the bare
      amaryllis stems
      with a few branches
      trimmed from my
      rooftop bayberry bush .
      The branches help
      support the green
      stems, smell delicious,
      and add visual interest.
      Or I place an amaryllis
      next to a few paper-
      whites that have foliage
      to spare.

      If I’m fed up with an ungainly amaryllis that shoots too tall, I whack off the stem and treat it as a short cut flower. In water it will last at least two weeks.

      When I lived in my
      1850’s farmhouse,
      the kitchen had a
      walk-in fireplace
      with no damper
      on the flue. Cool
      air poured down
      in fall and winter.
      Original pine folding
      doors cut off the draft
      from the rest of the
      house. It was the per-
      fect place to give
      amaryllis bulbs the
      cool, dark, and dry
      they need to go
      dormant before they
      could re-bloom.In my
      NYC condo it’s always
      hot, with storage
      space more precious
      than diamonds. In a
      gesture of extrava-
      gance I consign bulbs
      to the compost bin
      after they finish
      showing off each
      winter. So sue me!

      Thursday, December 11, 2008

      Just say no!

      If you're a poinsettia lover, I'll give you a second or two to navigate away from this page, because I'm going on a rant. An anti-poinsettia rant.

      The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) was attractive before people got their hands on it. It's native to Mexico where it can grow up to 10 feet tall. Its flowers are orangey-red and it's not a bad looking shrub. Alas, that's not the plant you're going to find at your local florist this holiday season.

      Today's poinsettia is a fussy, bloated, short-lived plant, prone to whitefly and bract drop, highly unlikely to bloom again in your home. Yet it accounts for 85% of holiday potted plant sales in the U.S. Why? Because someone is a marketing genius. Pushed as the perfect living holiday decoration/ hostess present, you can pick one up in any corner deli, on your way to the party.

      But take a minute to think. This is a plant that is almost certainly never going to bloom again. Unless you can give it COMPLETE darkness from 5 pm to 8 am starting on about October 1st. And I mean COMPLETE. Walking into the dark room and turning on the light to look for something in the closet, even if it's only for a minute, can ruin the whole thing. Nighttime temps above 70 degrees can also impede flowering.

      If you want to give a plant as a holiday gift there are several alternatives that allow you to maintain the traditional color scheme. All of them re-flower reliably indoors and will live for years without forcing you (or your hostess) to tiptoe around in a dark house.

      Coralberry (Ardisia crenata) is a wonderful plant that produces a long-lasting crop of red berries. (Seriously, these berries can last an entire year.) It flourishes in an east or west facing window and its leaves are a glossy dark green with crenellated margins. It develops a woody stem over time and will probably get to be about 3-4 feet tall as a potted specimen.

      Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) is a relative of the
      poinsettia but much less temperamental. It blooms year-round in an eastern or western window and has no special temperature requirements. Yes, it has a few thorns. Don't poke them and they won't poke you.

      Scarlet plume (Euphorbia fulgens) is another poinsettia relative, easy to grow in southern, eastern, or western light, and not fussy about temperature.

      If you're determined to fuss a little, try a holiday cactii (Schlumbergia and Zygocactus species). You can either give them a cool treatment (keeping them at about 50-55 degrees) OR keep them dark (from 8 pm-8am) from mid-October until you notice buds forming. Unlike with the poinsettia, a stray beam of light here and there isn't going to ruin your chances of bloom.

      These plants can bring you joy for years (not weeks!). All of them are less prone to insect predation than the poinsettia, and at least two (crown of thorns and holiday cactus) are easy to find, in neighborhood florists and big box stores. So just say no to the ubiquitous poinsettia and choose a holiday plant that is truly a worthy gift.

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