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Foliage Plants Other Than Palms

( Originally Published 1923 )

In addition to the palms there are many foliage plants that may be successfully grown in the house. The hardiest of all these is the aspidistra (J. lurida). Its tenacity of life is something wonderful. It does not seem to mind the dust and dry air, or the spasmodic watering and insufficient light which seem to be the common lot of most house plants. It has been wintered out-doors at Philadelphia by giving it a heavy mulch of forest leaves. If given a fairly rich soil and plenty of moisture, the aspidistra will make a fairly rapid growth, but it never gets very tall; it broadens out. The simplest way to get new plants is by dividing the old one in the early spring (February), before any growth takes place so that the young leaves will not be injured, or in August.

The aspidistra has no stem, the leaves coming directly from the rootstock or rhizome. The leaves are from fifteen inches to two feet long. The leaf stem is about one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch in diameter and wiry, and about one-quarter the length of the whole leaf. The blade is from three to five inches wide and very dark green in colour. There is a variegated form of this having white stripes in the leaves. These are, however, almost lost if the plant makes a rapid growth, and in no two leaves on the same plant are they exactly the same.

An almost equally tough plant is the New Zealand hemp (Sanseviera Zelanica). Like the aspidistra, the leaves come directly from the rhizome, the plant having no stem. All the leaves stand up straight like so many sticks, are from one to three feet tall and concave. It is attractive only' for its colour which is light green with many transverse markings of a grayish white. There are two others, Sanseviera Guineensi and cylindrica, in cultivation, but are only infrequently met. In the former, the leaves are flat, dark green, with lighter transverse markings. The leaves of cylindrica, as the name indicates, are round.


Another plant of a totally different character, but still seemingly indifferent to the dust and gas of the living room is the sago palm (Cycas revoluta). It is a very slow grower, so if one buys a small plant he can depend upon it that it will be some years before it becomes too large for house culture.

The cycas has a short stem which is crowned with a whorl of leaves. Only one whorl is produced in a year, but with care the old leaves may be made to persist for two or three years. The foliage is dark green; the individual leaf is long and flat, being composed of a long central stem to which the pinna are attached in two rows. When the new leaves come out they unroll just like the fiddle-head fern fronds, and are upright, but as they grow older, they gradually drop, until the following year, when it is time for the new set of leaves to come out, they are horizontal or slightly drooping.

The cycas is of easy culture, and succeeds well in the varying temperature of a living room and almost any well-drained soil. If you want the fun of starting one yourself, buy a dormant stem from the florist. These cost about fifteen cents a pound and may be had in varying sizes, weighing anywhere from two to fifty pounds. When the stems arrive, plant them in as small a pot as possible and keep them in a warm, humid atmosphere until the plants start to grow; after that, a cooler, drier atmosphere will do.


One of the most popular of all the plants for house culture is the rubber plant (Ficus elastica). It is usually grown as a single stem plant and in this shape is very pretty indeed for formal effects, but equally decorative specimens can be had by growing compact, branching plants. The leaves are anywhere from three to twelve inches long, about one-third as wide as they are long, and oblong to elliptical in shape with a small, abrupt point. The upper side of the leaf is very glossy and dark green, but the under side is dull and light green.

Compared with the palms, the rubber plant is a fast growing subject, but a plant grown to a single stem will not become too tall for the living room for a couple or three years. A rubber plant six to eight feet tall always has a "leggy" look, for, as a rule, the bottom leaves drop off. When a rubber plant gets too tall for the house, don't cut off the top and throw it away, but root it, making a new plant as has been described on page 67.

If you have a greenhouse or a propagating box in which bottom heat and a humid atmosphere can be maintained, the stem can be cut up into short pieces one leaf to a piece. The cuttings can then be put directly into the propagating box or the cuttings tied to small sticks so as to maintain the leaf in an upright position, and the whole planted in sand in two, or two and one-half inch pots and then plunged in a cutting bench. In order to make the cuttings root, a steady heat and humidity in the atmosphere must be maintained.

The rubber plant is a gross feeder so there is no danger of getting the soil too rich. Use an ordinary potting soil such as has already been described in the chapter on soils, and when the pot has become filled with roots, manure water, or other plant food in liquid form may be given once or twice a week.

During the summer the rubber plant will receive much benefit from being put out-doors, but if the plant has grown much in the house, do not put it where it will get the full sunshine for the leaves will be burned. Place them where they will get the early morning and late afternoon sun, but be shaded during the middle of the day.

With recent years, there has been introduced into general cultivation another rubber tree, Ficus pandurata, which is as hardy as the one already described. It differs from elastica in the shape of its leaves which are fiddle-shaped and much broader, being lined also with creamy-white veins.


There is only one member of the pine family which can safely be recommended for house cultivation. This is the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria excelsa), a plant familiar to all. The foliage is a bright grass-green and the branches are produced in regular whorls of five at short but regular intervals, making a very pretty and symmetrical plant. It is one of the most popular house plants and is the best formal plant for house decoration. The Norfolk Island pine will stand a great deal of neglect, so long as it is in a cool place and the soil about its roots kept moist.

One of the easiest grown foliage plants is the canna; of course it will flower, but, primarily, when grown in the window garden it is a foliage plant. The best one to grow is Black Beauty. Outdoors, this canna grows five to six feet high but in pot culture, it will reach only two or three feet in height. The leaves are rich, glistening, bronzy purple, shaded black and the margins of the leaves are crimped or wavy. The flowers are small and not to be considered in house culture. The bulbs can be bought from the seedsmen, but an easier way is to dig up the bulbs which have flowered in the garden during the summer, dry them off and then pot them up in six or seven inch pots and start them growing. The plant will make a good show all winter and may be put outdoors in the flower bed again in the summer.


The most popular variegated plant for house culture is the variegated screw pine (Pandanus Veitchii). The leaves grow two to three feet long, one and one-half to two inches broad, are light shiny green with broad pure white stripes and arch gracefully. Both the edges and the midrib of the leaf are thick, and set with spines. When small, it is very useful in fern dishes as a centre-piece; small ferns and selaginellas being used about the base. To be successful with this in the house, one must get plants which have been hardened off. Soft, sappy specimens are very apt to rot. Give the screw pine a rich but well-drained soil and plenty of water, but do not over water. As the roots are rather large and fleshy, the soil must not be packed around them too tightly or their growth will be retarded.

As the plant suckers freely, new ones can easily be made by removing the suckers and treating them as cuttings. There is another variegated pandanus of more recent introduction, P. Sanderi, in which the stripes instead of white are yellow, and during the winter months the new growth in the centre of the plant is a deep golden hue.

Not as pretty but just as hardy is the ordinary screw pine (Pandanus wills). This is a stronger grower than Veitchii; I have seen specimens twenty feet high in green-houses. The leaves are produced in a spiral, from which it gets its name "screw" pine, are light green in colour and the edges and mid-rib set with spines as in Veitchii. If you cannot get Veitchii, get this one and it does not cost as much either because it is much easier to propagate as it is easily grown from seeds.

One curious thing about the pandanuses is the stilted effect they give. This is particularly true of utilis. When the plant begins to attain any size it prOduces from the stems near the ground large thick roots which immediately penetrate the soil. So many of these are made that the plants look as if they were standing on stilts. All the pandanuses are more or less subject to "spot," which is caused by small insects burrowing under the epidermis of the leaf. There seems to be no remedy for this, so if your plant becomes badly infested, throw it away. If there are only one or two spots, cut off the infected leaves and burn them; keep the plant dry do not syringe the leaves and water the soil sparingly. Over watering seems to induce an attack of this insect.


It seems to be the delight of a great many people to grow an orange or a lemon tree. They save the seeds from fruit used about the house and plant usually they stick them in a pot with another plant a bad habit. The seeds grow and after a year or two, a nice little tree has been produced and if the plant is grown long enough, it will produce some fruit, usually sour. I have been asked a great many times how those plants can be made to bear sweet oranges or good lemons. The plants should have been budded with a good variety when about the size of a lead pencil. -This requires a delicate operation and the very bother-some detail of sending to some California or Florida dealer for a bud-stick of a good variety.

A much better plan is to buy an Otaheite orange from the florist. The fruit is small and of no value for food, but the plants are dwarf they grow only fifteen to eighteen inches high and a well-grown specimen is usually covered with reddish orange coloured fruit. The flowers are pinkish in colour. Even if the plant has no fruit, the deep green of its foliage is always attrac tive. These little orange plants seem to stand the wear and tear of house culture most satisfactorily.

If a lemon is more to your taste, get the American Wonder or Ponderosa lemon. That is the one which most of the florists are handling nowadays. It is a rapid grower and bears large, white flowers which some-times are as big as a tuberose, and they are as fragrant as orange blossoms.

Although I have never eaten it, the fruit, which is large, sometimes weighing one and one-half to two pounds is said to be good for domestic use. The plant itself without fruit or flower is worthy of a place in the window garden on account of its deep green foliage and fairly symmetrical habit.


The best small decorative plant for the window garden is the rex begonia. The plants seldom grow more than six inches high; the leaves come directly from the rhizome and are obliquely heart-shaped and all face one way. They are six to eight inches long and of a rich metallic green with a silver band. The original species has been crossed with other species, so that now one can get a variety of shades of green and many different markings. If the window garden is large enough, space should be given to three or four different varieties as they will be a source of much pleasure. Their culture is easy; they delight in a rich soil to which a large portion of leafmould has been added.

I believe that the best specimens of the leopard plant or farfugium (Senecio Koempferi, var. aureo maculatus) I have ever seen have been in window gardens. There is something about them which is always attractive to me. The leopard plant has large leaves six to ten inches across of thick, leathery texture, dark green in colour, and blotched with yellow or sometimes with white or pink. The leaves come directly from rhizomes, the leaf stems being from six inches to a foot long.


For edging a window box or to grow in hanging pots or in vases the best plant I know of is the periwinkle (Vinca minor), which makes a slender growth one to two feet long. There is a variegated form of this, the leaves being marked with yellow. A much smaller plant which may be used for the same purpose is Scirpus cernuus, but universally known among florists as Isolepis gracilis. It has very pretty drooping, grass-like foliage.

Other plants suitable for this purpose are: Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis); Wandering Jew (Zebrina pendula); Snake's beard (Ophiopogon Faburan); Variegated panicum (Oplismenus Burmannii).

There are two vines which succeed admirably in the house. They are the German ivy (Senecio scandens) and the English ivy (Hedera Helix). These may be trained around and over the window and I have seen a whole bay window festooned with them, strings being fastened for them to grow on.

Other foliage plants well worth trying in the house are: Fragrant dragon tree, (Dracoena fragrans;) Spotted dragon (Dracena Godseffiana); Dracena (Cordyline australis, but known in the trade as Dracena indivisa); Curmeria (Homalomena Wallisii); Umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius); Japanese Daphne (Daphne odora); Camellia (C. japonica); Bay tree (Laurus nobilis).


The arcca is easily recognized by its yellowish stems and suckering habit It is not by any means the best house palm, but it is easily grown in a greenhouse and is the commonest offered for sale.


One of the stronget and toughest of evergreen house plants, having leaves over two feet long. It grows well under ordinary house conditions.

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