Thursday, January 7, 2010

Plant Identification

It's Indoor Gardening season.  Just like outdoor gardening but without the weather issues.  Or the outdoors.  Indoor Gardening has it's own set of challenges and rewards.  At this time of year when all the world is white (or gray) it's nice to have plenty of green.

One of the biggest challenges for the Indoor Gardener is Plant Identification.  Just like Outside you need to be able to identify a plant to determine the right conditions - should you let the soil dry out between waterings or keep in moist?  How much light does it need; is an East facing window good or does it really need a Southern Exposure?  (On the plus side a plant in a pot can easily be moved if the conditions are not right.)

Indoor Plants seem to be sold without labels more often than Outdoor Plants.  I'm not sure why.  And when they do have tags?  The names seem to be made up by some advertiser somewhere - Lavender Lace is not a Lavender and it's not lacy.  Fern does not help much (I can SEE it's a fern, give me something that I can Google!).  Blooming Plant?  Why did you bother with a tag?

Lavender Lace

So what is a Gardener to do?  I often resort to guessing.  No, not what the name is but what the conditions need to be!  If I don't know the name I call it George.  Since none of my plants come when called this doesn't cause too much confusion.

Mystery Plant, George the First

This mystery plant has dark leaves.  That's a good clue - dark leaves usually mean they can handle low light.  All of my dark leaved plants are in first floor, East facing windows (which are further shaded by trees at the edge of my property, the second floor is not as shaded by the trees, they have short trees up here).  Plants with variegation seem to prefer lots of light so they get West facing windows.  I wish the opposite were true, I could use the light colors of variegated foliage in the darker windows.

What about watering needs?  The dark leaved George The First plant wilts if the soil dries out but is very forgiving and springs right back.  That's a good clue.  Thicker leaved plants tend to like the soil to dry out but are less forgiving of wilting.  Thin leaves have less more surface area to volume (ie they're thin) so they will dry out faster so those plants need more moisture in the soil.

Mystery Plant, George the Second
Sold as "Lavender Lace"

This mystery plant (sold as Lavender Lace, see flower image above) has very thin leaves.  When backlit I can clearly see all the veining.  It, too wits readily when the soil gets too dry.  I bought this very recently in a four inch pot.  It's grown so much it jumped a size and is now in an eight inch pot.  I wish I knew what it was and how big it would get.  Right now I'm just happy it keeps blooming.

Mystery Plant, George the Third

This mystery plant has relatively thick leaves.  I got this one as a cutting from an acquaintance who's plant I admired.  About all I know about it is that it will bloom (sometime), it's a vine and it likes to be pot bound.  The relatively thick, darkish leaves suggest lower light and less frequent watering.  It's been doing great so far.

Plant Formerly Known as George the Fourth

How's this for a mystery plant?  I bought this at a Big Box retailer, unlabeled.  I decided it was so cool looking I had to have one.  I was lucky that when I looked at the plant suppliers' web site (Big Box retail plants around here all seem to come from the Exotic Angel company) it was pictured on the first page I tried.  This plant is (drum roll please) Rhipsalis capilliformis.  With that information I was able to find out a lot about this plant and it is doing quite well.  

I often take chances on unlabeled (or poorly labeled) Indoor Plants.  It's easy when they are so cheap ($4.00?  I can afford to risk that on a plant I know nothing about).  And most plants are forgiving - they wilt and you water then, sun burned leaves?  Move to a shadier space.  Not growing well?  Move to a sunnier location.  Much easier to do with Indoor Plants than with Outdoor Plants.  Besides it gives me a chance to garden year-round here in the Arctic Hinterlands known as New England.

1 comment:

  1. Okay. George I is definitely (99.5% certain) Hemigraphis exotica, purple waffle plant.

    George "Lavender Lace" II I can only guess blindly at: Browallia? Ruellia? Nicotiana? I have zero confidence in any of those guesses. It feels like I know this one and just can't think of the name, but it also feels very much like it's normally an outdoor plant, not something people usually grow inside, which means that I may never actually be able to come up with an ID. My brain was all but screaming Ruellia at me, but the pictures I came up with via Google image search don't look right at all. So I don't know. Sorry. The only "lavender lace" that came up from Google was a Cuphea and was pretty definitely not your plant. I'll keep thinking about it.

    George III is definitely, 100% certain, a Hoya, but it's fairly difficult to ID Hoyas from leaves. The odds say H. carnosa, the somewhat longer and larger leaves say possibly H. pubicalyx. Care is basically the same either way, as far as I know.