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Roses are red — but this plant is a far more interesting valentine

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: February 13
  • Published February 13

Hoya kerrii (Photo by Mokkie via Creative Commons)

Here is the deal: You cannot write a garden column about broccoli or anything else when the day the column is in print is Valentine’s Day. I just checked the garden writer’s manual on this, and there is very little wiggle room here. Only hearts and red stuff can be covered, no exceptions allowed.

Well after 45 years of garden-column writing, I am sick and tired of following the manual, and I do not care about the market’s annual appropriation of red flowers for what is essentially a Hallmark card holiday. (Every day is Valentine’s in my book).

I love cyclamens. Oh and amaryllis, too. The red ones are now marketed for this holiday. I just can’t write about them this week. They are both part of the “too easy to fail” group of plants and in the original “just add water” group as well. Who needs another garden column on growing either of them? They just grow and flower.

Sure, perhaps a word or two about keeping them over makes sense, but after Valentine’s. Even then, there is nothing to see; keep moving. Grow them like any houseplants, only starting in September or October ignore therm and let them go dormant for 8 weeks or so in a cool, completely dark location.

Anyhow, I just don’t want to write about red flowering plants for Valentine’s Day.

Ah, what luck! This year I am rescued by something green instead of red, but heart shaped, so garden writer manual rule or not, it surely qualifies. Behold, Hoya kerri is a vining Hoya or wax plant, only this one has heart-shaped leaves. They are green, not red. You might find variegated varieties, white and green.

Actually, Hoya kerri are all the craze these days, because the plant industry knows a good thing when they have it. A heart-shaped plant! That is what you will see for sale: a small, 1- or 2-inch pot with a single leaf, pointed tip rooted in soil. Each looks like a 3-inch Valentine heart. They sell fast because they are, at this point, “new” and unique.

What is really cool is that with patience, at some point, these individual hearts “vine up.” producing more heart-shaped leaves off of a meandering and branching vine, just like any other Hoya plant.

Small potted Hoya kerrii (Photo by Tangopaso via Creative Commons)

Obviously, you can imagine how it will look later in its life if you know what a “regular” Hoya plant looks like. What you can’t tell is how long it will take for your single, rooted cutting to develop into a nice-looking, vining houseplant. It can happen quickly or take a couple of years. When it does, you can also expect those wonderful, waxy, star-shaped flowers to appear from shoots growing off of the vines.

Either way, your Hoya kerri will need plenty of good light. It is a Hoya plant, after all. A southern window is fine, but house plants really like supplemental light during the deep winter months. This is especially so if you want yours to vine and flower.

And, you will need soil that drains well. Hoya plants in general don’t like to have their roots sit in water. This means the plant’s container must drain too. As far as watering is concerned, it is easy as can be; you will only need to water your Hoya kerri once a month or so.

As you can see, there is very little care involved with these plants. They flower, too. So don’t let the fact that I am writing about these simply because Valentine’s Day falls on the day my weekly column is in print put you off. These are great plants for any day, not just one that celebrates all things heart.

Jeff’s Alaskan garden calendar

Valentine’s at the Garden: There may be a few tickets left. Alaska Botanical Garden will once again light up the whole garden, with Valentine-themed additions, plus hors d’oeuvres, drinks, cocoa, live music and desserts in the greenhouse. Plus a bonfire with s’mores, Friday at 6-8 pm. Ticket price is $35 non-member, $25 member, $12 child (includes a craft), free for children 6 and under. alaskabg.org

Community tree forum: 6-9 p.m. Feb. 21 at the BP center. Join in the discussion about what to do regarding the loss of spruce trees.

ABG Spring conference: tickets still left? Go to Alaska Botanical Garden at abg.org, and do it ASAP as this is a do-not-miss event.

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