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These new exotic plants are worth your indoor growing efforts this winter

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: October 29, 2020
  • Published October 29, 2020

(Getty Images)

Alaskans spend so much time outdoors during the summer months, we often fail to hear about all the news and trends in the gardening world. I guess that is one reason I write this column and you read it. It is my job to get the right horticultural news to you. Believe me, after so many years of writing this weekly column, I am always on the lookout.

One curious blip on my radar right now: there are more and more articles about the increased popularity of unusual and rare houseplants. Now, mind you, I am not so sure this is a real trend. It could just be The Media looking for something new to cover, as the hurricane season comes to an end and the pandemic drags. Or, perhaps it is just columnists like me flailing about for a topic that will get clicks.

Take last month’s Wall Street Journal article about how investing in rare plants is surpassing stock market plays. It reported that two Monstera adansonii cuttings sold for thousands of dollars … cuttings, not even rooted plants. This is a variety of the popular “Swiss cheese plant” you probably have neglected someplace in your house or office. It has white leaf patches which balance the green on the leaves.

I am going on record as noting that that particular WSJ article was a plant for entertainment purposes (sorry). Who would, or could, spend $3,500 on a cutting? That is not to say there aren’t some interesting new plants on the market, along with some old ones have been greatly improved.

Take, for example, an African semi-succulent “ZZ” plants, Zamioculcas zamiifolia. These have been in the sold commercially since 1996 and yet I have never written about them except obliquely; they are one of the plants successfully used in NASA air purification experiments.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia, also known as a ’ZZ ’ plant. (Photo by WeFt via Creative Commons)

ZZ plants normally have beautiful, deep green, waxy leaves that do not need much light to make the plant thrive. They also produce underground rhizomes, which store water. This means they are able to survive without care for a long time. In fact, ZZ plants tolerate neglect. I think what makes them “writeable” now is that a completely black-leaved variety, “black raven,” has been introduced and become a high-demand plant.

Next, check out mangaves, a cross between agave plants — some of which are the source of tequila — and a subspecies, manfreda. These are written about like they are red-hot right now. They are really beautiful houseplants, and there are so many choices to use in breeding. You can build up quite a nice collection of different-looking houseplants, just sticking with mangaves. The advantage to this is that all receive the same care, making it easy on you. Take a look at Walters Garden site for some different kinds.

Aloe polyphylla (Photo by Samuel Wantman via Creative Commons)

Next, there are lots of aloes and they make great collectables. I am looking for Aloe polyphylla, or “spiral aloe.” Like the fool I am, I didn’t buy one last time I saw them for sale at the supermarket. There are lots of other aloes, too, that would make worthy additions to any houseplant collection, so do look at those little guys in the box stores and in the floral section.

Finally, you can bet carnivorous plants will be hot, too. Venus' flytraps, pitcher plants, sundews, even butterwort are going to be written about more times than Lowenfels writes about getting a light setup to take your plants through the nine months of winter. I will spare you the Alaska-specific growing details here. If you are interested, check out an easier column via the wonders of the internet.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Lots of virtual classes and lectures and lots of other stuff. Please join to support this effort (alaskabg.org)

Flies on windows?: I always thought this was one of my best columns. I learned something.

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