Over the past year, my life has increasingly revolved around plants, specifically tropical houseplants, to the point where things now have gotten completely out of hand. I work in a greenhouse / garden center, as of Aug. 2007, and I have approximately 300 plants in my home right now, though that number varies.
I don't remember ever not having houseplants around: when I was something like 5 or 6 years old, my mom got a prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura kerchoviana), and I remember her pointing out the leaves raising and lowering every day. I think my own personal plant probably happened shortly thereafter: the first one I remember was a purple passion plant (Gynura aurantiaca). I have pretty much always had at least one plant around at any given time over the last 20 years, though the actual numbers varied wildly – I've tended to go through alternating phases of lots of plants and very few plants, depending on how things were going for me.
So I've had some kind of relationship with plants for essentially my whole life, and, conversely, my whole life at the moment is pretty much my relationship with my plants (and my husband1).
My main interest in writing this is to introduce (both in an anthropomorphizing and non-anthropomorphizing way) readers to the different plants in my life, and possibly to encourage people to take a second look at plants that they might have dismissed as too difficult, too common, too plain, or what have you. I sometimes get frustrated with the customers at work, who either always want 1) the brightly-colored flowering things that won't grow well inside, from which I have to dissuade them, or 2) the ordinary plants they could get anywhere because they're super-easy to care for. I only ever wind up talking about those two groups, which amount to about ten species total. This is my chance to rectify that, by spotlighting plants that are prettier than the easy plants and easier than the pretty plants.
I am hopeful that eventually, I will have a digital camera of good enough quality that I can include some photos of the actual, individual plants I'm talking about, but this hasn't happened yet and I'm not, frankly, sure when it might. So until you hear otherwise, pictures are from friends on Garden Web's House Plants forum, public domain sources, or my own personal drawings in crayon on lined tablet paper.
Care information will sneak in here and there, though it's not necessarily a goal. I am including a 0-to-10 "difficulty rating tag" for each species described, which takes nine things (unequally weighted) into account:
• appeal to pests
• tolerance for over- and underwatering2
• tolerance for variations in temperature
• need for very bright light
• ease of propagation
• amount and frequency of fertilizer
• amount of grooming, pruning, etc. needed
• need for high humidity
Your results will vary, of course, depending on the normal temperature in your home, the amount of water you tend to give when you water (some people soak, some people dribble), how much you like to water / prune / etc., and so forth, but even so, you should find that in general, plants with high numbers are going to be less worth bringing home than those with low numbers. Things break down roughly thus:
• [-0.3 Hypothetical score for an artificial plant.]
• 0 to 1.5 Anybody should be able to handle this, though beginning growers might need to practice a couple times before it works.
• 1.6 to 3.1 Easy plants that might occasionally be tricky or time-consuming because of one or two specific requirements.
• 3.2 to 4.2 Intermediate difficulty, less forgiving plants requiring some expertise, special attention, or luck.
• 4.3 to 6.3 Not impossible, but difficult even for some experienced growers.
• 6.4 to 10 Advanced students only.
• [12.4 maximum possible score]
There is color-coding as well, with the low numbers being green, and ranging through chartreuse, yellow, and orange before turning red at the hardest levels.
Comments are welcome, except as noted in the footnotes.
1(Not a typo: I am gay. Persons who have hangups about this are encouraged to look elsewhere for plant information, as it's really, really unlikely to change, and there's no benefit in upsetting everybody. Abusive comments will be deleted on sight.)
2(Over- and underwatering is as compared to the ideal watering situation for the specific plant in question, not as compared to all plants. So overwatering is kind of the equivalent of "susceptibility to rot," and underwatering is roughly equivalent to "susceptibility to neglect.")