Sunday, December 2, 2012

List: Missing From Retail, Part 2 of 5

The explanation and background for this post can be found here, at part 1. (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)

What other never-available plants do houseplant books try to get me excited about?

Camellia 'Sekidotaroan.' Photo by KENPEI, from Wikimedia Commons.

I know Camellia cvv. (camellia) are still out there, because I see them pretty regularly on the blogs of outdoor gardeners from the southern U.S. Less clear is whether they're growable indoors. The books say yes, but I've never seen them sold as such, and they're popular enough outdoor plants that I'd think there'd be an indoor market for them if it was at all possible.

Why would the books tease us like this? As commenters suggested in Part 1, it probably has to do with changes in new home construction: less drafty, no unheated sunporches, that sort of thing. There could be other, Camellia-specific things going on as well, but I'd bet that warmer, more energy-efficient homes explain a lot.

Caryota mitis. (My picture.)

There are several things about Caryota mitis (fishtail palm) that don't work so great indoors. They can get to be enormous,1 they tend to be buggy (my first attempt ended abruptly due to scale; they're also appealing to spider mites), they're expensive when you do see one for sale,2 and they need a lot of water.

However, I don't think any of those things are the reason why I don't see them for sale that often: I think the reason is that people don't like the ragged tips on the leaflets. I mean, that is how Caryotas are naturally supposed to be, but I bet people assume something is wrong with the plant and move on.

Cissus antarctica. Photo by Dinkum, released to public domain. Found via Wikimedia Commons.

I've never seen Cissus antarctica (kangaroo vine) in person, either for sale or in someone's home. Wikipedia provides a clue as to why: "It doesn't do well above 15°C, especially when exposed to central heating, which can cause the leaves to drop." It's not too hard to draw a line from warmer homes, to people having a tougher time growing them, to people buying fewer of them, to growers producing fewer of them, as with Camellia.

It's also probably relevant that C. antarctica isn't a particularly flashy plant. No variegation, no brightly-colored flowers, no fruit, not even a particularly interesting leaf shape (though I like it personally) or manageable growth habit.

Cobaea scandens. Photo by Michael Wolf, obtained via Wikimedia Commons.

Cobaea scandens (cup and saucer vine, cathedral bells) actually does have flashy flowers, and it's even weedy in New Zealand (according to Wikipedia), both things that ought to make it suitable for indoor cultivation. Also it is deliberately cultivated as an outdoor plant, so seeds are available. I mean, it's not like it's some super-rare thing that's only found in a seed bank in a single botanical garden somewhere. And yet, I'd never heard of until I bought the Kramer book a few weeks ago. Some of this, I'm sure, is just my natural adorable obliviousness asserting itself, but even so, it seems like a plant this unusual should be inescapable if it can be grown indoors at all.

A few of the comments at refer specifically to growing Cobaea as a houseplant. Some of the other comments mention it getting 20 feet (6.1 m) long outdoors, and being inclined to pull down large objects, so maybe that's the explanation? Another complaint is that there's a lot of foliage for not very many flowers, and that the flowers don't actually smell that great. All of which I will accept as an explanation until I find a better one.

Costus barbatus. My own photo (though not my own plant!).

I've never seen a Costus spp. (spiral ginger) for sale, though I always thought they looked interesting in pictures. Having seen some in person (at the Quad Cities Botanical Center), I'm less interested: I'd never realized how big they could get.3

I assume the size is the main problem, though finding out that they're related to gingers doesn't make me want a Costus much either.4 If they get burnt leaf tips even inside the humid, warm dome of the QCBC, there must be something touchy about them.

Cyperus alternifolius. Photo is mine; it was also taken at the QCBC.

I have no actual memories of seeing Cyperus alternifolius (umbrella plant, umbrella palm, umbrella papyrus, umbrella grass, umbrella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh) for sale anywhere, but at the same time, I'm pretty sure I've personally seen someone growing one indoors (about 15 years ago, granted), so they must be available somewhere. My impression is that they need a ton of water and are really prone to spider mites; if anyone can confirm or refute that, I encourage you to do so.

Eriobotrya japonica. Picture is my own.

Eriobotrya japonica (loquat) leaves have a pleasant fuzzy texture, the plants grow slowly enough that they're not going to outgrow your windowsill immediately, and they're about average difficuly indoors. (I've had one for a couple years, due to the generosity of a PATSP reader, and aside from a brief and easily-corrected spell of spider mites, it's been fine.) So why are they not in stores? Couldn't tell you.

In theory, it's possible to get your own for free or mostly free, by buying a loquat and planting the seeds, so maybe there's no demand. (I don't actually see loquats for sale that often, but I don't spend a lot of time searching for them either. I'm sure I could find one if it were really important that I do so.) Or maybe they have some horrible characteristic that I haven't run into yet with my own plant.

Eucomis comosa. Photo: H. Zell, via Wikimedia Commons.

Eucomis cvv. (pineapple lily) is certainly visually striking, and I know they're sold in containers somewhere, for indoor cultivation, because I've seen people asking about them on the UBC indoor plant forum. I suspect they probably need more light than I could provide, but that wouldn't apply to everybody around here, so there must be some other reason.

Fatsia japonica. My own photo.

Fatsia japonica (Japanese aralia) isn't entirely unknown in Iowa -- the ex-job had them once before I started working there, and I've seen them at least a couple different times at Wallace's, in the Quad Cities. (The photo above was taken in Wallace's.) And I could be forgetting some occasions. But they're a lot rarer than the books would make you think. My own experience with them has been uniformly pretty negative: the one I had in 2009 lasted about six weeks before I found mealybugs on it and threw it away, and when I've looked at them since, I've generally found spider mites. Like with Camellia, Cissus antarctica, etc., I'm wondering if forced-air heating isn't in the process of driving them out of the houseplant trade.

Geogenanthus poeppigii. Photo by Cliff, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Magnus Manske.

I am completely unable to explain why I've never seen Geogenanthus poeppigii (seersucker plant, formerly G. undatus). Not even in a botanical garden. They were once widespread enough that all the books mentioned them, and they look neat enough that they would surely sell if offered. Hell, Geogenanthus is even in the Commelinaceae,5 so there's reason to think they could be produced in commercial quantities without a lot of effort. Also the sunporch theory wouldn't seem to apply; it's my understanding that Geogenanthus likes it warm.

Most sources that talk about G. poeppigii mention that it needs high humidity, so it's possible that it just doesn't do well enough for long enough in a store to be worth bringing in. But stores regularly carry any number of other plants that need high humidity and go downhill quickly without it: Calatheas, Selaginella, rex begonias, etc. Why is Geogenanthus special?

Again, this topic doesn't really lend itself to recommendations, though I can say Eriobotrya is fine indoors. The one I'd most like to try is Geogenanthus, even though I doubt it would do well for me.

Not pictured:

  • Bougainvillea cvv. (bougainvillea): uncommon, but I see them occasionally in the independent garden centers.
  • Bromelia spp./cvv. (bromeliad; no common name): never seen.
  • Callistemon citrinus (syn. C. lanceolatus; crimson bottlebrush): I may have seen them occasionally as faux-bonsai; I'm not sure.6 Never a full-size plant.
  • Campanula isophylla (Italian bellflower, star of Bethlehem): have never seen.
  • Carissa macrocarpa (natal plum): have never seen.
  • Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle): routinely sold as an outdoor annual here, but I don't know anybody who's tried to keep one going indoors, nor would I ever attempt to do so myself, after seeing how much spider mites like them.
  • Catopsis spp./cvv. (bromeliad; no common name): never seen.
  • Chamaerops humilis / Livistonia spp. (European fan palm, Mediterranean fan palm; Chinese fan palm): rarely seen.
  • Chirita / Primulina (chirita, primulina): have never seen. My personal plant died of unknown causes.
  • Clerodendrum ugandense (blue butterfly bush, blue glory bower): once or twice at the ex-job.
  • Crinodonna corsii (crinodonna, hybrid naked lady): have never seen?
  • Crinum spp./cvv. (crinum lily): never seen, though I do know more than one person who's tried growing them indoors.
  • Daphne odora (winter daphne): never seen.
  • Dyckia spp./cvv. (dyckia): never seen in retail in Iowa. My first died more or less immediately; a second one is luckier so far.
  • Eranthemum nervosum (blue sage): never seen, though I'm not sure I'd recognize it if I did.
  • Euonymous spp./cvv. (spindle, spindle tree, euonymous): probably as an outdoor plant, but I don't shop for outdoor plants so I wouldn't know. I've never seen one sold as a houseplant, despite the books' collective insistence that this happens all the time.
  • Faucaria spp. (tiger jaws): seen very occasionally.
  • Ficus deltoidea (mistletoe fig, syn. F. diversifolia): rarely, if ever.7
  • Freesia cvv. (freesia): very rarely, and so far only at the ex-job.
  • Fuchsia cvv. (fuchsia): seasonally as an outdoor annual; I've never seen them sold as houseplants.
  • Gelsemium sempervirens (Carolina jessamine, evening trumpetflower, woodbine): also never seen, but I don't know that I could recognize an unlabeled plant.
As ever, if you have other suggestions for the list, if you think I must have seen some particular plant somewhere, if you have an explanation for why they're not sold, etc., please leave a comment. Especially that explanation one. Or, again, plants that I talk about a lot that are never for sale where you live.


1 There are some pictures of a full-sized Caryota at this post, if you're interested.
2 (which has only happened to me a couple times in Eastern Iowa, both of them quite a while ago)
3 Sure, I know they probably don't all get as big as the one in the photo. But even the smallish plants in some of the Wikimedia Commons pictures are big enough that they're never going to be desktop or windowsill plants.
4 Costus is in the family Costaceae, while Alpinia, Kaempferia, and Zingiber are in the Zingiberaceae. Both the Costaceae and Zingiberaceae are in the same order, the Zingiberales.
I've tried growing Alpinia zerumbet and Zingiber malaysianum, and they did okay, but they clearly weren't that happy. One of the Alpinias got scale, which isn't its fault; the other Alpinia rotted out, which arguably is its fault; the Zingiber is still with us, though it died back dramatically one or two winters ago and has literally never been the same since. So the Zingiberaceae isn't a family I'm looking to explore right now.
5 Same family as Tradescantia pallida, Tradescantia spathacea, Tradescantia zebrina, Callisia fragrans, and Cyanotis kewensis. Of the group, only Cyanotis kewensis is at all difficult to grow or propagate, and it's not really that hard.
6 All the different species of faux-bonsai look pretty much the same to me, because they're all usually about 3/4 dead.
7 (There are a couple Ficuses I never completely identified from the ex-job, so it's possible this was one of them. I'm fairly certain I've not seen any for sale locally in the last three years.)


Jytte said...

Sure, you can grow camellias indoors. I live in Denmark in Europe and have grown my plants for ten years in my nursery most of the year, however ,moved outdoors for three sommer months every year.
What they most certainly do not like when grown indoors is too high a temperature during winter- and springtime. They will throww flower buds.
This year my camellias were moved to the nursery at the end of september, and the first one has had, and still has, two flowers since early november. Today we had the first snow and temperature around zero (which means two or threee degrees higher in the nursery), and it is a very pretty sight with the red flowers close to the window and the snow outside.
Happy Indoor Camellia Growing

Ginny Burton said...

Well, there's one place that seems to be selling loquat plants:
The owner appears to be extremely eccentric -- if you buy a tree, you have to promise to sell back the leaves and fruit if demanded to do so! Also, you're not allowed to contact him using a standard USPS address; he will not accept letters addressed any way but the way he specifies. The whole website is mighty peculiar.

Nic said...

We always had pots of Cyperus alternifolius in the house during my childhood until about ten years ago and I remember many other people having them, too, both back in Germany and when we first came to this country. As of late I really have not been seeing them anywhere in either country, so somehow they must have gone out of style. As for their culture, it is super easy. They do not need a lot of water, but we simply kept them in large glazed pots without drainage holes with the soil level a few inches below the rim of the pot and had them always standing in water.

Diana said...

I have to be careful when I think about these plants. I live within driving distance of Logee's and they carry a lot of unusual plants and difficult plants. So not including what I see there...

I regularly see Bougainvillea and Fuchsia for sale during the summer as annual hanging baskets. Bougannvillea gets HUGE outside in warm, southern climates.

Crinum, Daphne odora, Cyperus altenifolia (for water gardens) and Gelsemium sepervirens are all sold as outside plants. Crinum and Gelsemium can be grown outside in the South. I currently have one Daphne in my Massachusetts yard but it's not doing great (bugs). My mother has grown Cyperus in her water garden but it doesn't over winter very well.

Freesia I see for sale as bulbs for winter forcing (or as grocery store plants). They never do that great for me.

Lastly Caryota mitis (fishtail palms) seem to be constantly available at the Big Box stores. I've never known anyone who bought one but I see them for sale frequently.

Whew. Long comment. Hope this is informative.

Tom said...

Camellias are an alternate host for sudden oak death so there was a quarantine on them for a work stopped carrying them because of it.

Loquats ARE a fun houseplant, I was so sad when mine died while out of town. I've never seen the fruit for sale and I actually HAVE been trying. It's rather upsetting really. Another fun completely unrelated (but still very similar in ease of care/seed starting) plant that you never see is rose apple. I had one of those for a few years and just loved it. They look a lot like ficus alli.

Cobaea gets absurdly large and really doesn't flower much. I probably wouldn't bother with it

I think Ivynettle had a cyperus at one point...but I also think her mom or someone else might have killed it while she was out of town? I've tried it once. It dried up and died after I let it go two days without watering it. Never again will I deal with such a needy plant.

I've tried doing Callistemon as a houseplant 3 times now, and it was an epic failure each and every time. They really seem to hate central air because they'd do fine and as soon as the heat turned on they'd die.

I did Catharanthus for about two years at which point it suddenly died. I think they might just be a short lived plant. I think they'd be a cute little buy-and-die (think primrose) plant.

I grow Crinum as a houseplant, they're actually pretty easy. Mine got way too huge though so I just let it go dormant this winter...

Jeff Hamilton said...

I know I have seen Cissus antarctica in person somewhere. I can't remember if it was at a store or in someone's house.

I have seen Cyperus alternifolius (or anther Cyperus species) for sale locally as a bog/water garden plants.

There is a dwarf version of Cyperus alternifolius that's better suited for indoor growing (Cyperus alternifolius 'nana'). It does seem to need a lot of water, though it does like to sit in a dish of water. Mine did alright until it dried out. Seeds are pretty easy to get and the plants are easy to grow from seed.

Pat said...

Tom, if you are having difficulty finding loquat fruit try Chinese grocers that have a reasonable selection of fruit and veg, in May or June.

mr_subjunctive said...


It looks like Camellias are another victim of changing U.S. home construction, then. Which is a pity.

Ginny Burton:

Not so much "eccentric" or "peculiar" as full-blown paranoid anti-government conspiracy-theorist crackpot. He also wrote this, which with my screen resolution took 122 Page-Downs to reach the bottom. Pretty much anywhere on the page you stop, you run into some form of sovereign-citizen craziness. (Which is why the peculiar address requirements: he seems to believe that using ZIP codes means . . . well, I'm not sure what he thinks it means, but it's apparently some sort of trap that lets the government turn you into a slave? Or something?) It's also written in about 8000 different combinations of font/size/color, which is also for some reason a reliable indicator of paranoid crackpottery.

I'll get my loquat seeds elsewhere, thanks.

redbrickbuilding said...

Thought I'd share my experience with Cobaea scandens. I'm growing three of them as houseplants now(mine have green/white flowers). I started them from seed this past spring. They're about 4 feet long right now and continuing to put out tendrils that try to grab everything and anything they can, which is kind of fun. The flowers in late summer/early fall weren't fragrant and aren't very showy. A few of the leaves always seem to browning and continually need to be picked off, which is an unwelcome chore. I probably won't continue to grow them once the warm weather comes and there are more interesting options.

mr_subjunctive said...

College Gardener:

I suppose it's possible that they just went out of style. I checked the availability lists from the ex-job (from 2009), and there was a Cyperus offered once, so they may not have disappeared entirely.


It's possible that I've missed Freesia, if they're offered a lot as bulbs. I usually don't look at bulbs, 'cause of my issues with plants that go dormant.

I'm really surprised about Caryota. I'm pretty sure I've never seen them at any big-box stores, and only rarely at independent garden centers. I wonder why that would be.

mr_subjunctive said...


I googled "rose apple" and came up with two different possibilities. Do you mean Angophora costata or one of the Syzygium spp.? (Syzygium jambos maybe vaguely resembles long-leaf figs, judging by the Wikipedia page, but none of them have much for images.)

I think I remember that story from Ivynettle, at least that there was a plant. Not any clearer about what happened to it than you are, but maybe she'll show up here in a bit.

Do you summer all of your plants outdoors, or only some of them? I can't imagine trying to keep Catharanthus going indoors year-round, but I could maybe see it if it only had to be inside part of the year.

Where does one buy Crinum as a houseplant?

Jeff Hamilton:

Yeah, I saw seeds of a Cyperus (maybe not C. alternifolius 'nana,' but a Cyperus nevertheless) on-line today when I was looking for something else, so I suppose that'd be the way to do it if I decided I wanted to try the plant. I've seen them as water garden plants once, too, but that was at Pierson's, so that doesn't do me any good now.

mrbrownthumb said...

Your inclusion of Cobaea scandens (which I've only seen available as an annual around here, and readily available from some seed companies) reminded me that in one of the old houseplant books I came across Thunbergia as a houseplant.

And I think I've seen Crinum bulbs for sale at the Chicago Flower show from the Dutch guys. I've certainly have seen it in a number of gardens around Chicago so someone around here must be selling them.

Tom said...

I got one sold as a houseplant at the greenhouse I used to work at in the cities. Come to think of it it might have just been an aquatic that was being overwintered on a bench and I decided I needed it but either way it did great as a houseplant. Whenever you hear mention of me having something kind of odd being sold a houseplant there is a really good chance I got it at that store. I helped with plant ordering (and worked in the houseplant area) so I frequently convinced my boss to order fun things that I wanted for my collection but didn't want to risk mail ordering.

The rose apple I was talking about was Syzigium jambos. I really love the plant...I'll need to get some more seeds some time and try it again. I don't know WHY I loved it so much but I did. The fruit was pretty tasty (not that mine ever got big enough to fruit) and I love myrtaceae so the flowers were fun too.

The Catharanthus actually WAS indoors all year round. I was a lot younger at that point (like...probably 12 or so) so it was before I realized that my inside plants could go outside in the summer. My parents house does get really cool in the winter so I'm sure it went into a semi-dormancy, I definitely remember far fewer blooms in the winter.

Unknown said...

Fatsia is something of an outdoor weed in our area (Western Oregon). We have to hack it back annually if we want to get into our house. We're slowly getting rid of it and replacing it with something less invasive - like bamboo! :(

Kenneth Moore said...

I have to speak about the token gesneriad. Chirita/Primulina have only been around in the US for a little while, so commercial production isn't a thing yet, I'd imagine. They are extremely popular with hobbyists, who readily share leaves, stolons, or other propagatory bits; the high-demand group takes care of ita own.

I think for that type of plant to reach commercial levels where it's even occasionally found at a garden centre, it'll have to outcompete the ubiquitous African violets. They aren't really similar to gesneriasts, but I can imagine small-to-middling succulent-y leaved rosette-forming gesneriads look pretty similar to lots of folks. The flowers are much more dramatic, if fewer in number, and the leaves are generally more interesting in my opinion--so I wouldn't be surprised to see them somewhere at some point. Most of them adore cooler conditions of the house are can be pretty relaxed about humidity requirements.

mr_subjunctive said...


Yeah, at least one of my books includes Thunbergia as a houseplant as well. I suppose if you have the sun and the space, maybe: we had some at the ex-job that did okay in the greenhouse or months before they sold as annuals.


I do like the look of Fatsia, so that sounds kind of nice. Though not the hacking so much.

Kenneth Moore:

Well, they were common enough in 1984 that the Powell book included instructions for their care, so somebody must have had them in substantial quantities. (On the other hand, almost everything on these lists is in Powell, so maybe he just included everything.)

Ivynettle said...

OK, monster comment ahead again – it’s just too much fun to compare experiences. In case you don’t want to read the whole of it, my Cyperus has recovered and is still very much alive.

Camellia: frequently available here, but meant to be put outside in summer and kept cool in winter, not as a year-round houseplant. And I don’t think they like the hard water in my corner of Austria, either.

Caryota: available regularly, but for some reason I’m never tempted to buy palms.

Cissus antarctica: Rare, but I’ve got one! We have our disagreements, though.

Cyperus alternifolius: As mentioned, I still have that plant. It does dry out and look horrible every now and then, but it always recovers and gets ridiculously huge. It is a pretty thirsty plant, so I try to keep it standing in water.
Spider mites have been a problem, but nothing I can’t deal with – I did get to divide my plant and sell two, at relatively high prices, and it’s ready to be divided again, so it’s worth keeping around.
I did get rid of my C. papyrus, though. Couldn’t figure out what it wanted.
Cyperus (several species) are usually available at one of the stores near here.

Eryobotrya: Only ever saw that one as huge potted trees at the ex-job, and they were not for sale (they were placed on the city streets during the summer, and overwintered in one of our colder greenhouses).

Eucomis, Crinum: read about, and I think I’ve seen bulbs.

Fatsia: available occasionally, but I agree, houses are probably too warm nowadays (not just in the US)

Bougainvillea,Callistemon, Chamaerops : available in spring/summer, meant to be put outdoors

Campanula isophylla: not sure. There are campanulas, but I think they might be a different species.

Clerodendrum ugandense: has been available occasionally in the last year or two.

Only as outdoor plants: Catharanthus, Euonymus (hardy – the rest aren’t), Freesia, Fuchsia

Never seen, never read about (that I can remember, anyway): Cobaea (though that one looks somewhat familiar, I might have seen seeds), Costus, Geogenanthus, Bromelia, Carissa, Catopsis, Chirita, Crinodonna, Daphne odora, Dyckia, Eranthemum, Faucaria, Ficus deltoidea, Gelseminum

Carmen said...

A local nursery near me has Cyperus alternifolius for sale in their houseplant greenhouse, really nice size ones for $20, so I bought one a few months ago...and it's growing fast!! the leaves are getting longer and bigger eventhough it's not getting much sun at this moment (it's inside for the cold weather and fighting with many other houseplants for window light), I love this plant not only cause of the way it looks but because you cant overwater it. I also have a Cyperus prolifer, a much smaller version, and it's doing wonderful for me also on a east window sill.

Also last spring I found yellow Eucomis bulbs for sale at Walmart, 2 bulbs for $5, so I grabed 2 bags and wish I got more. They are so awesome and grew without a complaint and lasted almost all summer...Also a local grocery store by me has twice gotten in the smaller purple Eucomis for houseplants gifts, so this last time I grabbed one, but I have to say the yellow ones where more beautiful. But I dug the bulbs out and hoping that they'll be fine til spring, I'm planning on growing them together in a big pot all together (I live in an apartment so I'm forced to use only pots).

Anyways, I'm glad your doing this series, I collect houseplant books (I have about 50 books and 6 binders and several magazines on houseplants, and many other books on orchids and succulents and container gardening)and have always wondered why so many of the plants in these books are never seen for sale. I'm so tierd of seeing the same plants over and over again for sale...I need something different for my's getting down to mail order companies and they sometimes cost more then I want to thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Eucomis is unkillable. I ordered a tray of 4 inch for the store in August. They were a bit pricey at $9.99 a pot (we get a lot of tightwads in here) but they were a cute plant. And they still are. The ten or so plants that didn't sell are still flowering and multiplying - they're busting out of their damn pots! I haven't fertilized, I barely water them, and they're stuck in the back corner of the greenhouse on the bottom shelf of a light stand with a broken ballast. It's where I put plants to die. (You know what I mean) Economis not only refuses to die, it's thriving.


Jean Campbell said...

So many interesting plants you've listed, many that we take for granted in the Coastal South. I made a great long list, but I'll share only a part of it with notes on personal experience.

Camellias bloom outdoors in cold weather, or what passes for cold weather here. A really hard freeze will ruin open blooms but tight buds will bloom the next warmish day. I could send you some seeds if you don't mind waiting 5-10 years for seedlings to bloom.

Alpinias have done so-so indoors for me. I'm reduced to only Cardamon ginger, Elletaria, in the greenhouse. Hedychium and some of the other gingers want a rest period in winter.

Freesias bloomed outside for me once, some tiny bulbs from the dollar store. They died out. I mean to try again.

Gelsemium sempervirens grows high into the tops of ancient oak trees here. I've never seen it as a potted plant.

Jean Campbell said...

Elettaria is the ginger that smells so good, like Christmas Pot pourri from an expensive shop. I misspelled it.