Friday, December 14, 2012

List: Missing From Retail, Part 4 of 5

The explanation and background for this post can be found here, at part 1. (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 5)

Medinilla cv. My photo.

WCW said she'd tried Medinilla cvv. (rose grape, medinilla) indoors before, and it hadn't done that well for her, but I don't remember any details beyond that. I also know that they tend not to do that great in the ex-job's greenhouse in the long term,1 though that hasn't stopped them from ordering them more than once.

When I googled Medinilla, I found a lot of photos of them indoors in containers, usually in pristinely clean and expensive-looking surroundings, accompanied by breathless, over-caffeinated ad copy about what wonderful, wonderful houseplants they are. So it's possible that we'll be seeing a lot more of them in the future. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Nandina domestica. Photo by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons.

I can't say I've ever had any strong urge to try growing Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo, sacred bamboo), so I haven't been terribly bothered by not being able to find one. It's my understanding that they're not particularly beloved outdoor plants, though most of the objections raised at have to do with their rapid spread and drought tolerance, both of which would be a positive indoors. ("Tacky-looking / cliched," "I think I'm allergic," "ecologically disastrous," and "poisonous" are also represented.)

Although Nandina is an FLEPPC Class I (has produced documented ecological damage) invasive plant, it's not illegal to produce it or sell it in Florida. Since there's no legal barrier, I expect that they're unavailable in the north due to a lack of demand.

Neomarica caerulea. Photo by Denis Conrado, via Wikimedia Commons.

Neomarica spp. (walking iris, apostle plant) are apparently mostly passalong plants, so there's no money in producing them commercially. I don't know what they're like to grow indoors, and I haven't personally seen anybody growing one, but by most accounts they're pretty easy. (I'm somewhat interested in getting a Neomarica, eventually, someday.)

Osmanthus fragrans. My photo.

When my Osmanthus fragrans (sweet olive, tea olive) first arrived, I had it in the house, hoping for ongoing blooming so we'd get to smell the flowers all the time,2 but it didn't bloom. And then it got spider mites. So it spent the summer outside. It seemed to like that well enough, though it didn't grow very much, and it didn't rebloom out there either.

Then, after it came inside, it dropped a lot of the new leaves it had just grown. So we don't seem to be getting along, is kind of the upshot. Some googling brought up this page from the Missouri Botanical Garden, in which it is said "In St. Louis, grow in containers which must be overwintered indoors in bright cool locations."

Which probably explains it, 'cause mine's in a warm dim location. So I'll try to fix that and then get back to you.

None of this explains why I never see them for sale. (I'd think they would sell really well, given the fragrance.) This Garden Web thread suggests that Osmanthus might be another plant that would rather have an unheated sunporch than central heating.

Pandanus utilis. My photo, from the Quad Cities Botanical Center.

I feel like I pretty well covered the reasons why Pandanus spp. (screw pines) might not be more available in their profile, but in case you don't want to read it all: both Pandanus utilis and P. veitchii can get huge; both have sharp, unpleasant spines along the leaf margins and on the underside of the leaves along the midrib; P. veitchii is so easily propagated that it's probably a passalong. These all seem like perfectly good reasons why they might not be found in retail very often.3

I'm still trying to get a P. utilis of my own, though. Someday.

Phoenix roebelenii. Photo by Forest & Kim Starr, via Wikimedia Commons.

I've seen Phoenix roebelinii (pygmy date palm, miniature date palm) at the ex-job once, I think, when I first started working there, and I've run into them at Lowe's occasionally since then, but they're not easy to find around here. Something that isn't always obvious from their photos in the books is, they're full of extremely sharp, long (to at least 3.5 inches / 9 cm!) thorns, especially near the base of the fronds. Worse, when I started working there, the ex-job's Phoenix was displayed underneath a huge Ficus benjamina, which dropped leaves into it all the time. Much blood was shed before I learned that there was just no safe way to get the Ficus leaves out of the Phoenix pot, and decided to move the Phoenix instead.

The thorns are bad enough that I'd never actually want to own one myself, but even if I did, Phoenix also gets too large for me, "pygmy" date palm notwithstanding. It probably also needs more sun than I have. Those might also be factors for other people.

Pilea microphylla. My photo.

Nobody seems to grow Pilea microphylla (artillery plant) on purpose anymore, and I've only seen it deliberately sold once (and that was a strangely-colored variety). On the other hand, I still run into it in stores on a pretty regular basis: they're weedy, and hitchhike in the pots of more desirable plants.

I've grown it once; I pulled it out of some other plant's pot and gave it its own. That worked fine for several months, and then it suddenly collapsed. I have no idea why. (The timing and location were such that scale might have been a factor. I don't know.) I wasn't that crazy about it in the first place, so I haven't tried to replace it.

Pittosporum tobira. Photo by Piotrus, via Wikimedia Commons.

I don't find Pittosporum spp. (pittosporum, Japanese mock-orange) very interesting. Apparently the flowers smell nice, but the look of the plants, even the variegated ones, do nothing for me. But hey, some people juggle geese.

I gather Pittosporum also prefers cool temperatures during the winter, and is therefore probably another victim of changing home construction, though I'm not 100% sure on that. According to Monrovia, they're only cold-hardy to USDA zone 8, so you wouldn't think they'd want a lot of cold in the winter. I don't know.

Portea petropolitana. Photo by BotBln, via Wikimedia Commons.

Portea spp. (no common name)4 aren't particularly common in the houseplant books, granted, but the Powell book lists a whole bunch of bromeliads I've never seen for sale, and this is one of them, so Portea is kind of standing in for all those (which also include Bromelia, Catopsis, Nidularium, and Quesnelia). The photo above was the best one I found for showing the leaves and inflorescence at the same time, but doesn't do a particularly good job selling the plant overall: it might be clearer why Portea would be desirable from some of the photos of inflorescences. (P. alatisepala, P. kermesina, P. leptantha, P. petropolitana. Don't skip that last one; the colors are particularly interesting.)

The leaf margins are heavily spined, which might explain some of the problem with Porteas (though it doesn't look any worse than some of the Aechmeas or Neoregelias I've seen for sale). Beyond that, there's no obvious problem. Poking around with Google turned up some evidence that they may need a lot of sun, and some of them do get large. They are sold here and there on-line as outdoor plants for people in tropical climates, so it stands to reason that they could be put on trucks and shipped north as easily as anything else could. I'd be interested in a Portea someday, too.

Punica granatum. My (terrible) photo.

I've personally met a couple people who grew Punica granatum (pomegranate) indoors, and the ex-job was selling them the last time I was there, so Punica isn't missing from retail as much as just exceedingly rare. (That's the only time I can recall seeing them in retail.) Not sure why that is; by one of those people's accounts, it wasn't particularly difficult, though I don't know how long he'd had it.

The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests that the species is probably not that easy to keep indoors, but the variety P. granatum 'Nana' is better suited to use as a houseplant. The comments at were all uniformly positive on 'Nana' as well, though it's not clear where they were all buying their plants.

I'm desperate to get a Pandanus utilis someday, even knowing that I don't have room for it. I could sort of understand why someone might want to own any of the others, too, but I'm only really interested in Pandanus, Neomarica, and Portea.

Not pictured:

  • Miltoniopsis spp./cvv. (pansy orchid): have seen very occasionally, in orchid-specialist contexts.
  • Myrtus communis (myrtle, true myrtle): have never seen.
  • Nerine bowdenii (spider lily): have never seen. (Wikipedia suggests some of the reason could be because they respond badly to being moved.)
  • Nicotiana (flowering tobacco): some cultivars seasonally available as annuals or as seeds, but I've never known anybody who was growing them year-round indoors.
  • Nidularium (bromeliad): never seen.
  • Olea europaea (olive): rarely seen, and super-expensive when they are seen.
  • Pentas (pentas, star flower): seasonally available as annuals.
  • Petrea volubilis (queen's wreath, sandpaper vine): never seen. (Images from Google show a huge, vining plant that I imagine doesn't stay contained for very long.)
  • Philodendron hastatum (silver philodendron): have seen occasionally at the ex-job.
  • Pleione formosana (Himalayan crocus, windowsill orchid): have never seen, though it's possible I've seen hybrids for sale at some point.
  • Plumbago spp. (plumbago, leadwort): as outdoor perennials; never as houseplant.
  • Primula (primrose, auricula, cowslip, oxlip): seasonally as temporary indoor plants.
  • Quesnelia (bromeliad): never seen.

As with the other posts in this series, readers are encouraged to leave comments about their experiences with seeing, buying, or growing any of the above, or speculating on why I don't see them for sale (especially if your speculation conflicts with mine).


1 From what I've seen, mostly what happens is that the leaves get burnt tips or margins, and then get torn. So maybe a humidity problem, or drought stress from underwatering?
2 (previous Osmanthus post here)
3 There's also the matter of customers not buying them even when given the opportunity. Oh how I tried, but customers are not that into four-foot-wide (1.2 m) plants where every leaf has three rows of hooked spines pointing in different directions, no matter how easy you tell them the plant is to grow.
4 And no, this is not a misspelling of the better-known plant Protea.


CelticRose said...

Olea europaea (olive) may be scarce due to people being allergic to the pollen. They used to be popular as landscape plants around here (Phoenix metro area) until a law was passed banning planting any more because so many people are allergic to them.

I can't imagine pomegranates being difficult to grow. We had one outdoors and pretty much ignored it and it did fine. We are pretty dry around here though, so maybe one needs to be careful not to overwater?

The Phytophactor said...

Having the luxury of a university glasshouse, I haven't thought too much about many of these as house plants. A big old varigated Pittosporum was exactly as you say, sort of ho-hum, although it flowers in the winter and they are very fragrant. But some 20 years ago it got pruned way, way back and converted into a bonsai tree that's pretty interesting. Neomarica readily reproduces vegetatively, which is not a problem in pot culture. If you want a nice yellow-flowered one contact me at my gmail address .

Thomas said...

Medinilla is something I fantasize about growing, but don't currently have the space to accommodate one. I like the foliage as well - important for me in a plant that only blooms periodically. Maybe someday.

Nandina is a standard (often fallback) landscaping item in the Pacific Northwest. There are varieties of the species as well: smaller forms, color variations. I imagine it needs cool and bright indoor conditions, though handles some shade outside.

I had a Neomarica for ~couple of years, not sure of the species as it was only labeled with "Walking Iris". Guess it was a mystery to the plant sales staff as it kept 'walking' from the indoor to the outdoor plant tables at the sale, and carried back by someone who knew what it was. I bought it cause it wasn't very expensive, I knew what it was, hadn't seen one for sale before and wanted to save it from freezing to death in someone's yard. It wasn't difficult to keep alive but getting it to re-bloom was a mystery. And when it did I was at work: the flowers opened mid morning and collapsed by late afternoon. Fragrant in the Hyacinth style w/o the biting/funky undertones of the bulbs flowers. Mine had white flowers with gold and blue markings. I might try one again.

I've seen P. granatum 'Nana' seeds for sale, I have some that I should get around to planting. J.L. Hudson currently list it (think that's where I got mine.)

mr_subjunctive said...


I dimly recall reading something about that somewhere. Though I wouldn't think it would apply to plants small enough to be grown indoors. Do they typically bloom when still pretty small?

The Phytophactor:

I sent you an e-mail.


While looking for something else this morning, I ran into this article, which was claiming that Medinillla is one of the latest trends in tropical plants. And there was some ooohing and aaaahing over them in the comments. Then this comment, from "Clem Cirelli:"

These Medinilla plants are rooted cuttings with inflorescences, and will probably be a real bear to grow for 99% of consumers, so you should consider them disposable blooming decorations, not long-term houseplants.

So I'm now even more wary of them than I was before.

Carmen said...

I once saw a Medinilla for sale at one of my local nurseries for $50, they where very beautiful and I would love one, but not for $ many of my plant books all say that it's more meant for a conservatory then in a house...but if I ever find one at a decent price, I might try anyways.

Also several months ago, my local grocery store had both Pomegranate and Olive trees, really small ones for $5 (they also had lemon and lime trees), so I got myself one of the pomegranates and olive trees to try, and I also got another pomegranate for my daughter, and so far I guess they're doing ok, they dropped a few leaves, but not many. I have them in my west facing window sill for now til spring, then I plan on putting them outside where I think they'll do alot better, if they survive til then.

Pat said...

I grew Nandina in a garden once. The best feature of the plant was its spectacular autumn colour. I don't see any reason to grow it indoors.

CelticRose said...

I assume you were talking about the olives? I don't know big an olive tree has to be to bloom. All the trees around here are full-sized trees. I've never seen a young one.

(Please delete this if it's a double post. Blogger is being a pain.)

Tom said...

More ranting from the Tom!

Medinilla - They're a total pain in the ass, they need really high and even humidity.

Olives have a special tendency to die 15 minutes after the heat gets turned on for the winter.

Pomegranates are just kind of messy...they're not really hard indoors, especially the dwarf ones.

I've always thought there would be a good market for Neomarica, when we grew them for our houseplants sales in school they always sold really well (people like that they're almost a spider plant but with a much coarser texture...more oomph).

Nandina is easy enough as a houseplant, my old job used to sell them but there really wasn't ever any interest.

Osmanthus did the same thing my olive did...I tried it again out in the (unheated) hallway of our apartment and it did a lot better (until I forgot to water it and it died).

Pygmy dates do really well as houseplants but they're spider mitey so you do have to watch out for that. They're super slow growing so they don't out grow the space in a hurry. A lot of places here (Chicago) and the twin cities sold them as houseplants.

Have I mentioned that I love these posts? I don't know why but I find them fun.

mr_subjunctive said...


Same here, actually. (It's fun to talk about plants that I never get to talk about. And also I'm learning a lot. And I get to use other people's pictures, which are frequently much prettier than anything I've got available.)

Jenn said...

P. granatum 'Nana' - Bought mine at Trader Joes several years ago. It is coping well with Phoenix on the north patio, under the eave. I let it dry between waterings and every now and then get some die back, I suspect because I've pushed the 'dry' a bit too far.

Nandina domestica - Doing great in pots in a similar location to the pomegranate. Gets some direct sun in high summer. My only fall color plant, it's right now flushing red. New growth is also tinged red. I wouldn't grow this one anywhere it might escape into the wild.

Ivynettle said...

I thought I'd commented on this already...

Anyway, on the subject of olive trees, they can bloom while still pretty small (well, "small" compared to how big they can get growing outdoors in the ground). We always have some in 25-30cm pots, about 1 m high, and I've seen several of them bloom.

These posts have made me wonder... in Austria, it's very common to buy potted plants that are mainly meant for balconies and patios and such and then usually have to survive the winter in some dark cellar or garage (or in a nursery's greenhouse - nice extra way to make money during the winter). Oleander is probably the most popular, and from this post, olives, pomegranates, Pittosporum, maybe the Phoenix...

It's just really weird for me to see these plants listed as HOUSEplants, because German has a special word for these meant-to-be-outside potted plants. (And I guess the reason why they are so popular is that people are trying to bring a mediterranean feel to their homes - with Italy so close, it's a very common holiday destination, and I think for many of us, these plants are closely connected with summer/holidays.)

So what I'm wondering is, do people in the US do this as well, buying potted plants that are mainly meant to be put outside, or is it an European/Austrian phenomenon?

mr_subjunctive said...


People do it here, yes, though I'm not aware of a specific term for it. The closest I can think of would be "patio tropicals," though that wouldn't mean stuff like Pittosporum or Olea as much as Hibiscus or Mandevilla. Agave possibly. And it's also worth noting that this isn't a practice I've ever discussed much with anybody, so I'm likely to be out of the linguistic loop either way.

(Also, you say German has a special word for these sorts of plants, but then you don't tell me what the word is. Whyyyyyyyy.)

For what it's worth, a lot of these don't seem practical as houseplants either, but they're in the books. Pat suggested in the comments at Part 1 that a lot of the books may have been influenced by Europeans, which would maybe dovetail with your observations w/r/t patio tropicals. I think only one of them was actually written by someone in Europe (Kramer is from the UK), but that's also the book that's been providing the most fodder for the series, too.

Ivynettle said...

It's "Kübelpflanzen" - litterally, "bucket plant" or "tub plant" depending on whether you ask a German or an Austrian.

We have separate books for them, too - they'd look seriously out of place in a houseplant book.
Funny, I was just thinking earlier how the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis seems to be popping up all over the place lately (while reading the article you linked me to, and it was also in a book I read a while ago), and here we have it again - the language we speak shaping the way we think. ;)

Here, you can't walk into a garden centre or nursery in early summer without seeing tons of oleanders, Phoenix, Lantana, fig and olive trees... and as I said, in winter many nurseries rent out space for people to overwinter their plants. Not my favourite part of the job, those things are heavy!

mr_subjunctive said...


We had a very few of those at the ex-job. About 75% Hibiscus and 25% Ficus benjamina. I don't know why anybody would want to pay someone else to keep a Ficus benjamina over the winter, but people did it.

Also WCW overwinters a few of her plants in the greenhouse, but they're different plants every year. (She normally leaves them out on her lawn all summer, apparently, so there isn't always space to bring them back in her home.)

I was never sure if the reason we had so few was because it's not a service most people want, or because we charged an arm and a leg for it. Not that I was ever privy to the rates we were charging; I just know it had to have been a lot, because we charged a lot for everything.

Ivynettle said...

I don't know what we charge, either. Googling a bit gives prices from about €20 to €100 per plant, depending on size.

We have about 50% oleanders, the rest fuchsias, olives, figs, lantana, mandevilla, citrus... lots of different stuff. Many of them so big/heavy that you need two people to move them. There was once a Yucca that we had to go pick it up on foot with the pallet jack because it was so heavy that three people could not lift it into the truck. (Nothing compared to the ex-job though, we had a whole greenhouse of palm trees in pots that were about 1m across.

OK, I'll stop rambling now and go to bed. ;)

Jean Campbell said...

Osmanthus fragrans is another of those Southern shrubs that blooms in cool to cold weather. We catch the fragrance on the wind from September to May. Hot summer shuts down bloomng. Easy to grow, hard to root cuttings, for me.

My Punica is the flowering kind, Mme. LeGrille, not the kind with fruit, . It has orange and white striped flowers and is easily grown outside. I never thought of growing it as a houseplant.

Jean Campbell said...

Pentas! That's what I meant most of all to address. There are only offered here as annuals as well and they make excellent potted plants.

I grow them in the garden in warm weather for butterflies. Before cold weather, I root cuttings. They'll bloom on a windowsill if they're happy. In a cool greenhouse, they may just sit all winter, or they might be really pretty. Every year is different.

I cut a bouquet just before hard freezes come. The bouquet lasts briefly. I keep the stems in water to make cuttings in spring. I read there is only a 10% success rate in rooting; mine was better.

Strobilanthes is a plant that does well indoors that I didn't see on your list. Another blooms-on-short-days plant that only blooms indoors here. While not spectacular, the little cone-shaped blooms are a novelty when they bloom mid-winter.

S. S. said...

I actually had a Pilea microphylla whose roots rotted after an ill-fated attempt at dividing it. I had saved several leaves in case it died and tried to propagate them, none of which lived once the internal reserves were gone. But (as I often do) I threw some extra leaves from a previous trimming out onto the outdoor flowerbed so they could enrich the soil instead of go to a landfill, and they sent down roots where they landed! I had tried to propagate leaves in flowerpots by laying them on their sides and it didn't work. (Nor did sticking the leaves upright in dirt, rooting in water, etc.) It looks like landing on the dirt outside with a drought and sporadic flash floods apparently was just what they needed? I'm hoping to successfully dig at least one up and bring it back into the house, but will for a long time wonder what it was that made those forgotten pieces of plant thrive when the cuttings that got the theoretically ideal treatment turned to brown sludge.