What is a Tillandsia?

A Tillandsia is the scientific name for what many people call an air plant.

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They are members of the bromeliad family, and most are epiphytes.

Other bromeliads are the pineapple, spanish moss and the plant in which small frogs live, mentioned by Terry Pratchett in the Bromeliad Trilogy.

Tillandsias are mostly smaller and more able to resist drought than their larger relatives. They have evolved many adaptations over time to enable them to do this.

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They flower and produce seed, but they also produce small plants called offsets or pups that are attached to the parent plant. These plants often remain attached, creating big clumps of one type of plant over time.

There are several hundred types of tillandsia, ranging from extremely tiny to large, but most live off the ground, which limits their ultimate size to something that their host can bear without collapsing.

 

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Potted

In central London, in the RHS Lindley Library there is a small exhibition called ‘Potted’. To quote the blurb

“In celebration of the humble houseplant, this exhibition at the RHS Lindley Library presents a series of designs by students from Central Saint Martins college. In a collaborative project with the library, the students have investigated a variety of well-known and well-loved houseplants and created made to measure pots to suit their individual needs.”

Now I think I heard or read something about this (which is why I went) to the effect that the students knew virtually nothing about the plants in question before they started. Which makes for a challenging project; I am not sure how I would go about designing a living environment for an armadillo. Clearly they had advice and did research, but I still think they made a fair stab at it.

I haven’t shown all of them, my phone didn’t take the best of pictures indoors and some of the pots were less interesting to me than others. It is open till next Friday (19th May) and is free to all. It is definitely worth 30 minutes of your time if you are in central London.

I know nothing about pottery or sculpture, so my comments are from the perspective of a houseplant lover. It may be that some of the aspects I dislike have relevance, or make reference to artists or works I am ignorant of.

The first one shown here is to hold lithops, and I found this pot frustrating. Had the plant been angled in the pot so that it was flush with the top rather than revealing the unglazed interior, it would have been brilliant. It must surely have been the intention of the artist for the surfaces of pot and plant to flow into each other?  Planting at an angle in a pot is more difficult that you expect it to be!

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Otherwise I felt it was quite original. The surface mimicked the size and shape of the leaves and the overall shape was intriguingly out of proportion to the plant, almost a lithops volcano. It reminded me in tone of a lot of the more severe type of 70s decor.

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A more politically-influenced  vessel with the holder representing the slashing and burning that man has inflicted  upon the rainforest. But within the damage, there is still space for a plant habitat. The colours and textures were particularly eye-catching, and it seemed a good place for a bromeliad (Guzmania).

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The third container I have featured was inspired by the trees, rocks and stones that would occur in the native habitat of the plant (Scindapsus). The flowing shapes and varied textures were fascinating. Occupying the tricky ground between ugly and beautiful, the container was big enough to actually house the plant for quite a while.

A failing (for me) of many ornamental containers is that they fit the plant at that moment in time, not allowing for growth. But growth and change is an essential component of why we bring plants into our homes, so needs to be catered for.

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Another lithops pot, and while I didn’t like the whiteness of the slashes down the sides, I enjoyed the solidity of the shape and the perforations. The form of the pot mimics the form of the plant, and the markings on the surface of the leaves. If only they had been able to dispense with the plastic plant pot inside…but life is not perfect.

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‘Tis the season…

…to bring the last of your houseplants indoors if they have been holidaying outside.

Here in the far south east of England the temperatures have dropped to about 3c overnight, which means that even the mediterranean-type plants (those hardy to just above or brief periods below 0c) will need protection.

If you are faced with squeezing the last of your plants into an overcrowded living environment you are not alone, this is what I have learned from years of trying.

Coming in from the cold

You will need to tidy up your plants before you bring them in – remove weed seedlings, dead`and damaged leaves and check under the pot. This is where the slugs and snails hide. If you have bare compost you can top with grit or gravel, this makes the plant easier to water and also discourages sciarid flies (often known as bin flies or compost gnats) that live around compost. Check to see how damp the compost is, so that you are able to bring them into synchrony with your watering routine. If it has rained recently and they are soaked through,  you may not need to water for a couple of weeks, but this is very dependant on where you site them (sun/shade) and how warm your home is.

During the summer your plants will have become accustomed to a lot more light than they will receive in your home (unless they are to move into a conservatory or similar). They will also have grown a bit tougher and stronger through dealing with wind and rain. They will need good daylight, and also a period of adjustment to the change in conditions. Depending on the number of plants you have, you may need to prioritise the light levels; south and west facing windowsills for cacti and succulents, north facing for dark-leaved foliage plants etc. You will also need to find them saucers or pot-covers so that they don’t drip onto your surfaces.

Containers and pot-covers

In my experience the use of pot-covers and containers is the main reason that people overwater their plants. The plant can sit for weeks or months in a puddle of water without it being obvious until it is too late. If you know that you are an nurturer and overwater your plants, use attractive pots with drainage and either matching saucers or transparent plastic ones. Alternatively you can use a layer of 1cm or so of gravel at the bottom of your pot to give yourself a safety margin. Or get into the routine of emptying out your pot-covers an hour after each watering.

Space creation

I never have enough space as I have a tendency to buy plants over the summer when I have a comparatively empty indoor space, and then quail in horror each autumn when I realise I have to house all of them. This is what I do to get past this problem.windowsill

You can expand your windowsill space using shelving (or if you are in a rental, a piece of driftwood balanced on pots). This enables you to make use of as much light as possible and gives you an attractive display.You will note that i am using a range of saucers and containers, partly because I err towards the neglectful, so I can get away with some undrained containers. There is a terracotta saucer being used in addition to the plastic tray for one pot, this because unglazed terracotta is porous and will damage surfaces that it sits upon; it will (as a friend can testify) turn carpet mouldy underneath and raise paint and varnish.

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Put plants on top of other plants – if you have larger plants like this Ficus lyrata you will have a whole extra surface to keep things on. When you are doing it, bear in mind how much light will make it down to the understorey of your houseplant forest. As you can see by the graininess of this photo, it isn’t very light here, but Aspidistra ‘Milky Way’ is quite tolerant of low light levels.

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Another example here, a Philodendron bipinnatifidum (in a cat bed that the cat disapproves of) supporting a Tradescantia and a Ledebouria. The philodendron spent the whole summer outside, and is stretching (etiolating) in the comparatively low light indoors, the leaves stay the same size but the stalks extend to get closer to the light.

You can also use mirrors (one here propped up on the floor with a spider plant) to reflect the light you have to make the most of it. If like me, you also have a lot of air plants, they are very happy pinned to chicken wire screens (mine is hung from the curtain hooks) over a window. And at the bottom, many of my cacti and succulents together, taking advantage of their similar cultural requirements to make my life easier.

Supplementary lighting

I have not found supplementary lighting much use in a domestic environment for houseplants. The majority of lighting that is suitable for plants (in terms of wavelength, strength and heat transmission) has to be placed very close to them to be of any benefit, and therefore tends not to be either practical or aesthetically pleasing. However, with LEDs becoming much more common in these field I am hoping that eventually gains in this area will carry over from commercial and er.. underground horticulture to create something usable in the average home.

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Remember to give your plants time to adjust, and keep an eye out for sneaky pests like tortrix moth caterpillar (see above on begonia), and sudden changes in growth habit (can be a sign of overwatering).

# Urban Jungle Bloggers Desert Still Life

The October challenge from Urban Jungle Bloggers is a Desert Still Life. This worried me a bit, because being picky I initially wanted to make sure that the plants were all at least from the same continent, rather than just randomly selected xerophytes. But I gave up on this as being just a touch too challenging to manage without using it as an excuse to go and buy plants.

So we have a desk-desert: p1010640

Complete with rat corpse, fossil and er bricks.

With Basil the rat (all rats are called Basil) below, there is a probably-Turbinicarpus, an Aloe melanacantha some Faucaria and a cuddly cactus.

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Below is probably a Gymnocalycium (please do correct my id’s in the comments, all my cacti are rather old and lost their labels years ago).

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And this is Haworthia truncataone of those succulents designed to spend dry times almost completed underground with just the transparent parts of the leaf protruding, so as to reduce water-loss whilst still allowing photosynthesis. I saw this plant in the Princess of Wales house at Kew years ago and spent ages looking for one. It isn’t difficult to keep alive, but it took a while to move to a home where I could offer it the conditions it wanted to be able to grow.

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This is Leuchtenbergia principis, a cactus that looks like a succulent (but note the areoles at the tips); this plant is at least 25 years old. It used to belong to my mother, and she has been dead for 20 years…

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A better view of the Faucaria, also a succulent from South Africa, like the Aloe.

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The backdrop is a beautiful book Wild Cactus by George Huey and Rose Houk.