RED HOT CAT’S TAIL: Do you ever wonder who named some of our plants? This one belongs to Acalypha (A. hispida), also known as Chenille Plant or Foxtail. This is one of two members of this genus that are somewhat common as houseplants or bedding plants in summer. The other is A. wilkesiana.

          Cat’s Tail is a tropical flowering shrub 6 to 10 foot tall, 3 foot wide from Malaysia. But as a houseplant in Nebraska it worked best for me as a hanging plant about 12 inches high. They like lots of light but not full sun with lots of humidity to encourage the tails. The blooms are the tails sometimes as much as 20 inches long. Most of them 6 to 12 inches of bright red fluffy catkins (it was described as bottle brushes by one author) blooming from spring to early winter (short days).

          The other, Acalypha withensia, has been hybridized a great deal to produce spectacular leaves that can be green with pink edges, red patterned or green with white, sharp toothed margins, or red, orange, and yellow combinations. The plant is also called Copperleaf, Fire Dragon, or Jacobs Coat. They get large so I try to find one or two at the garden center each spring to put in the back of my big pots.


DUMBCANE: Tall and handsome, it got the common name of Dumbcane (scientific name is Dieffenbachia) from the effect of chewing on any part of the plant. The Calcium oxalate crystals in the plant paralyze the throat. If you work with one you might wear gloves as it can cause swelling and pain where the sap touches skin.

          It is a very popular plant to grow tall with large leaves heavily marked in various patterns. Dieffenbachia is also called “Mother-In-Laws-Tongue”. A very easy to grow plant with white, cream, or yellow mottled leaves is a native of Central and South America.

          I have seen them reach the ceiling in a house and then bend over and continue growing along the ceiling.  However, you can cut the top out (wear gloves) and place in potting soil for a new plant.  As it grows it drops the lower leaves leaving a scar.  If you want to slice the stem, keep a scar to each piece and place in potting soil and again you may get a new plant from the scar.  If you cut it back even to the soil line, the stem will make several new growths. It does not like full sun or constantly wet roots but does like humidity, good drainage, and half strength fertilizer during the long days of summer.


CIGAR FLOWER: Cuphea ignea is a small shrub from Mexico that grew about 2 feet tall but wider in a pot by itself this past summer.  It is listed in all my indoor plant books as a quick grower.  I had to let mine freeze as there wasn’t enough room inside. I did find it in a nursery this spring so I hope to find it again since it bloomed without stopping from late April until October.

          The flowers that have no petals, came out of the leaf axils as narrow tubes (the calyx), about one inch long as a red tube with purple and white edge that “looks like a cigar with the ash edge.” Since they come from leaves there were very many of them all summer.  The leaves themselves were only about two inches long, narrow, and deep green.  I should have taken stem cuttings.  As with any pot plant it needed to be watered every day in full sun under a south window.


EARTH STARS: This Bromeliad grows on the jungle floor. They are almost flat and usually less than 5 inches wide, but they make up for it with their colors.  I don’t always find them in garden centers but I always check to find a different color or design.

          Because of their size, they are fun to use in terrariums.  The leaves have no stems and are spread flat like, out in a star form in pinks, white, and red, with bands that can be along or across the leaf. I have some in a short (3 inch) wide 15 inch black shiny pot to show off their colors.  The parent plant dies off after blooming, but leaves many off sets around her edges or sometimes between the leaves that can be potted for new plants. “Pink Starlight” has pink leaves with dark and light green midribs. “White Ruby” is entirely red with black stripes. I enjoy hunting for new colors as they don’t need a lot of space.

Copyright 2011