Weird and Wonderful Plants

Orchid & Collector's Plan Fair

All plants are unique and wonderful in their own way, yet there are some plants that truly stand out.  Welcome to the wonderful world of Orchids, Bromeliads, and Carnivorous plants.  Whether it is Orchids or Bromeliads which stun with their exquisite flowers or perfect geometric designs, or Carnivorous plants which have managed to turn the tables on nature by trapping its own food.  These plants are viewed as collector plants although some have become very popular, such as the moth orchid.

Carnivorous plant

A Venus flytrap’s leaf colour helps to attract its prey

For me, the true wonder of these plants is their adaptability to a diverse range of habitats and environmental conditions. This they do through a combination of trickery, deceit and at times just plain genius. Take the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) that originate from the Carolina wetlands in the USA. Owing to the nutrient-poor soil of their native habitat they have evolved to trap their own prey. Luckily it is not the Little Shop of Horrors version, but a smaller ground-dwelling plant that at most is able to trap very small frogs and mammals but more often insects and arachnids. And who better than David Attenborough to explain how they survive?

Carnivorous plants

Venus flytraps aren’t the only plants that trap its prey for a living. Other carnivorous plants include Monkey cups (Nepenthes) and Drosera that grows naturally in wetlands – even here in South Africa.  Natural insect control doesn’t get any cooler than this. Growing a predator plant can seem tricky, yet they will flourish as long as you follow these basics:

  • Keep them in a drip-tray with carnivorous plant water or rainwater as this simulates their natural wetland conditions.
  • Allowing your Venus flytrap to flower will syphon a lot of energy away from the leaves.  If it is traps that you are after, rather cut the flower stems off when they are still small.
  • Don’t close all the traps on your flytrap, this can cause the plant to deteriorate as it expends a lot of energy in closing its traps.  Rather reward them with a tasty fly or small insect but not too many at once, either.

Bromeliads and Air Plants

air plants

Bromeliads come in all shapes and sizes

These plants all belong the Bromeliaceae family of plants. They are mainly epiphytic – meaning they grow on other plants and survive by absorbing moisture through their leaves or by trapping rain in its urn like structure.  Yet there are species that grow on the ground (terrestrial) such as the pineapple plant.  They range in size from the small Spanish moss to the massive Queen of the Andes Bromeliad, which can grow up to 15m in height.  Some produce the most amazing flowers while others delight with striking leaf colours.  Growing Bromeliads are fun and easy as long as a few needs are catered after:

  • Bromeliads prefer high humidity in warm and especially dry weather.  Place them on top of drip trays filled with water and gravel.  Ensure that the plant doesn’t stand in the water but rather on top of the gravel.  Through evaporation the humidity around your bromeliad will increase, creating a microclimate that will allow your plant to flourish.
  • Mist spray your Airplants (Tillandsias) regularly, less so in cool or wet weather.
  • The bigger urn plants such as Achmea’s have overlapping symmetrical leaves that allow them to trap rainwater.  Always ensure that there is water in the middle of the plant.  Water by filling the urn-like structure until it overflows.

Orchids

Orchid Hecker plant

Amazing patterns of Moth orchids

Orchids are becoming more and more popular due to their amazing flowers that can last for months at a time.  One of Nature’s best tricksters, orchids have managed to gain a foothold on virtually any type of habitat mainly due to their amazing ability to adapt, as seen in this video:

Due to this great adaptability, one can imagine that orchids’ needs can be quite varied.  Luckily most of the Orchids commercially available are epiphytes that come from tropical environments. Here are some general tips on caring for these type of orchids. (Pop into Heckers where our orchid expert can advise you on your specific plant or have look at this comprehensive guide to orchid-care.)

  • Never water with ice cubes! This is the worst thing you can do to your orchid.  A plant that grows in warm tropical environments will never enjoy the cold, especially on its roots.  Rather water by placing your Orchid in a basin of water, this will allow your Orchid to soak up the water from below allowing the potting medium to become fully saturated.
  • The frequency of watering depends on the medium that it is planted in.  For Orchids in bark once a week will be enough to fortnightly for moss which retains more moisture.
  • Feed every second week to ensure bigger and better blooms.  Cut the flowering stem back after flowering to ensure that it flowers again.  Don’t feed it for a month after flowering, this allows your Orchid to recover after flowering.
  • They prefer bright light and are best kept indoors or on a patio, rather bring them indoors when the temperatures drop in winter.

These plants really show off Nature’s ability to change and adapt and caring for them is truly a rewarding experience. So why not try your hand at growing a living example of Nature’s resilience?

We are hosting an orchid and collectors plants fair at Heckers this weekend (25 & 26 November 2017).  See you there!

collector's plants

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