After the nasty shock of the frost yesterday I am staying indoors. A close look at the garden yesterday revealed more damage than I initially thought with new rose growth limp and floppy lily leaves, translucent hostas and even that most tardy of leafers, my black mulberry decked in brown, crisp foliage. I don’t want to look at or think about it for a few days.
I have been aware that I have ignored houseplants for too long and this is the perfect time to look inwards rather than out.
The most overlooked of all my plants is Siderasis fuscata. I have had this plant for at least a decade and I am not sure where I got it. It has waxed, then waned in my company and I am glad I still have it because it is a lovely thing. It is a member of Commelinaceae, the family best known for tradescantias. I have a real liking for the family and, perhaps, when life settles down and all the jobs are done, I will be able to collect some. They all have spirally arranged leaves and the characteristic three-petalled flowers, usually with furry stamens. They are really fascinating. Typically, the only ones I am not keen on are the hardy tradescantias which are a bit scruffy unless grown really well. Anyway, Siderasis fuscata is a tender plant, native to south east Brazil and is commonly called the brown spiderwort, which is not a very pleasant name but does describe it well. The broad leaves are covered in soft, brown hairs, especially on the underside and have a silvery stripe down the centre. The plants are stemless and form a low clump. My plant initially grew like mad and it ended up in a large 25cm pot. It was then rather taken for granted and I overwatered it and it responded by rotting. I managed to pull it apart and save a small piece and I potted it in very open compost with lots of perlite in a terracotta pot so I would not be as stupid again and it has shown its satisfaction by growing and, this year, flowering quite freely.
I don’t rate houseplants usually but, as long as it is not overwatered it is easy to grow, is small, tactile and has lovely flowers and I would give it a 10 out of 10.
The flowers are quite showy for a tradescantia relative and brightly coloured. They are also radially symmetrical which, again, is not to be taken for granted in this family. It prefers a shady spot and a temp of more than 10c. Too much light will scorch the leaves. I am not saying this is a great specimen but it is a tenacious plant that obviously likes me as much as I like it and it makes me smile.
Another plant in the same family is Murdannia loriformis. It is like a stout tradescantia with thick, slightly wavy leaves and slightly creeping stems, forming loose rosettes. Native to south east Asia, it is sometimes called Beijing grass – not sure why – and has some medicinal properties. As a houseplant it is being sold in the cultivar ‘Bright Star’. I have had it a year.
Rather than the more typical, hairless, shiny green leaves this cultivar has metallic, grey leaves with a broad, silver stripe down the centre. It has proved a very tolerant houseplant. I allow it to dry out slightly and the leaves become slightly less turgid but watering then perks it up and it has shown virtually no brown leaf tips. It produces stems of flowers from the centre of the leaf clusters but these are nothing to get excited about. In fact they are a bit of a nuisance. Like most of its relatives, the flowers only last a day. They open in the afternoon and, though white and triangular they are tiny. I mean really tiny. They make nettle flowers look spectacular. And after a few hours of glory they twist up, go brown and drop off. The windowsill is full of them because each branched cluster comprises hundreds of them. I will have to grasp the nettle and pinch them off really – it would improve the look of the plant really. I am assuming it will root easily from cuttings. I just repotted it and broke off a stem so I will soon find out.