INDESTRUCTIBLE HOUSEPLANTS THAT ARE
TOUGHER THAN PLASTIC
The interior of a home or office is not the
best place to grow most plants. Nevertheless, houseplants
are "in" and problems like low humidity, over- or
under-watering, salt accumulation in the soil, insufficient
light and insect and disease pests will just have to be overcome.
Overcoming these problems often makes it possible
to grow even the most particular of plants. If you are a beginner
in growing houseplants, or a several time loser with a brown
thumb, I recommend that you try one of the following "indestructibles"
to build up confidence in your growing ability.
Heartleaf Philodendron. Philodendron oxycardium
(cordatum) Most of the philodendrons are easy to grow but
this is the easiest. It can be found growing in almost any
office and it is usually planted in a jar of water or in a
dish garden. Potting soil and a pot with a hole in the bottom
would be better, but the fact that Heartleaf Philodendron
does well even in just water points out just how tough this
plant is. The name "Philodendron" is derived from
the Greek language, meaning "tree-loving". So, it's
not unusual to find climbing forms of Philodendron such as
Heartleaf trained on "totem poles" made of bark
or osmunda fiber.
This plant grows best in a bright spot, but it is also good
under the fluorescent lights of the office and it will survive
for long periods of time under very low light conditions.
Devil's Ivy. Scindapsus aureus This plant looks
a lot like a variegated Heartleaf Philodendron and, in fact,
it is often called "Philodendron". To further confuse
matters, it is also called "Pothos". Whatever you
call it, it is easy to grow. It, too, tolerates water culture
and dish gardens. Only after a considerable amount of salt
builds up in the dish garden soil, or after the water develops
a heavy scum, will it show symptoms of poor health. These
symptoms usually show up as pale yellow leaves, which eventually
fall, leaving bare stems. Changing the water every few weeks
and the dish garden soil once a year should keep this "indestructible"
in good health. Devil's Ivy and Philodendron have another
thing in common - as their foliage matures in a climbing growth
habit (rather than hanging down), the leaves become much larger--
as much as 10 inches long. The best variety of Scindapsus
is 'Marble Queen'. Many times the leaves of this variety are
so variegated that they are almost white. This variegation
is more intense in good light.
Chinese Evergreen. Aglaonema commutatum This
plant is not well enough known. It is perhaps the easiest
of all houseplants to grow and some of the newer varieties
are very good looking. It will grow in very low light conditions,
with low humidity. And, if grown specifically for aquarium
use, it can be used as a submerged plant for at least 6 months.
Plants grow 1 to 2 feet tall with leaves 6 to 8 inches long
and 2 to 3 inches wide. The standard Chinese Evergreen is
a bit dull with green arrowhead-shaped leaves, but the variety
'Silver Queen' is striking. The leaves of this latter variety
are more elongated, lance-shaped and they are mottled with
a gray-green variegation. As plants become crowded, repot
in a container about an 1 inch larger than the one the plant
is currently in. Be sure to use a loose, sterilized potting
soil such as those available in local garden centers.
Janet Craig' Dracaena. Dracaena deremensis
var. 'Janet Craig' There are many dracaenas suitable for use
in the home but this is one of the best. All members of this
genus may occasionally have dead, brown leaf tips due to low
humidity, but on 'Janet Craig' it is not that noticeable.
Dark green, strap-like leaves about 12 to 18 inches long and
2 to 3 inches wide are all this plant has to offer. But, if
dark green leaves are what you want, it fills the bill.
This plant may even be tougher than the Chinese
Evergreen. It, too, tolerates low light and low humidity.
The leaves of this plant are thick and leathery, and therefore,
it is also capable of withstanding occasional dry periods.
It is one of the best plants for dish gardens but be careful
not to over-water.
There are many houseplants that are relatively
easy to grow. In all fairness, the following deserve mention,
The so-called "closet plant" Spathiphyllum,
is very tolerant of indoor conditions even though it will
not grow in a closet.
Arrowhead Plant Syngonium is tough with green
and variegated forms available.
Cacti and Succulents such as Aloe and Euphorbia
are fine if you have lots of light.
Wax Plant or Hoya is a very durable vining
"Red Bird" Pedilanthus is a waxy,
Swedish Ivy Plectranthus is an apple-green plant
that makes a nice hanging basket; and Aspidistra produces
a mound of curved lance-shaped leaves.
So if you have had problems with houseplants
try some of the "indestructibles". You may become
a champion grower of greenery. For more information about
many types of houseplants and pictures of each, see:
FOURTH WEEK OF DECEMBER 2002
QUESTION: Could you please send me information on witch hazel,
morphine and aspirin-- how they are made and what plants they
are made from?
ANSWER: All of the information below came from
simple searches of the Internet:
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
It provides the History of Witch Hazel:
Witch Hazel is a natural, non-drying astringent
distilled from the Witch Hazel shrub which grows only in the
northeast portions of the United States of America and parts
of Asia. A "potion" of boiled Witch Hazel leaves,
bark and twigs was used by Native Americans long before the
colonists set foot in the Americas. The Native Americans were
drawn to the Witch Hazel shrub by its long, bright yellow,
tendril-like petals that only bloom in late fall after the
leaves have dropped. They believe the Great Spirit had made
the plant "showy" to get their attention so they
could discover its extraordinary benefits. They experimented
with the leaves and twigs and found the best astringent potions
and lotions were made when the bush was in full blossom and
the cold weather had driven the sap to the roots of the plant.
Pharmacology C17H19NO3, the most important and
most addictive narcotic alkaloid of opium, obtained by extraction
and occurring as a bitter, white crystalline powder or as
white acicular crystals; used chiefly in medicine as an analgesic
opium - http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/09590.html
opium - dried milky juice of unripe seed pods
of the opium poppy (Papavera somniferum). The chief constituents
of opium are the alkaloids CODEINE, papaverine, noscapine,
and MORPHINE, from which HEROIN is synthesized. Opium is grown
worldwide; despite international laws and agreements to control
its use, an illicit opium traffic persists.
Aspirin (salicylic acid)
It Provides a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology
aspirin - n.1. A white, crystalline compound,
CH 3COOC 6H 4COOH, derived from salicylic acid and commonly
used in tablet form to relieve pain and reduce fever and inflammation.
Also called acetylsalicylic acid.
Aspirin, acetyl derivative of salicylic acid, commonly used
to lower fever; relieve headache, muscle, and joint pain;
and reduce inflammation, particularly that caused by rheumatic
fever and arthritis. Known side effects are nausea, vomiting,
diarrhea, and gastrointestinal bleeding
salicylic acid - n. 1. A white crystalline acid,
C 6H 4(OH)(COOH), used in making aspirin, as a preservative,
and in the external treatment of skin conditions such as eczema.
[ From French salicyle, the radical of salicylic
acid from salicine, salicin; See salicin]
The inner bark of White Willow (Salix alba)
contains the active constituent salicin. Nature's Way White
Willow Bark extract contains the highest concentration of
salicin available. In the body, salicin is converted to salicylic
QUESTION: What is the effect on a human when
you ingest the pod seeds from what I think is called "Moonflower"-
My son did so and I would really like to know if and what
could be the long-term effects on him.
ANSWER: There are several plants that are commonly
referred to as moonflower. If you can describe the plant or
identify it by its botanical name then perhaps some answer
can be provided. If you are concerned about your son, then
you really need to positively identify the plant and call
the poison control center. The telephone number should be
on the first page of your phone book under "Emergency".
Here is an answer to a previous question on
moonflower that might help you in the identification of the
"The plant most commonly called 'moonflower'
is one of the morning glories (Ipomoea alba). However, I do
not think that this is what you have as it is a vine that
will grow up to 15 feet. I think that you have one of the
Daturas, most likely either Datura wrightii or Datura metelloides.
These plants meet the description that you have given. The
flowers only last for one day and, if pollinated, will be
followed by a round, thorny seed pod. It is from this seed
pod that they derive one of their common names - 'thornapple'.
These seed are highly toxic and hallucinogenic and were use
by Native Americans in their initiation rites and religious
ceremonies. Another common name is Jimson Weed. See this web
site for an image of the Datura (the leaves on your plants
may not be identical to these):
FOLLOW-UP QUESTION WITH ANSWER: My son is 22, I am sorry I
did not mention his age. He took this to get "high".
He since has had severe headaches and his back hurts. The
information you sent me sounds like he was given the Daturas
wrightii or Metelloides, which you said the Indians used.
He was told that it would give him a "buzz". He
is now fearful that he may have caused some kind of reaction
that is lasting. Can you find out any information that we
can use to help him? Could this be the cause of his headaches?
ANSWER: I am in no way qualified to answer your
questions about the affects of ingesting this plant. However
if you will go to the search engine at this web site and do
a search on the word 'datura' you will find a lot of references:
One such reference site is this one which then
gives many links to other datura sites:
QUESTION: When planting blackberries, do they need full sun?
My backyard is about 1/3 acre with lots of trees. Shade is
mainly in the morning. Will that affect the fruit production
and growth if they are planted in morning shade?
ANSWER: Most definitely!!! Production will be
greatly diminished without full sun. In fact they may not
produce at all.
QUESTION: I have a flagstone walkway. Instead of filling the
joints with cement, I would like to use some sort of low-growing
plant that will withstand moderate traffic and the Texas heat.
Do you know of any plants that can be used?
ANSWER: You might consider the following:
Dichondra (Dichondra micrantha)
Creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum)
Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis)
Zoysia turf grass (Zoysia tenuifolia)
QUESTION: I have a tree with yellow berries
that I am trying to ID. It grows larger than Red Bud but smaller
than Red Oak. Is this a Hackberry? I live in the Dallas area.
This is much larger than a Possumhaw (sp) bush. I have those
too. This is a tree.
ANSWER: Our experts agree that your tree could be a Soapberry
or a Chinaberry.
QUESTION: What is the best way to get rid of 5 red tip photinias,
10 feet tall, planted next to the house in a row? They have
never been maintained and I don't want to wait until they
introduce their dreaded fungal/viral (?) disease to my landscape.
ANSWER: If there is a way to rent, borrow or
otherwise get a front-end loader, I recommend tying a chain
around the trunks of these plants and also around the bucket
of the loader and using the hydraulic lift, pull them from
the ground. If this isn't possible, perhaps you can do the
same with a heavy-duty pickup truck and pull them out horizontally.
Otherwise, I guess that you will have to cut off the branches
and grub out the roots, which sounds like a lot of work!
QUESTION: I need a quick breakdown of Ruellia
species and the cultivars. I know the genus species of Katie,
Bonita, and Blue Shade. What is the species of the tall purple
(thin and thicker leaf), tall pink, and tall white? Any others
you know of available in the trade?
ANSWER: Ruellia malacosperma is tall wide leafed
purple. White is supposed to be Ruellia malacosperma ("Alba"
I suppose). Ruellia brittoniana is the tall, narrow leafed
species which includes the pink ('Chi Chi'), the dwarf purple
('Katie' or sometimes 'Nolan's Dwarf'), a dwarf purple with
speckled variegated foliage ('Strawberries and Cream'), and
the dwarf pink (Bonita ). Ruellia 'Blue Shade' is a
trailing unknown species in the trade which is a vigorous,
spreading, tender groundcover. Ruellia graecizans is easy
with red-orange flowers but is tender. Sometimes grown along
the coast but would make a good annual I think. Ruellia splendens
(red flowers), Ruellia macrantha (pink flowers) and Ruellia
makoyana (purple flowers) are all sold as conservatory/house
QUESTION: If I would decide to kill everything before I plant
grass, how would I do that?
ANSWER: The best way to kill all of the existing
grass and weeds in your lawn would be through multiple applications
of a glyphosate herbicide such as Roundup. This would need
to be done during the growing season, probably after April
1. The lawn area should be sprayed, and a minimum of 2 weeks
later, it should be sprayed again. If, after waiting at least
another 2 weeks, the green grass (especially bermuda) is still
visible, then another application would be called for.
QUESTION: Is the potato a member of the family Solanaceae
(Solanum tuberosum) or the family Convolvulaceae (Ipomoea
batatas). I know this might be a judgement call but we've
all agreed to accept your best educated guess on the matter.
ANSWER: With all of the important things in
the world to worry about! Since Webster grants both potato
and sweet potato separate entries, I would have to say that
when the word 'potato' is used, it would refer to the common
Irish potato. If we mean to reference the sweet potato then
we should refer to it as 'sweet potato'. That's my story and
I'm sticking to it!
QUESTION: My question concerns the phrase "propagated
by rooting cuttings". I have no experience with "propagated
by rooting cuttings". I have questions as to: What part
of the root do I cut? How big of a root cutting do I need
(they must be small if I am to get 15 or 20 cuttings in a
6" pot.)? Is "propagated by rooting cuttings"
the same as "division"? If I could find directions
for "propagated by rooting cuttings" similar to
the AIR LAYERING FOR DIFFICULT-TO-ROOT PLANTS at this URL:
I would have a better idea about what I should
ANSWER: The phrase "propagated by rooting
cuttings" means that you take cuttings from the above-ground
portion of the plant and cause them to develop roots. When
it says that you should use a portion of the root for propagation,
then it would say "propagated by root cuttings".
What a difference a little 'ing' makes! Hibiscus is normally
propagated by softwood tip cuttings and is best done in the
warm months of summer. A tip cutting is the terminal portion
of a growing branch. With this information and that which
you found in the web you included, you should be able to tackle
the task. If you have a warm, well-lit place (but not in direct
sunlight) you could go ahead and try to root some cuttings
this winter. If it isn't successful, try again next year.
The rooting hormone talked about in the various articles can
be purchased in most garden centers. It is commonly sold by
the name 'RootTone'.
Division is just that. The entire plant is normally
dug up and split into portions each of which will include
some viable roots. This is more commonly done with perennials
and not so often with shrubs like hibiscus.
QUESTION: I have 2 poinsettias from last Christmas that are
in the same pots I got them in and are still green. What should
I do with them to prepare them for this Christmas?
ANSWER: See the previous questions and answers
on this subject, which can be found at this PLANTanswers web
There, you'll find a wealth of information about
this favorite holiday plant.
QUESTION: My wife purchased some potting soil about 4 to 5
months ago. Shortly after using the new potting soil for transplanting,
a sprout developed. Could you please tell us what this is
and where we can obtain more information about it?
ANSWER: The plant is Bag-Pod or Bladder Pod, Sesbania vesicaria.
It is a fairly common weed in moist places throughout the
coastal area. If you look at the flowers very close, you'll
see they are kind of cute.
--Paul Cox, San Antonio Botanical Garden
QUESTION: I recently purchased 10 acres in Medina County just
outside of the Hondo city limits. I plan to clear the property
and build a home on a couple of acres. The property is infested
with Mesquite trees and shrubs. I had planned to begin the
clearing process by use of a chain saw, power brush cutter
and so forth. I have been told that I would be wasting my
time and effort, and that I should have the property root
plowed. Also, that any clearing I did on my own would lessen
the effect of the plow.
ANSWER: As you have discovered, mesquite is
hard to eliminate. This web site goes into some detail:
"For decades, numerous chemical and mechanical
methods have been employed in an attempt to reduce or even
eradicate honey mesquite on rangelands, but it has proven
very difficult to control. Eradicating honey mesquite has
proven to be nearly impossible. Areas that have been cleared
in the past, whether by chemical or mechanical methods, generally
were again infested with seedlings and/or re-sprouts. Herbicidal
control attempts often achieved only low- to moderate- mortality.
Many or most plants re-sprouted after treatment and developed
into multi-stemmed bushes. Due to its regenerative capability
following injury, control attempts in the past have led to
some regions being covered with dense, shrubby honey mesquite
Chemical control: Over the past few decades,
several control measures have been used. Aerial application
of herbicides generally resulted in the greatest herbaceous
forage production following treatment. Banned for use on rangelands
in the early 1980's, 2,4,5-T was the most commonly used method
of honey mesquite control in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. The
most effective herbicide for killing honey mesquite today
is clopyralid, which is much more expensive than 2,4,5-T.
Aerial applications of clopyralid often results in 50 to 85
percent mortality. Recent research suggests that over 90 percent
mortality can be achieved by mixing clopyralid with picloram
or triclopyr. Aerial applications of herbicides were often
delayed until honey mesquite plants reached 5 feet (1.5 m)
in height, but new research shows that taller plants may be
less susceptible to herbicides than shorter ones. Delaying
spraying allows plants to grow taller and become more resistant
to herbicides. Many-stemmed plants are more resistant to foliar
applied herbicide than single- to few-stemmed plants.
Mechanical control: Mechanical methods devised
for controlling mesquites include tree dozing, cable chaining,
roller chopping, root plowing, tree grubbing, and land imprinting.
For mechanical measures to be effective, the dormant buds
that occur along the underground stem must be damaged or removed
to prevent sprouting. If only the above-ground portion of
the plant is removed, honey mesquite will quickly re-sprout.
Hand grubbing mesquite seedlings, although
very labor intensive, is an effective preventive measure used
for removing mesquites during early stages of invasion. When
the roots are severed 4 inches (10 cm) below the soil surface,
hand grubbing effectively kills plants under 1 inch (2.5 cm)
I realize that this article is aimed at a larger
area of infestation than you have, but you can get some idea
of the difficulty of eliminating the mesquite. On a smaller
scale, you might try cutting the larger trees off at ground
level and either painting the cut surface immediately with
a full strength broadleaf weed killer. Or, after cutting the
tree down, you can drill ¾- inch holes about 2 inches
deep near the cambium (where bark meets wood) and fill these
holes with the full strength weed killer. As you read, the
only ones that can easily be grubbed are those 1 inch or less
QUESTION: Our grapefruit tree is 14 years old. The fruit is
small and sour this year, although plentiful. How long do
grapefruit trees last? Perhaps it is past its lifetime, if
there is one.
ANSWER: It is not so much how long the trees
last, but rather what happens to the tree during those 14
years. Sometime along the way, the rootstock has taken over
as your tree. What you have is sour orange, which is used
as a rootstock. So, the grapefruit portion of the tree either
was killed off by a freeze, or the rootstock simply overgrew
the top. You need to examine the tree carefully and see if
you can find the grapefruit portion of the tree. It should
not have thorns, whereas the sour orange will. If you cannot
find a grapefruit portion of the tree, then you either need
to start over with a new tree. or topwork the tree back to
the desired variety.
QUESTION: My brother has about 32 acres in Grimms County which
has many oak trees and no Pecan trees. He has talked with
several people who have told him it is possible to graft Pecan
trees to oak trees and thereby enabling him to have pecans
in short order. He is trying to find out the procedure for
doing this. Do you have anything you can E-mail or suggest
any books that he could read?
ANSWER: It won't work!! You can put pecans on
hickories, but not on oaks. If it would work, think of all
the oak trees that would have already been top-worked and
QUESTION: Is there any good use for ground pecan shells? We
have bags of them.
ANSWER: They make excellent mulch and some folks
use them to bar-b-que with, instead of mesquite, oak or hickory.
A certain company also once made various animal figurines
out of them as well, but I don't know if they are still doing
that. To date, the most prominent use of them is as mulch.
QUESTION: I have a corner in my garden that stays continually
wet?? it just seems to be a naturally wet spot. It gets morning
shade and full afternoon sun. I live near Montgomery, Alabama.
Can you suggest plants that would do well in this environment?
ANSWER: This PLANTanswers web site lists many
plants which should do well in the location you describe.
The Hibiscus moshuetos and the swamp rose would be two that
I certainly would grow:
There are many perennials that do well in and
around water features. Starred names may be grown directly
in the pond, others are excellent in moist soils.
Acorus calamus*-Sweet flag, linear foliage,
variegated form also
Adinantum Capillus Veneris - Southern maidenhair fern, native
Texan. Canna hybrids* - Garden cannas, tropical appearance.
Colocasia esculenta var. fontanesii* - Violet stemmed taro,
heart shaped leaves, Z. 910.
Crinum americanum*-Bog lily, Texas native, 2', Z. 910. Crinum
hybrids - Many pink, white, rose and striped types.
Cyperus alternifolius* - Umbrella palm, sedge-like foliage.
Cyperus haspans* - Dwarf papyrus, Z. 910.
Cyperus payrus* - Egyptian papyrus, 6' 10' tall.
Dryopteris normalis - Wood fern, feathery foliage, deciduous.
Dulichium arundinaceum* - Dwarf bamboo, 1' 3' tall, not true
bamboo. Eupatorium coelestinum - Hardy ageratum, blue flowers
in fall, native. Hibiscus coccineus -Texas star hibiscus,
rose mallow, star shaped leaves, red flowers, native.
Hibiscus mosheutos - Many colors, giant flowers, heat tolerant,
native to southern U.S.
Hemerocallis spp.- Daylilies, there are many varieties.
Lobelia cardinalis - Cardinal flower, red spikes, shade, native
to southeastern U.S.
Physostegia virginiana -Obedient plant, lavender and pink
spikes in summer and fall.
Pontederia cordata* - Pickerel rush, pretty flowers in purple,
blue, or white. Rosa palustris var. scandens - Swamp rose,
spring flowering rose, very thornless!
Sagittaria latifolia* -Arrowhead, interesting leaves and dainty
white flowers. Thalia dealbata* - Thalia, 7 feet tall flowering
Typha spp.* - Cattails. Dwarf selections available.