Growing Bromeliads

My African violets have a lot of companion plants including nematanthus (goldfish or guppy plant), spider plants, English ivy, anthurium, abutilon (parlor maple) and various herbs and pepper plants. Bromeliads, in particular, thrive in my home given virtually the same care that the gesneriads receive.

Bromeliads are native to North, Central and South America and do very well indoors as house plants. Since there are about 3,000 species in about 56 genera, and thousands of cultivars, identifying an unlabeled purchase can be difficult so I’m usually content just knowing the species and enjoying them as they are.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet on caring for bromeliads.

Bromeliad Care

  • Prefers moderate home temperatures of 55-90°F (13-32°C)
  • Grow in medium light (indoors)
  • Maintain moderately moist soil
  • Feed monthly when actively growing
  • Avoid cold drafts

Air plants (tillandsia) are bromeliads that require slightly different care since they are epiphytes (they grow on other trees, not in soil). I grow them on a window sill and mist them a couple of times a week. Once in a while I give them a weak dose of fertilizer. Since they don’t need soil you can get very creative with how you want to display them. I have two sitting on top of flower pots:

I just received a variety pack of Tillandsia ionantha from CTS Air Plants – very healthy plants, and some are blushing (which means they will bloom soon). The fun begins – identifying them! I think there are some Ionantha guatamala, Ionantha rubra, maybe Ionantha mexico?

Some of these tillandsia will be mounted on grape wood, some will go into hanging globe terrariums, and some will be attached to the tile in my bathroom near the window (hooks with suction cups work well for this).

Getting air plants to bloom is rewarding, but the best thing about growing bromeliads (in my opinion) is that they reproduce readily – once they bloom they grow offshoots (called ‘pups’) along the base of the plant. You can give them away, trade them, or just grow your collection very quickly.

If you’re looking for easy-care companion plants for your African violets or other gesneriads consider bromeliads. You might just get hooked – they are highly addictive.

More information on bromeliads:

Growing Black-eyed Susan Vine from Seed

I just planted two hanging baskets of black-eyed susan vine (thunbergia alata) in yellow and white (mixed baskets). I soaked the seeds for about 12 hours before planting. The seed germination rate was very high and the baskets will be quite full:

You can get fresh black-eyed susan vine seeds here.

With an eastern exposure, the plants are growing fast. At three weeks the tendrils are starting to reach for everything in sight – I’m going to have to hang them in a window soon or they will grab hold of my window blinds!

Thunbergia grown from seeds

I love thunbergia indoors and out. This vine doesn’t really need to be ‘trained’ to climb – it will hang from a basket or climb a trellis with no coaching at all. Here are some photos of black-eyed susan vine I planted for outdoors this summer:

Orange black-eyed susan vine

One hanging basket of orange thunbergia alata hanging from garage lamp light

You can read more about growing blackeyed susan vine here and here, and see the USDA profile on thunbergia alata for more info.

Growing Flowering Maple from Seed

I just planted some old abutilon seeds (‘Bella’ series – you can read more about flowering maple here). The seeds were over a year old and were not stored properly, so I didn’t expect a great germination rate. First, I soaked them overnight for about 12 hours.

Soaking seeds before planting is very helpful for hard-shelled seeds like abutilon, thunbergia, and cilantro (coriander).

The Bella series produces flowering maple plants that are compact in size and shape well with pruning. I planted about 20 old seeds and only four sprouted:

Flowering maple also grow well in passive hydroponic setups – from ‘Texas style’ potting to hydro pots. I have started flowering maple seeds in an Aerogarden and transplanted them to rock wool and clay aggregate for growing on – you can read about that here.

I’m curious to see what colors I’ll get from these four plantlets – they could be yellow, pink, orange or red – pale or intense color. I will nurse them along and post updates on their progress. These flowering maple plants are destined for a garden club holiday luncheon in December.

Read more about abutilon »

African violet ‘Magnolia’ Supreme

My African violet ‘Magnolia’ has recently sported (spontaneously mutated) from its original form. Both the flowers and the leaves have changed.

African violet ‘Magnolia’ was hybridized by M. Burns and registered with the African Violet Society of America in 1986 by R. Nadeau. The official description for the original hybrid reads:

Magnolia (6378) 09/20/1986 (M. Burns/R. Nadeau) Semidouble-double light pink. Black-green, ovate, pointed, glossy, pebbled/red back. Large (DAVS 1351)

Magnolia is listed with photos in First Class 2 (the software program of the Master List of Species and Cultivars hybrids available from the AVSA or you can see photos of it online here and here.

My Magnolia now has supreme foliage: the leaves darker in color, larger and rounder, very thick, more scalloped and hairy, and they are very brittle and break easily. The petioles (leaf stems) are also very thick and brittle.

Supreme foliage is not very common today in registered varieties, but First Class 2 lists over 180 different hybrids going as far back as the 1950s (the DuPont, Amazon and Supreme series’ are mentioned in vintage African violet books on my shelf). You can learn more about the various kind of African leaf types here (PDF) and here (PDF), or browse photos of some interesting leaf types I’ve had in my collection.

The flowers on my African violet have also mutated – both the colors and texture have changed. The petals have very heavy substance, thick and waxy, and the color is now a deep rose with darker shadings:

The plant is probably a tetraploid but I would need to send a leaf to an African violet expert like Dr. Jeff Smith to confirm it.

I have grown two other plants with supreme foliage: Wee Willie Winkie Supreme (an unregistered Baker hybrid that sported from the original) and Cherry Dots Supreme (Cherry Dots, also an unregistered hybrid by Baker, became supreme while in my collection – it was my first encounter with foliage sporting, near-black foliage, pebbled foliage, supreme foliage, and my first variety having flowers with dogwood tips.

I don’t have either of these any longer – I wish I had taken better photos at the time.

I like the new Magnolia plant better than the original Magnolia, especially the glossiness of the leaves and the waxy blossoms. For now I will be content striking leaves to see what kind of plants grow from Magnolia Supreme, and maybe cross-pollinating the plant with something else in my collection to see what the seeds produce – you never know what you’ll get. I will be paying close attention to the plant, though – if it sported once, it might sport again… and you never know what you’ll get :-) .

Colorful Rooting Vases

I just love glass rooting vases. Glass rooters hung in a window are particularly attractive when hung two or three together with differing cord lengths.

Hanging Bubble Glass Rooting Vases

Colored glass rooting jars help starts and cuttings root quickly. The shaded glass shields the roots from direct sun and keeps algae to a minimum. Start ivy, pothos, begonias, coleus, philodendron, herb cuttings, and even root African violet leaves in these pretty rooting jars.

Tabletop glass rooting jars

I have some heirloom ivy growing in glass rooters from a sprig of English ivy from my sister’s wedding bouquet. The ivy never took to potting soil and thrives in water, so now I have several ivy plants on windowsills in tabletop glass rooting vases. I also grow pothos, spider plants, and arrowhead vine permanently in glass vases.

Rooting vases and jars come and go in popularity and are sometimes hard to find. Grab them while you can – they make great gifts for indoor plant enthusiasts. See what’s available now.

How to Grow Hypoestes

Other names: Polka Dot Plant, Flamingo Plant, Measles Plant, Freckle-Face, Freckle Plant

Botanical Name: Hypoestes phyllostachya
Family: Acanthaceae
Type: Annual

Whiute Hypoestes Plant
Whiute Hypoestes Plant

Hypoestes are delicate care-free annuals that make a spectacular ground cover or border plant. Seeds sprout easily and plants grow quickly, requiring very little pruning or maintenance. They prefer partial shade and will reseed freely in warmer climates. The plants produce terminal, spike-like racemes of small, tubular pink or blue flowers in late summer or fall (even as house plants if given long enough light exposure) but the flowers are not very showy and are easily overlooked. Hypoestes require lots of water whether grown indoors or out, and are excellent candidates for hydroponics and passive wick watering systems.

Types of Hypoestes

Hypoestes come in various shades of white, pink, red and green with patterns ranging from sparse, tiny dots to large splashes of color. Colors can be against green foliage, or reversed (green dots on pink foliage, for example). One of the most popular varieties is the Hypoestes ‘Splash’ series which have been bred for easy germination, improved heat tolerance and long shelf life. Several seeds can be sown together to quickly fill a patio container or window box display, and plants can be pinched back to promote branching and fullness.

Planting Hypoestes Seeds

You can find a variety of hypoestes (polka dot plant) seeds here.

For outdoor plants, sow seeds indoors mid-Spring to be transplanted outdoors after last danger of frost has passed. Alternately, seeds can be sown directly outdoors after danger of frost. For indoor plants, seeds can be sown at any time of year.

Plant seeds in seed starting mix and cover over lightly with mix or vermiculite. Place under lights or in a bright window. Seeds germinate in 2 to 3 days. Peat plugs or Jiffy® pellets can be used as well. Heat mats, propagation domes or other equipment are optional and not necessary for successful germination. Average home temperatures are fine for propagating hypoestes plants.