Dizygotheca

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Dracaena

Grown for ils attractive foliage Dioscorea discolor, variegated yam. is a quick growing deciduous climber that requires moist, shaded and warm conditions in order to succeed. It is best suited to the greenhouse or garden room, but will give much pleasure to the keen indoor plantsman who is seeking something a little more challenging on which to test his skill.

Plants are grown from potato-like tubers that are started into growth in early spring, and it is most essential that they should enjoy the warmest conditions - temperatures not less than 24°C (75°F) for preference. Growth will be quite rapid if tubers are plunged in boxes or pots filled with moist peat and kept at the temperature recommended, but it will be lamentably slow if the temperature is inadequate. When purchasing tubers it is important to ensure that the variegated yam is asked for as the green

Once the tubers have produced a number of leaves the plants should be individually planted in pots filled with John Innes potting compost No. 3. A trellis or similar support will be needed for the growth to cling to as it develops. The plants die down naturally in the autumn, when the compost should be allowed to dry out before the tubers are stored in a warm, dry place for the winter in readiness for starting into growth again in fresh compost in the spring. The compost should be kept moist and fed while the plant is actively growing.

Dizygotheca eleganlissima. false aralia. is one of the most graceful and delicate (in more senses than one) of all our indoor plants in its early years of development. The leaves are dark green in colour almost to he point of being black, and provide an excellent foil for other plants when placed group. Older foliage becomes coarse less attractive as the plant ages, but s not a problem that will greatly worry he average grower of house plants as it is not easy to keep plants for more than a year or two indoors. However, this does not imply that these plants are not well worth acquiring and enjoying for the time they arc at their best.

For reasonable success, constant warmth, light shade and a watering programme that errs on the side of dry rather than wet conditions should be provided. Only established plants will need feeding, and when this is done it will be wise to apply a weak liquid fertilizer at frequent intervals as heavy doses will only damage the root system. Potting on should be undertaken in the spring and the compost must be open and well drained. A heavy lifeless compost will give roots little chance to develop as they should. In time, in ideal conditions, plants will develop into trees of considerable size. New plants can be raised from seed sown in the early part of the year.

As I mentioned earlier there are both easy and difficult members of the dracaena tribe; the easier kinds will be found on page 40 and some of the more difficult ones are described here.

Possibly the best known of all the dracaenas is Dracaena itkminalis (syn. Cordyline lerniinalis) with its bright red. upright leaves which make it a very handsome and compact plant. Commonly named flaming dragontree it requires temperatures of not less than I6°C (60'F) and when watering it is advisable to allow the compost to dry out a little between each application. It is also advisable, wherever possible, to use rain water in preference to hard tap water. The growing position should be reasonably well lit, but away from strong sunlight. In any event, given all these requirements. this is a temporary rather than a permanent room plant.

Similar in colour though smaller, and needing the same treatment, is D. Rededge. This is a particularly fine plant for grouping with other subjects in trough and dish gardens.

One of the most majestic of plants is D. massangeana. which has broad, strap-like leaves of a mustard colour and grows to a height of some 7 ft (2-25 m) when the roots are confined to pots. Identical in its habit of growth is D. m. Victoria, which has brighter colouring and is more difficult to care for. New plants are propagated from and the ability of stem sec-

n their

Ficus extraordinary. Stem sections several feet in length can be rooted by standing the piece upright in rooting compost, so that a beautiful palm-like effect is the result when the over-size cutting has rooted.

Dracaena deremensis and its many varieties are some of the most attractive of foliage plants, and will well reward the extra care and more agreeable growing conditions that they demand. Excessive watering and low temperatures are the principal enemies, and a combination of the two will almost surely be fatal. Mature plants of the taller dracacnas will often produce strong stems of flower, but these are seldom

Dracaena godseffiana has small, speckled green leaves carried on wiry stems and is not particularly decorative, but the much improved form D. g. Florida Beauty is well worth acquiring. The leaves are also speckled, but the colouring is cream to gold

In order to do well it is essential that the compost should be well drained and this is one reason for plants seeming to do much better when several are planted in shallow containers that have a number of drainage holes in the bottom. Established plants should be fed regularly during the summer months with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Pol on when plants have filled their existing pots with roots, using John Innes potting compost No. 2 or 3 depending on plant size. Adding a little extra peat to the John Innes will be beneficial. Generally low growing, in ideal conditions they will attain a height of 5 to 6ft (1-5 to 2 m) in as many years.

The genus Ficus provides some of our most successful and popular indoor plants, a number of which have been described on pages 44 and 45. The following kinds are all variegated forms and. as is often the case with variegated plants, they fall at the difficult end of the scale, requiring some skill and good conditions if they are to be regarded as anything other than temporary inhabitants of the home.

Ficus elasiica doesclieri and F.e.schry-veriana (page 44) are somewhat similar in appearance, but whereas F. e. schryveriana is not among the most difficult of plants to care for, the same cannot be said for F. e. doescheri which will try the skill of the most accomplished grower of plants. The leaves of the latter have the narrow drooping habit of F. elasiica. which was one of the front runners when house plants were becoming popular some thirty years ago. In spite of its narrow leaves the variegation of F. e. doescheri is most attractive. However, it is among the most difficult of indoor plants to care for and in room conditions it is more usual to see it just about surviving rather than growing. The cream-coloured outer margins of the leaves have very little chlorophyll in them, so making these areas particularly susceptible to rotting and brown patches, usually as a result of root damage. Careful watering that errs on the side of dryness is most important, as is the need for reasonable warmth and a position that is light but not too sunny.

Equally difficult, but I think much more attractive, is F. decora tricolor, which has the larger, more rounded decora-type leaves variegated in cream and sometimes flushed with pink, and beautiful upright habit of growth. Alas, as the heating of greenhouses tends to look more and more favourably on the plants that are most likely to give good results at the end of the day. So the difficult plants, of which only a small percentage are likely to be of good quality, are gradually being weeded out. so making them very scarce and in some cases unobtainable. This is certainly the case with F. d. tricolor which is seldom seen today, even at major flower

Probably the smallest of the variegated ficus is F. radicals variegata which has attractive silver and green variegated leaves that are carried on stiff stems. By putting several cuttings direct into the growing pot rather than first into a propagating bed. this plant matures quite quickly in warm, moist and shaded greenhouse conditions, but in the dryer conditions that generally prevail in the average home F. radicans can be a very difficult plant. Indoors, terrariums and bottle gardens provide the nearest conditions to those of a greenhouse, and in such containers this particular plant does very much better. The more accomplished grower with near-perfect conditions, such as a warm greenhouse, may wish to experiment and provide a moss-covered support to which the growth can be trained. By keeping the moss moist very decorative columns of foliage can be formed.

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