Tetrastigma

Thunbergia

Tolmiea

The young growth of this plant has a slightly menacing look as it projects from the parent plant almost at right angles and the leading tendrils stand out like antennae in search of prey. Behind these the older tendrils hang down and resemble thin spidery legs that give this section of the plant a somewhat awesome appearance.

Belonging to the vine family Tetrastigma voinierianum, when it decides that it likes you and is prepared to grow, is one of the most rampant of the larger house plants and will very quickly fill its allotted space. Seen at its best when interwoven through a trellis or similar framework it is one of the most rapid-growing plants, but will at times, often for unaccountable reasons, remain static for months on end. During these periods it is wise not to be too heavy with compost should not be allowed to dry out. Active plants will quite quickly, as a rule, grow to the point where they should be in pots of a 10-in (25-cm) size and will need regular feeding. Potting into larger pots than this is seldom necessary for plants in the home. When potting on use John Innes compost No. 3.

The foliage is covered with a natural downy substance. Plants with leaves of this sort should at no time be cleaned as the rubbing action on the leaf mars their appearance. The temperature should be maintained in the region of 18 to 21°C (65 to 70°F), and a shaded position is best.

With facilities such as a heated greenhouse or garden room it will be found that seed of many plants can be sown at differing times of the year in order to spread the flowering period over many more months. For example. schizanthus seed can be sown in late autumn to flower in the spring, and seed sown in February or March will flower in

Black-eyed Susan. Thunbergia alata. is a more unusual plant that may be treated in similar fashion, the period from seed sowing to flowering is about six months. The common name is derived from the appearance of the flowers which have orange petals with black centres and are very attractive when seen en masse on well grown plants. Only a few seeds need be sown at a time, and an excellent method of doing this is to fill a 5-in (13-cm) pot with a good house-plant compost and then to sow six seeds in the pot: when these are established the three weaker seedlings should be removed, leaving the stronger ones to grow on.

Thunbergia is a natural climbing plant, therefore some form of support must be provided - it need not be loo tall as plants seldom attain a height of more than 6ft (2 m) before they lose their appearance and need replacing. Provide good light and reasonable warmth, and keep a watchful eye for red spider mite - plants that are badly affected by this should be destroyed.

Tolmiea menziesii has acquired its amusing common name, the pick-a-back plant, from the tiny plantlets which are formed and carried on the backs of the older leaves. These plantlets provide an easy means of propagation and if removed and placed on pots of ordinary compost they will root with no difficulty.

Tolmiea is also, one of the few indoor plants which is completely hardy in Britain. It is, in fact, a hardy herbaceous perennial and will survive out of doors, although in common with other perennials the foliage dies down in the winter. Its hardiness is a useful feature when contemplating holidays as it will be quite all right if it is planted in the garden and well watered before departure. but preferably not in midwinter.

Indoors it is evergreen and requires only cool and light conditions to do well and produce its hummocks of bright green leaves. Temperature is not important but something in the region of I0°C (S0°F) will be the most suitable. In hotter and dryer conditions this plant may well be attacked by red spider. Larger plants tend to become too large and untidy and it is better to discard them when this happens and start

Tradescantia

Zebrina

Tradescantia

Zebrina

Another of the friendship plants that can be acquired as cuttings or small plants from friends, rather than from the flower shop where there seems to have been a dwindling supply in recent years. However, there is little reason to go short of these plants as there must be millions of them around and it is simply a question of keeping one's eye open for them in a shop, or on a windowsill

Cuttings acquired on request, or by accident when they fall off in the hand (these always root better!) should be placed in a polythene bag. care being taken not to crush them. On getting them home the best way to root them is to insert five or six cuttings in 3}-in (9-cm) pots of John Innes potting compost No. 2, and to remove the growing tips when they have begun to grow well. Alternatively, single cuttings can be suspended in the narrow neck of a bottle filled with water. Once rooted they can be potted up in compost. However, except for the interest of seeing roots develop, this seems to be a waste of time as the cuttings may just as well go directly into the pot where they must grow eventually.

When kept moist, well fed once they are established, and in good light, they make fine plants in very little time. In good light they are more likely to retain their variegation, and to help this any green shoots should be removed as soon as they are seen. The plain green shoots are much more vigorous and will quickly take over if left on the plant.

The temperature is not especially important provided it does not become very hot or very cold - tradescantias will do best in the middle range. Being durable and adaptable they will grow almost anywhere that is warm and moist. Grown conventionally in pots they will do well, or they are equally at home when pieces break from the plant and grow in the gravel on the greenhouse staging. They will also grow on the floor of the greenhouse under the staging where they will keep down the weeds and provide a continual supply of cuttings from which to propagate fresh plants.

There are many varieties; besides the usual silver, there are golden as well as pink, cream and russet-brown forms. Most arc varieties of Tradescantia fluminensis. which is a trailing plant with bright green leaves. Much more spectacular is T.f. Quicksilver with silver variegation. T. blossfeldiana is a more erect plant, rather hairy, with dark green leaves with purple undersides. Once again there is a more attractive variety -T. b. variegaia - with cream-striped leaves.

Zebrina penduia. a humble member of the tradescantia tribe, is often passed over without so much as a second look when seen growing among a collection of other plants. Next time have a closer look and you will see that there are some fascinating colours in the leaves - green, purple and brown with an overall sheen of silver in really healthy plants. The undersides of the leaves are a greenish purple.

Treatment is the same as for the tradescantia. but to sec plants of zebrina at their best they should be grown in hanging baskets where they will have ample space for both root development and leaf growth. Many is the time I have stood on duty at a flower show and seen the almost incredulous faces of visitors looking at superb baskets of Z. penduia - you can read these faces as they think to themselves that it cannot possibly be the same plant as the poor wee thing they arc attempting to grow on the mantle-piece at home. A great deal of satisfaction can be derived from growing one of the humbler plants into something of a show stopper.

There is a good form of Z. penduia called Quadricolor which has rose-purple leaves with white stripes and purple undersides. Z.purpusii is also an interesting species with purple-flushed green leaves which once again are purple on the underneath. Z.penduia produces rather insignificant pale purple flowers in summer while Z.purpusii carries lavender flowers in autumn.

Increase by cuttings a few inches in length taken at any time of the year and rooted in

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