The Orchid

 When my roommate brought home an orchid, I was worried that it would die knowing how difficult they can be to keep alive. But it was so pretty, so I wanted to keep it in our apartment. I looked up the care and found that it seemed a lot easier than I originally assumed, but I figured I would keep poking at it. I kept finding that it was being cared for. When I mentioned how some people can find them difficult to keep alive, she said “I don’t know, I just water it every so often and I guess it likes what I am doing”.

Orchids have a rich history. There are over 25,000 varieties that come in every color but black and they grow on every continent except for Antarctica. Different cultures have believed in different medicinal benefits. Traditional Chinese medicine believed that orchids would heal coughs and lung ailments. The Greek associated orchids with male virility and fertility. The Aztecs would drink a mixture of vanilla orchids and chocolate for strength. That’s right, vanilla comes from a particular type of orchid. For those, like the Victorians, who didn’t believe they had medicinal properties, they liked to collect them and show them off for their beauty, something that people continue to do today.

Orchids have a reputation of being a plant that is difficult to care for. However, though they require water more frequently than other plants we have discussed, overall, they are a simple plant to care for. The biggest mistake people make is not watering them properly. Orchids are very prone to overwatering and that is often what kills them. How you water them properly is to soak them. But you cannot water them too soon after. To know they are ready to be watered again, stick your finger into the soil an inch. If the soil is dry, then they are ready for another watering. This typically takes about a week. They also like to be placed in south or east window where they receive plenty of indirect sunlight. They are prone to scorching if they receive too much. They like humidity. The preferred range is 50-70%. During growing season, they like it when their living environment is 15 degrees cooler at night than during the day. This is the optimal living environment for their flowers to bloom.

The good news is that despite popular belief, they are safe for dogs, cats, and humans. While like any plant, you don’t want your pets to eat them, they are non-toxic and will not hurt your furry friends. Just make sure that they don’t destroy it!

The Rattlesnake Plant

As my collection continued to grow, I began to find that I had a whole lot of green. While that is standard for plants, and kind of what they do, I also knew that there were other color options out there and that it would be entirely possible to add even just a little color to my collection to add some depth. When I found the Rattlesnake Plant at work, I immediately knew that this was exactly what I was looking for. The variations in color and patterns along the leaves were a perfection variation upon what I had become so familiar with.

The Rattlesnake Plant or Calathea lancifolia is a tropical Brazilian plant known for it green and purple leaf tops and purple underside. The plant is known to follow the sunlight, meaning that the leaves open and close depending on how much light is available. The leaves tend to cover my other plants when they are open in the sunlight. This plant is also another simple care air purifier and is known to be safe to dogs, cats, and humans.

                The hardest part of caring for these plants is the need for a warm, humid environment. Anything below 65 degrees is too cold for them and they will begin to respond negatively to their environment by loosing their leaves.  They also do not respond well to sudden temperature changes and air drafts.

                Beyond that, these plants are quite simple to care for. They are among the plants that need less frequent waterings. In the cooler seasons, it is only necessary to water them every few weeks, when the soil becomes dry. In the warmer spring and summer months, waterings should become more frequent and be done when the soil is halfway dry. Never let your plant sit in standing water.

                The Rattlesnake Plant is also one that requires a lesser amount of sunlight. Optimally, they like being near a window where the sunlight does come in, but to lesser degrees. Mine sits underneath the windowsill of a window that already only receives direct sunlight for a few hours of the day. It has been thriving there.

                Much like many of the other plants I have featured thus far, this would be an excellent addition to any collection and allows for a lesser level of care. They also come with the benefits of being safe for animals and children, and not burning to the touch, unlike the ZZ Plant. Though they both have waxy appearing leaves, the Rattlesnake Plant will cause no irritation.

Your Own Little Desert

                Succulents and cacti are currently incredibly common houseplants. However, the term succulent is not a scientific term. It is simply a broad term used to generalize fleshy plants that have a high water content in the leaves, stem, or roots. Due to the wide variety of the category, their histories and backgrounds are diverse. Cacti can come from all over the world and different elevations from being on some mountains to truly being in the desert. While the advice listed below is overall useful and accurate. It is important to note each individual plant comes with its own needs and the care required may vary from plant to plant.

                The most important thing to note is that that succulents and cacti tend to need more water than most people think they do. While many people will think that you can go weeks without water them (which is true), this is not the environment that they thrive in and they will definitely not grow if they are lacking water. Instead, ensure that your pot has draining holes and then watering it until water seeps from the planter. After this, just wait until the soil is dry again. In the growing season, this can be as often as once a week which is much more frequent than the assume 6-8 weeks. During the cooler seasons, the time between can extend a bit as it tends to be cooler outside and the plant requires less energy to survive.

                It is worth noting that while these plants are adapted for the desert, they are also prone to sun burning. This means that prefer southern windows and less direct bright light. However, they can be trained to accept bright direct sunlight by slowly introducing them to the change in lighting.

                One final note is that succulents can often be propagated to grow new plants. It varies from plant to plant, but generally it involves cutting off a leaf, placing it in water until you grown new roots then plant! However, as with all of the advice in this post, make sure to check the requirements of the exact plant you have before attempting this.

ZZ Plant: Real or Fake?

Zamioculcas zamiifolia or the ZZ Plant is a more recent addition to the standard houseplant. Though available in South Africa for centuries, they did not find their way into greenhouses until 1996 when Dutch nurseries in South Africa thought that the plant would be worth propagating and bringing into homes and offices. Since then, these plants have become one of the most popular houseplants due to the simple care and the fact that it is difficult to kill. These plants are often confused for a fake plant due to the waxy appearance of the leaves. The main benefit of these plants is that this is another example of an air purifying plant.

                This may actually be the easiest plant to care for; they can go months without watering due to the potato like root system which can hold onto water for a long period of time. However, these plants are more apt to grow when they are being watered more regularly. Because of this, it is probably not surprising that this plant is very prone to overwatering and root rot. The simple solution is to only water them when the soil in dry. These plants prefer bright indirect lighting in a southern window, however, growing lamps are a feasible option when lighting may be less than ideal of whatever reason. However, these plants are able to draw in light from minimal sources.

                An important thing to note is that these plants can be poisonous to humans, cats, and dogs. In humans, touching the plant can cause minimal burning and discomfort. It is best to wear gloves when handling the plant.  However, this plant is most poisonous to a human consuming the leaves. This plant is also unfriendly to cats or dogs who may nibble on the leaves. That means that this plant should either be left out of reach of curious babies, infants, cats, and dogs or left out of the house entirely if that is not possible. I don’t want to scare you out of keeping this plant in your home, there are many examples of this plant causing minimal to no harm to its owners, but there is also the possibility of causing harm. These risks need to be weighed when considering plant ownership.

Attracting Fortune: Lucky Bamboo

As I became known for my plant collection, a friend bought me a lucky bamboo plant with three twirling stalks. I had also just bought myself a lucky bamboo plant with a singular straight stalk. These, however are not actually bamboo, they just look like it. They do, however, have a four-thousand-year long history stemming from China. As a theme, they represent good fortune with different numbers of stalk representing different fortunes. This includes:

Two Stalks: Love and doubling your luck

Three Stalks: Wealth, happiness, and a long life

Five Stalks: wealth involved in growing a business

Six Stalks: luck that will bring prosperity

Seven Stalks: Wealth, happiness, and good fortune

Eight Stalks: a great motivator and enhancer

Nine Stalks: a symbol of good fortune

Ten Stalks: completion and perfection

Twenty-one Stalks: abundance and blessing

                These plants come in a variety of shapes and designs however they only grow in a straight stalk. Shaping them is a skill, and often takes over a year. My twirling lucky bamboo stalks were made by a skilled person spending approximately a year and a half slowly spinning my plant so that it could continue to move to the sun. However, it did not continue growing, nor will it continue to grow for you. It is fully grown when it comes to you. The leaves on the other hand, can grow quickly becoming quite large.

                This plant does not come with any health benefits. People say that the health benefits come in the good fortunes that the plants attract to the household that the lucky bamboo lives in.

                Care for these plants is abundantly simple. They are happy living just in distilled water or soft tap water. All you need to do is make sure that the roots remain covered and change the water every month or so. Beyond that, you need to make sure that the plant remains in indirect sunlight, otherwise they can burn pretty easily. These plants can easily last a decade with this simple care and considerations. This beautiful plant can and will become a long lasting and vital part of your household.

Snake Plant: A Natural Purifier

I had been seeing plastic versions of snake plants at Target. I thought they were beautiful and I wanted one of my own. However, I didn’t want a plastic plant—that defeats the purpose of buying one. However, I kept my eye out. Soon thereafter, I would find one at Trader Joe’s and it would join my collection. I was super excited to find that it is virtually impossible to kill the plant, and that it will do well even with some neglect. Now, it hangs out in my living room, enjoying the little direct sunlight that the room gets.

The Snake Plant refers to seventy or so variety of the plant. The most commonly kept one is the Dracaena trifasciata. They come from a variety of areas including India, South Africa, and Madagascar. Because of the vast variety of plants, it is hard to create a history, other than to say that the genus was named after Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, a lover of plant horticulture in 18th century Italy.

                This plant is another top air purifier, in fact it was placed on this list by NASA! This is because it can purify a list of toxins. These include Cardon Dioxide, Benzene, Formaldehyde, Xylene, Trichloroethylene, and Toluene. All of these examples can have negative effects that range from dizziness and shortness of breath to nervous system dysfunction and rare cancers when exposed for extended and constant exposure.

                Caring for them is super basic. They enjoy porous pots and draining soils. Their roots are prone to rotting and that can kill them—but that is really the only thing that you have to worry about. You don’t want to over water them, however, you don’t necessarily need to worry about under watering them; they tend to be ok with having less water. They also like indirect sunlight, though they are also open to having a little more or a little less. But that is about it. Mine has been thriving since I brought it home several months ago. In fact, I can see a couple of smaller leaves starting to peep through the soil and join the rest of the plant. For me that is the most exciting part, when my plant begins to grow and I can see that they are happy in my home and my work is bringing in a bigger and prettier plant. That is something that I could never do with a plastic plant that I bought at Target.

Please note that these plants are toxic to both cats and dogs if bitten or consumed. Take this into consideration before bringing the plant into your house.

Simple Care: The Spider Plant

Soon after realizing my aloe plant was thriving, I went for something else that was easy to care for: a spider plant or Chlorophytum comosum. Though I began with three small offshoots of my mother’s plant, it quickly blossomed into something much larger and grew into the large pot that they swam in just a few months prior.

The plant is a South and West African plant likely brought to Europe in the late 18th century by Carl Thunberg. He was in Capetown collecting bulbs, seeds, and dried plants and it is believed that the Spider Plant was just one example of what he brought with him. They were quickly brought into Victorian homes and their popularity grew from there. They were hung to show off all of their beautiful cascading leaves.

There are a few medicinal uses. First, they are an example of an air purifying plant. They are known to remove formaldehyde, toluene, ozone, and hydrocarbon from the air. In Chinese medicine, their roots were used for treating bronchitis and bone breaks and fractures. These days, we have some research showing that Spider Plant roots can help with inflammation in the liver and suppressing tumor growth.  The leaves may also be a prebiotic. All of these examples have minimal research and require more to be used for these medicinal purposes.  

Regardless of if these medical purposes are legitimate or not, these are beautiful houseplants and they are incredibly easy to care for. They prefer indirect sunlight; however, they don’t mind full sunlight. Spider Plants are more apt to grow their flowers in the direct sunlight during the summer though. While it is possible to water them every day or every other day, they are not picky about exactly how much water they receive. You can water it as little as once a week or when the soil starts to get dry. However, something to note is that if you use tap water to water your plant, the ends of the leaves can become brown and singed if your neighborhood or city adds fluoride to their water. If this happens to your plant like it did to mine, all you need to do it cut the ends off with scissors. The preferred potting soil is a mix of sand and peat. With such simple care, they can easily flourish in your home and become a beautiful centerpiece for years to come.

Grow your own Burn Care–Aloe Vera

The plant that helped me realize I would be able to keep a plant alive is the aloe vera plant. As hearty and difficult to kill plant, even my beginning skills were able to keep it alive. I also found that the topical uses would my keeping the plant even more beneficial. The most well known use– burn care– was the most beneficial for me. As a natural red head, I need all the help I can get to care for my skin before and after the almost inevitable burn. While I had long sworn off aloe for sunburn treatment, I found that the pure aloe vera did exactly what I had been promised that the bottles would do. Suddenly my aloe plant could not grow fast enough. There is also a small amount of research done that shows there is a possibility that aloe plants can improve digestive health, improve oral health, clear acne, and relieve anal fissures. While none of this is meant to be used as medical advice, these uses could possibly be used with doctor supervision.

To harvest the plant to use the gel, simply remove and outer leaf from the plant and open it up, you will see the gel along the inside. I simply rub the gel directly from the leaf onto the burnt area and then let it dry. It will add moisture to the area, and ease the pain that comes with a sunburn.

The perk with all of these possible medical uses is that the plant is incredibly easy to care for. Here are some notes on the care of your aloe plant:

  • Make sure the pot is made of a porous material like terracotta
  • Make sure the pot has a drainage hole
  • Use a succulent potting mix, not standard potting soil
  • Place in bright indirect sunlight
  • Water infrequently, allowing for one to two inches of dry soil between waterings. This is often 3 weeks in the summer and even less frequently in the winter
  • Ensure that the plant remains in the temperature range of 55 and 80 degrees F or 13 to 27 degrees C

And that’s it!

These plants can grow quite large, and that is something to keep an eye on. You do not want to leave it in a pot that is too small– that can lead to your plant itself dying. Replanting is also easy simply:

  • Clean your new pot and place mesh over the drainage hole to help keep the soil from falling out
  • Gently remove the plant from the old pot and carefully brush away the soil from the roots.
  • Place in the new pot that this three-quarters filled with good draining soil
  • Fill soil in around the plant leaving the bottom leaves above the soil.
  • Make sure not to water the plant for at least a week while it settles in its new home.

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