Houseplants in the Forest
I’ve just returned from a few weeks break in Brazil and spent much of my trip looking at spectacular wildlife such as jaguar, giant otter and fabulous bird life! During those ventures into the forests I couldn’t help but notice familiar plants along the way! These houseplants in the forest gave insight into why some thrive better than others in our homes.
Just like the Costa Rica jungles, Brazilian forests are full of plants that we regard as indoor houseplants. A while ago I visited Costa Rica and there too was delighted to recognise houseplants in the forest. You may care to read about that here.
The forest floors are covered in shade tolerant plants such as the Goose Foot plant [Syngonium]. This tough and easy-to-please indoor plant is a great choice for a room that receives little or no natural light so a great candidate for a hallway. And because it enjoys some heat it also tolerates our centrally heated houses well too.
I was however surprised to find Mother-in Laws-Tongue [Sansevieria] growing in the shade of giant trees! I had always regarded this succulent-like plant as a plant that grew in the open and wasn’t expecting to find these houseplants in the forest! If you travel through parts of Belgium and Holland you will often see Sansevieria in pots or troughs on the inside window ledge of apartments where they grow so prolifically that there seems to be little need for curtains!
Once more, this is a tough and easy indoor plant to grow. Like the Syngonium, it is very happy with our centrally heated rather dry aired homes. In Brazil, I found the non-variegated version and I think that most, if not all, actually are introductions from Africa. There was, of course, a substantial African migration [largely not of their own free will!] into Brazil and perhaps this plant was introduced as a useful plant fibre?
The Prayer Plant- so called because it folds its leaves up and holds them up vertically in the evenings- is also a clump forming shade tolerant plant of the eastern Brazilian forest. Calathea likes pretty much the same conditions in our home as Sansevieria and Syngonium but is perhaps a little less easy to please. The broad feather-shaped leaves are attractively marked in a fishbone fashion.
Occasionally I stumbled upon a few plants of Caladium. This one has several delightful common names which are Angels Wing, Elephants Ears and Heart of Jesus. These names allude to the large heart shaped leaf that, in cultivated varieties, can be spectacularly coloured. Alongside, especially in damp soils, I found Dieffenbachia or ‘Dumb Cane’ growing well. This too was less showy than the varieties that we grow in our homes. I find Caladium and Dieffenbachia to be much fussier about the conditions provided in our British homes. Both, I suspect would benefit from the higher humidity that we find in bathrooms and kitchens.
By contrast, Wandering Jew [Tradescantia zebrina] is a very easy plant to grow as an indoor houseplant and this occupied bold patches of the forest floor and often smothered everything in its path!
Equally easy to please are members of the Bromeliad family! These grow everywhere in the lower levels of Brazil and Central America and can be found covering trees, posts, rocks and even the forest floor. There are examples of Bromeliads that are both epiphytes and terrestrial and both rely largely on collecting water and nutrients in their large urn like leaf arrangement or by absorbing them through their leaf and stems in the way that Spanish Moss does. Again, this is a good candidate for those rooms in the house with higher humidity. Nevertheless, they are remarkably easy to grow and require little expertise!
Of course, not all familiar plants are to be found on the forest floor! Climbing the trunks and growing into the tree canopy are massive Philodendrons. These are familiar plants in homes and in offices since their huge leaves are not only dramatic to look at but also do a great job of ‘scrubbing’ the air and making our homes healthier place to live!
Devils Ivy [Scindapsus or Epipremnum] climbs here too but that is less vigorous and has smaller leaves so arguably lends it to our homes better.
There are of course many more plants familiar to our British indoor plant scene growing wild in Brazil. I haven’t even mentioned the thousands of orchids or the potentially life-saving potential of some, but with a list of native plants that makes our own British range look meagre; this is a fascinating country to visit!
What plants have you seen growing in the wild that excite you?
Have you seen commonly grown houseplants in the forest? If so, in which country?