Ok so first let’s do a super quick intro - like who am i, why should u listen to me talk abt plants, etc etc. I’m Callym (u can follow me on insta @callym.callym), i used to make art but now instead I’ve just gotten really into plants. When I’m like “yeah i have a lot of plants”, people think I mean like, idk, 10-20? But I’ve got probably like over 200. I’ve deffo got over 130 because once I was on the phone to my mum and she asked me how many I had and i got to 130 and lost count and that was like idk a year ago. I’ve only really been super into plants in the last like 3-4 years, and I’d say it’s only the last like 2 years I’ve gotten okay at actually keeping them alive!! Bc of the whole being stuck indoors all day thing, I’ve been spending a lot more time w my plants, stroking their leaves, checking them daily to see if they’ve grown, talking to them, petting them, u get the picture - they make me feel less alone, like I’m caring for these things and watching them respond to my love and watching them change throughout the year and even from one year to the next, it’s a really nice warm feeling, and I want to share that w u all!
When u think of plants, especially houseplants, u probably think of something nice and pretty, a decoration, like yeah its a living thing but it just sits there and doesn’t really do a lot apart from occasionally grow a new leaf (or occasionally just drop down dead!) I used to think like this too, and like I’m not here to shame anyone for wanting plants in their life as decoration or because they look nice - because they do! I just want to show that there’s a lot more to plants than being static, stationary objects!
So so so many people have told me that they like plants but they kill them or like, “I can’t get plants i even killed a cactus!” and like, yeah, me too! (Cactuses and succulents really need to be ignored and people always water them too much!) The top-secret trick, the one that people will hate me for revealing, when it comes to plant care, is that! They’re living things! U unfortunately can’t follow a watering schedule where u just water once a week and that’s done - each plant needs different conditions, amounts of water, some need to dry out completely before being watered again, some need to be kept constantly wet, some need to be kept completely dry during winter then need huge amounts of water during summer, it’s the sort of thing u learn with experience, and as u try more plants, you’ll get a feel for what ones u like looking after the most! For me it’s orchids and tropical plants because I love caring for them, I’ve not got a lot of succulents because they grow too slow for me and I like things that I can water more often, but if u love succulents then embrace that! If you’ve killed a cactus, try an orchid, killed an orchid, try a spider plant, killed a spider plant, try a venus fly trap, but never believe u can’t look after plants because u Can! I believe in u!
So let’s start with some plants that I absolutely love and are somehow not that common, or are overlooked for one reason or another! Some of these plants are gonna be a bit rarer and harder to get hold of, but a lot of them are super common and can be found easily in supermarkets, online, or can be grown easily from cuttings.
All of these plants that I’m gonna talk about I love because they’re tactile! A lot of them are also really pretty, but my focus here is ones that feel nice to touch, stroke, to just like be around.
First one is gonna be african violets! These plants used to be super popular decades ago, and are relatively hard to find in supermarkets these days, but if one of your friends or grandparents has one, you can grow your own from a single leaf! (u can find out how to do that here
) I’ll leave a link at the bottom for a really good nursery that specialises in avs and is v reasonable in price, and has a huge HUGE selection!
So why are these so nice??? One is that a lot of them are small - they don’t take up a huge amount of space, and will never grow absolutely huge. Another reason is the really pretty flowers, but for me, I absolutely love love love their leaves. They are super soft and velvety, and there’s such a huge variety of textures! Some are visibly hairy, some are super plump and soft, like lil green cushions, some have deep green leaves that catch the light just like crushed velvet. I have a couple of species next to my desk, and q often find myself stroking their leaves. (most african violets are hybrids of naturally-found plants, bred to be bigger and to have bigger, more colourful flowers). I’ve got a Saintpaulia shumensis and a Saintpaulia velutina.
(Names written like this, in italics, are the Latin names, and are really really important because common names mean different things to different people - like there’s probably 10 completely different plants that are called money plants, but if u know the latin name then it’s really clear what you’re talking about. Here, Saintpaulia is the genus, or family of plants, and the second word is the species, so is a specific type of african violet.) S. shumensis has pale green leaves with really visible hairs, it doesn’t look like it’s got a hugely hairy leaf, but when u feel it it’s incredibly, surprisingly soft! S. velutina is a lot more like the avs you probably know already, and has super soft, deep green, quilted, velvet leaves.
Looking after these plants is pretty easy - I’m not a huge expert at all, but they don’t like to dry out ever, and you just need to be careful to not drown them, or get water on their leaves (because it can mark them and make them less pretty) - I have mine in saucers, and fill the saucer with water to water them - making sure that when the soil has sucked up as much as it will, that I dump the water out so they’re not sitting in it for ages.
Next on my list I’m gonna tackle succulents. I don’t have a lot of succulents or cacti, but the ones I do have I mostly got because their leaves are super squishy and plump! There’s the very trendy, trailing ones like the turtle plant (Peperomia prostrata), and string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), which look like a chain of lil turtle shells, and lil green pearls, respectively.
My other absolute favourite succulents are Haworthia species, u probably know them as the lil teeny aloe lookalikes with like white stripes or dots on the leaves, but the ones I love the most are the many many varieties of H. cooperi and H. cymbiformis that have huge transparent patches on the tips of their leaves, and look like green jelly beans! The leaves are used to store water, so are super squishy when they need water, and plump and juicy when they’re watered okay. The tiny aloe-like ones are usually super easy to find in supermarkets, I had to buy my jelly-bean-like ones from eBay, but they produce quite a lot of offshoots, and like a lot of other succulents, if you can get your hand on a leaf, you can grow a whole new plant!
(Pic to the left is my Haworthia cymbiformis var. transiens held up to the light so you can see how translucent the leaves are! Mine isn’t super plump at the moment because I’m bad at watering my succulents)
Looking after succulents, especially these ones with the really squishy leaves, is super easy! You basically have to only ever water them when the leaves are visibly starting to wrinkle, which isn’t too often at all. I probably didn’t water any of mine from like October/November until like February/March. They need a lot less water and care than people think!
Going back to hairy plants, I’m gonna talk a lil about begonias. I’ve only recently gotten into them, so I’m not an expert at all, so won’t really give any care advice, but there’s amazing resources online about looking after them! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1qP-m2lcyQ
- ‘Begonia Care’ and ‘Begonia Propagation’ by Summer Rayne Oakes - she can also be found on insta here: https://instagram.com/homesteadbrooklyn
U might know begonias as the like really brightly coloured plants that u get for like hanging baskets and stuff, but its actually a huge plant family and contains a wide selection of super weird-looking plants. If you ever get a chance to go to Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, they’ve got a really big begonia collection! The ones I’ve got in my collection are Begonia sizemoreae, which has weird, super hairy leaves, which are rough to the touch, and Begonia listada, which has incredibly soft leaves, which turn a bit rougher with age. This picture has my B. listada at the top, where you can see how the leaves and stems are covered in hair, and my B. sizemoreae at the bottom, where you can see the curly hairs on the leaves. The stems of this species are also hairy, but it’s less obvious in this picture. There’s loads and loads of species that are weird like this, and loads that are even weirder!
I’ll spend a lil time talking about some carnivorous plants, specifically Pinguicula, the butterworts, and Drosera, the sundews. These have a harder reputation than some of the other plants I’ve talked about, especially if you live somewhere with hard water, because they can apparently be super fussy and sensitive about nutrients in the water, but if you want to give them a try, their actual care is so easy! In the wild, they grow in bogs, so need to be kept moist basically constantly. I grow mine in a big tray of sphagnum moss, but before that, I used to just keep their saucers full with water all the time, and you must never, ever, ever fertilise them, or plant them in regular compost which has nutrients in!
These plants are less stereotypically pretty, and a lot grosser to touch than the nice velvety or squishy plants I’ve already mentioned, but they’re worth mentioning just because they’re so different to other plants. Carnivorous plants grow in locations where there aren’t any nutrients available, either because the soil is acidic, or because they’re growing on trees, so can’t reach the soil at all. Because of this, they’ve evolved to trap and eat insects to get their nutrients. The most famous of these plants is the Venus Fly Trap, which is one of the fastest moving plants!
Sundews trap their prey by having leaves that are covered in tiny droplets of a sticky substance. When you actually touch it, it’s not that sticky, but to flies and gnats, and small insects, they get stuck in it, where the plant can then curl its leaves around the insects, and feed on them. Butterworts work on a similar mechanism, but instead of having leaves with sticky droplets, their wide, flat leaves are covered in a layer of slightly greasy liquid, giving the leaves a wet, almost waxy, shiny surface.
Sundews and Butterworts are commonly used in botanic gardens and greenhouses as a way of keeping pest levels low, especially ones like fungus gnats, which are annoying tiny black flies (sort of like fruit flies), whos larvae eat the roots of young plants, and can kill them. They’re also good at catching fruit flies, and my butterworts have even managed to catch a daddy-long-legs before!
(Left Top) My Drosera capensis var. alba, which lacks the reddish colouring that the species usually has. You can see the lil droplets on the ends of the tentacles on the leaves.
(Left Bottom) An unnamed butterwort that I have. You can see some tiny fungus gnats that the plant has captured.
Philodendron micans, Philodendron verrucosum, Philodendron lupinum, Philodendron gloriosum, and a lot of other Philodendron species, are all climbing plants that have soft, velvety leaves, usually with the back of the leaves being a deep red. Out of these, P. micans is the easiest to find and care for, and the quickest to grow, while the others are harder to find, sometimes being quite expensive. A top tip for all these plants, and a lot of other climbing tropical plants, like Monsteras (cheese-plants), is that their leaves get bigger if you let them climb up something, instead of letting them hang down.
Now we’re gonna get to my absolute favourite plants, orchids! Orchids are either the biggest or second-biggest family of plants (scientists love changing things around all the time), and contain plants that are the size of a fingernail, all the way up to one species that can grow up to 8m tall and weigh up to 2 tons! You probably know orchids as the ones you can get from the supermarkets, which tend to be one of two sorts, the Dendrobrium nobile-like cane orchids, which have thick, green, upright stems, with flowers, usually white or pink, that go all the way from the base to the top, and with leaves all the way along the cane, and the Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids. These plants in the supermarket are usually sold as a gift or alternative to a bunch of flowers, and because of this, and the bad care instructions given with them, has given orchids a reputation of being incredibly difficult to grow, but (at least for these sorts!), this just isn’t true at all.
Phalaenopsis orchids are one of my favourite genera (families) of orchid, basically all of which grow on the branches of trees, with their roots wrapping around the branch to hold them in place. Plants that grow like this (using other plants for support), are called epiphytes, which is totally different to parasitic plants, which actually feed off other plants. The flowers of the moth orchids come in a huge range of colours and patterns (although the bright neons and blues you can see in supermarkets are dyed them colours!), from pure white, to deep, shiny red, from flowers the size of your hand to ones only a few cm across. It tends to be that the ones with smaller flowers, especially small, pale pink flowers, will keep on flowering from the end of the same stem (this stem is called a spike in orchid language) for months, or even years, often also branching off to produce more flower spikes, while the bigger flowered varieties usually only flower from a spike once, then it’ll die down and can be cut off. Either way, while a spike is still green, I’d leave it, because it means there’s a chance you can get more flowers from it!
One unique thing about Phalaenopsis orchids that make them super easy to look after, is that they tell you when they need a water! When you buy an orchid, it’ll be in a clear plastic pot. This is mostly because orchid roots can photosynthesise, just like the leaves, but also helps us a lot! The structure of most orchid roots is sort of like a sponge, there’s a thin piece that’s right in the centre, which is the actual root, and then the rest of it is a spongy tissue called velamen. This velamen is a silvery-grey colour when dry, and transparent when wet, and it’s this property that helps us! When you water a Phalaenopsis, you can either give it a bath, or a shower, which is to say - you can either dunk the pot in water up until the leaves, and let it soak for a while (like idk 30mins, or an hour, or two, they’re not too fussy), or you can run water through the pot until it’s wet throughout, making sure to not get water in the middle of the leaves, because that can cause rot! When you’ve finished watering your phal, the leaves should be a vivid green colour. This is the velamen showing us that it’s full with water! Now you just let the water drain off, put it back in its saucer and move the plant back to wherever you keep it, and you wait. You’ll probably be tempted to water it again really soon, because these orchids are potted in bark, the bark will dry out quite quickly and you’ll think it needs another water, but you’re not interested in the bark, you’re interested in the roots! When the velamen starts to dry out, and goes a silvery-green colour, you can give it another bath or shower!
The other common supermarket orchid, the cane orchids, are slightly fussier, as you can’t easily see the roots, which are thinner and less useful for knowing when they need water, and I’m not great at keeping them alive, but MissOrchidGirl on YouTube has a great selection of videos on all sorts of orchids! Here’s one for cane orchids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jlJbl7npOk
I’d highly recommend getting a Phalaenopsis from the supermarket next time you’re there, they’re super cheap (I’ve seen them in supermarkets reduced for less than £1, with the plant still being super healthy, just the flowers had started to fade), easy to look after, you can get some beautiful colours and patterns, some of my favourite orchids are from supermarkets - I’ve got two that are beautiful cream flowers with deep purple splotches on the petals, some with more star-shaped flowers that are white and even green, pale pink ones, deep purple, some have leaves that are pale green, some that are almost black, some have spotty silvery leaves, and some (if you’re really lucky!) are even fragrant! Here are two Phalaenopsis that I’ve gotten from supermarkets, both are the smaller-flowering varieties, the one on the left has spotted leaves which I love! And the one on the right, Phalaenopsis ‘Sunshine’, has bright yellow, super cheery flowers, and lovely shiny leaves!
Here’s my absolute favourite Phalaenopsis species, Phalaenopsis schilleriana. http://herebutnot.com/phalaenopsis-schilleriana-care-culture/