November 21, 2009

1 - Here are some unusual and interesting houseplants you can grow.

Yard and Garden November 21, 2009


I have gardened in New Mexico for 20 years, but I have always grown the common, expected things. This year I want to grow something unusual and unexpected. I will start with houseplants because I do not want to wait for spring. What do you suggest for unusual, interesting, unexpected houseplants?

- Jake N.

Santa Fe


Something unusual and unexpected, hmmm. I am sure almost everything has been tried, but there are some things that are less common. Houseplants are a good place to start when growing the unusual because you can grow tropical plants that will not survive outside, but can make quite an impression indoors.

The first thing that comes to mind is the pineapple. This is a bromeliad, related to Spanish moss and numerous ornamental bromeliads sold in the garden centers. You may sometimes see the pineapple in the garden centers, forced to flower with small pineapples on the top. These pineapples that have been forced to flower will probably die shortly, so unless they produce offset (baby plants at the base), they will be with you for only a short time. However, you can grow your own pineapple plant from the leafy top from a pineapple fruit. If the fruit is very fresh and has not been refrigerated, the top may grow when you cut it from the fruit. Remove all the fleshy (sweet, quick to rot) fruit from the base of the plant, carefully peel back some of the small basal leaves to expose roots or root initials, pot this in good, well-drained potting soil, water, place it in a location with bright light, and watch for growth. Soon you may have a yucca-like pineapple plant. If it fails to form roots, try again with another pineapple. This is a good excuse to eat fresh pineapple. It is hard to start, but easy to grow once it forms roots and begins to grow.

Some other interesting plants are gingers. They are fairly easy to grow indoors if your house is warm enough during the winter. You can start with a piece of ginger root from the grocery. Plant it in a high quality, well-drained potting soil and keep the soil evenly moist. Do not grow it in direct sunlight (the leaves will burn), rather in a location with bright, indirect light. A ginger relative that is interesting and exotic looking is cardamom. I got a small plant from my mother's back yard in Southeast Texas where it can survive outside. It will not survive outside in New Mexico, but makes a very large, exotic looking houseplant. There are also ginger relatives that produce exotic, gardenia-scented blossoms. These are the Hedychium coronarium plants. Although they are not used for spice, the fragrance of their flowers, and exotic tropical leaves make them suitable houseplants for your purposes.

The list of potential plants to fill your request is extremely long, but these should give you a good beginning at growing unusual and interesting plants.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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