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Tropicals continue to trend

Powerful plants for house and patio

Every January, the Tropical Plant Industry Expo (TPIE) shows the best and newest Florida-grown plants. Wholesale companies such as Costa Farms (Miami) aim at capturing the buyers who choose the plants you’ll buy in garden centers this summer. The variety is overwhelming; most of the 6,000 professional attendees are wearing dazed expressions after the first few hours of shopping. This is all great news for plant shoppers: you will find more foliage and flowering tropical plants for summer containers than ever before, and many of them double as foolproof houseplants.


In many ways, everything old is new again. Houseplants that once graced dark Victorian homes are wildly popular. Millennials purchased over thirty percent of them in 2018, and the popularity is growing among all age groups, as plant lovers learn (or re-learn) to use them on the patio as well as in the living room.


Sansevieria (snake plant)

This old favorite is a perfect example of a dependable, easy-to-grow foliage plant. Technically Sansevieria trifasciata (recently reclassified by botanists as Dracaena trifasciata), the name snake plant is still widely used. It’s also been called “mother-in-law’s tongue” (it’s a tough plant, often with sharp, pointed leaves) and “bowstrings hemp” (because the strong fibers have been used to make bowstrings).


Plant sansevieria in potting mix and place in shade or partial sun outside—just out of full afternoon shade. It is tolerant of indoor lighting. A wide, clay pot is advised for tall cultivars, since they can be top-heavy, but these plants can be part of dramatic container combinations. Water when the soil is dry during the growing season, but water very lightly all winter. Don’t pour water into the cup or rosette of leaves. Take them inside when night temperatures dip into the forties.


There is no bad snake plant; choose patterns and sizes you like. The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens has a massive collection of them to peruse, and garden centers with houseplants should offer many. At plant shows, some featured beauties are these:

•Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’ (pale, silvery-green, wide leaves, to two feet long)

•S. ‘Black Gold’ (tall, with dark green leaves edged with light yellow or gold)

•S. ‘Golden Hahnii’ (lightest and brightest, with green leaves bordered by wide whitish edges)



This arresting plant is traditionally sold featuring a red spathe from which protrudes a spike-shaped spadix. The colored spathe might be heart-shaped, cup-shaped, or hooded. The plant has been hybridized for spathe colors from peach to wine shades and patterns with streaks of whites and greens. Based on its looks, one genus is sometimes called Flamingo Lily. They are technically aroids, originating in tropical regions from Mexico into South America. Plant Anthurium in a container in a high-quality growing mix and ensure good drainage. The plant becomes sunburned in direct sunlight. Give it shade outdoors and bright, indirect light indoors in the winter. Water when the soil is dry, but only then, because root rot can occur if the plant is left soggy. 


These plants are easy to grow and sure to provide long-lasting color in outdoor shade or winter living rooms.



It’s impossible to think about tropical plants without seeing images of bromeliads, a huge plant family (fifty-two genera) mostly native to the Caribbean and tropical South America. Supposedly, Christopher Columbus discovered the first cultivated bromeliad on his second voyage, and it turned out to be Ananas comosus—the pineapple. Like the pineapple, most bromeliads have fleshy leaves that grow in rosette formation, from which emerge inflorescences—often with startling colors on bright flower stalks. The most cultivated groups of bromeliads are Aechmea, Bilbergia, Bromelia, and Neoregelia.


They were prominent at the 2020 show, displaying entire walls of colorful introductions and frequent award winners, including  Aechmea ‘America,’ a 2019 Cool Product Award Winner, and the new Aechmea ‘Del Cielo’ with its brilliant fuchsia/purple flower spike and brightly striped leaves.


With so many species and varying growth habits (some living in trees), you will need to read the particular instructions on the bromeliad you take home. You can grow them outdoors in summer and indoors in winter, preferably with daytime temperatures between seventy to ninety degrees F. and cooler temps at night. Since root rot is the biggest danger, you may do better by keeping bromeliads indoors in bright, indirect light rather than outside during WNY’s generous rainy periods. Choose the right soil or soil-like mix: they all need excellent drainage, so choose cactus or orchid mix rather than houseplant soil. Water only when the top two inches around the plant feel dry, and never leave water in the plant saucer. 


What to choose will depend upon what you can find in area shops or on tropical plant expeditions, and, after that, whatever makes you smile.


Foliage won’t fade

Houseplant fever, as it has been dubbed, is unlikely to go away, because this kind of gardening is so forgiving. Foliage plants, especially,  tolerate a wide range of neglect and imperfect conditions. Even the industry’s newest award winners come from familiar plant groups such as these from the 2020 New Foliage entries:

•Crotons such as ‘Thai Dye’—always brightly colored with wild designs

•Aglaonema (the old favorite known as Chinese evergreen) such as ‘Super Star’ (Costa Farms) or ‘Jazzed Gems’ (ForemostCo., Inc.) with brilliant red or patterned leaves

• Monstera deliciosa ‘Thai Constellation’ and other smaller cultivars, derived from an originally huge parent plant.


The list goes on to include the newest Philodendrons, Dracaenas, and prayer plants (Marantas), all relatives of the green-leaved plants that lived in terrariums and solariums a hundred years ago.


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