OPINION: Can you even call yourself a plant parent if you haven’t collected the following arcane information?
In case of gaps in my own knowledge – I only have about 70 plants, after all – I crowd-sourced suggestions from a popular Facebook group, Indoor Plants NZ.
Test yourself against these titbits that are commonly considered “received knowledge” in the community.
The essential acronyms
PPP stands for Philodendron pink princess. Similarly ZZ stands for Zamioculcas zamiifolia, a glossy, lovely, structural plant. COH is chain of hearts (Ceropegia woodii).
No true plant-lover writes these out.
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The next level of initialism magic is a simple addition: vCOH means variegated chain of hearts. This stuff is not rocket science, but it does separate the wheat from the chaff, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor.
Tap water is not going to cut it
Carnivorous houseplants need rain water. Anyone who has seen Little Shop of Horrors will want a meat-eating plant and the Venus flytrap is just garden-variety adorable. (Even though, let’s face it, you’re unlikely to ever witness one eating a fly.)
But you need to know, they don’t like chlorine, so it’s rain water collecting for you from here on in.
They also do a plant version of hibernating, so don’t throw them out in winter just because they look poor.
Summer holidays will never be the same
One member of Indoor Plants NZ puts it this way: “People who own plants don’t go on holidays, especially in summer when their plants need feeding.”
If that’s too grim for you, the truth is a holiday away from home too possible, but you’re going to need a house-sitter, pets or no pets.
Some plants will need watering daily in the height of summer. And when you have more than a few, that’s a big job. . . maybe even a paid job.
Ferns’ looks are deceiving
Maidenhair ferns are everywhere, right? The Warehouse always has a healthy-looking selection. How hard can they be to care for?
It turns out: Very hard.
Seasoned plant fan Claire Harkness-Gower advises never to buy a maidenhair fern. “But if you do get one, don’t look at it, walk past it, breathe near it, talk about it, because it will shrivel up and die instantly.”
Others say they need banana water, cold black tea, tears of joy from a cat – “or mermaid if cat is unavailable”. Don’t let them be in a breeze, mist daily, allow them to butt chug (see below).
If all that fails, take them outside and either dump them in the garden, where they will often prosper, or burn them.
Another word you need to know
Some people exclusively water their plants from the bottom – that is, by watering into a container under the pot and allowing evaporation to do the work.
This is called “butt chugging”, but is less weirdly known as bottom watering.
Any old pot won’t do
Enthusiasts on the Indoor Plants NZ Facebook page learned this one the hard way: You can’t just plant your plant in any old pot. Those holes in the bottom matter.
If the pot doesn’t have a hole in the bottom, it’s best use could well be as a “cover pot” – covering another, often plastic, pot that does have drainage holes.
One plant lover said: “I had been planting plants directly in pots for years. It was a real light bulb moment once I realized people were using cover pots instead. Makes controlling your watering so much easier.”
Some people get away with putting rocks in the bottom of their holeless pots – and will die on the hill of saying this method is the best – but it makes watering a more precise science.
Also, terracotta pots dry out more quickly.
Not what they seem
The philodendron minima seems to be the perfect mix between a philodendron and a monstera. It has the lovely fenestrated leaves of the monstera, but grows vine-like, like a philodendron, either trailing or climbing.
In fact, it’s neither: It’s a completely different genus. Its real name is Rhaphidophora tetrasperma. Still gorgeous.
While Monstera deliciosa is a pretty basic starter plant for most collectors, its rarer forms sure do cost a bomb, and sometimes court controversy.
Variegated monsteras have sold for thousands on Trade Me, making them some of the most expensive plants around.
While prices have come down, it’s still commonplace to pay hundreds for a Monstera Thai constellation. Apparently, we all want stable variegation.
And while collectors love to think they’ve nabbed a Monstera obliqua, which has the same fenestrated leaves as both the M. deliciosa and the Rhaphidophora tetrasperma – only more so – they’re so rare that the phenomenon has its own hashtag #itsneverobliqua.
Don’t buy what you can get for nothing
It’s practically against houseplant lovers’ law to buy a Tradescantia zebrina. I don’t mean literally against the law, as is true for its close relative, the Tradescantia fluminensis. That one is considered a national pest plant by MPI.
It’s more that the T. zebrina is so easy to grow from a cutting, there should be no need to pay for it. You can snip a length of it off, put it straight into soil, (or “chop and prop” as the lingo goes) and almost without fail, another length of the striped-leaf beauty will grow.
This list is clearly not exhaustive. Please feel free to add your own knowledge gems in the comments.