Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: Tempting Tropicals

Tempting Tropicals: 175 Irresistible Indoor Plants by Ellen Zachos is a book about tropical houseplants.  Unlike most books on houseplants, the species highlighted in this book are a little less common and some are rare or exotic.  But all of the plants can be grown indoors, they're just not necessarily easy to find.

Tempting Tropicals by Ellen Zachos
Tempting Tropicals by Ellen Zachos

I really like the bold choices made by Zachos for this book.  She has apparently read her share of houseplant books that cover the same common species that you see in many houses.  She decided to pick out some odd balls from her years of experience growing tropical plants in a very non-tropical environment (apartment buildings in various parts of the northeast United States) and tell about her favorite plants from all of those little experiments.

Because the book does not focus on the typical houseplants, I would not recommend this book as a good reference for someone who doesn't already have a general houseplant book or two.  But for someone who already has some of those books in their library, you won't find a lot of repetition on these pages.  And if you are interested in growing something that you haven't seen before or something that will surprise your peers, this would be a great book to reference.

The first quarter of the book covers the care of tropical plants in the home environment.  Chapter topics include classification, growth information, container choice, potting media, fertilization, light exposure, artificial lighting, humidity, pruning, repotting, propagation, pest profiles, pest management and diseases.  This front quarter of the book has generally good information from someone that obviously has a lot of experience.  Though I had read much of this advice before from a number of different sources, I picked up new tips and especially gained a lot of knowledge from the section about artificial lighting options.

The remaining three-quarters of the book is occupied with plant profiles for 175 different plants, many of which I was not familiar with.  The profile tells about the physical characteristics of the plants and how to care for them.  Additionally, each plant's "winning attributes" are described.

I won't list all of the great plants in the book, but here are a couple of highlights:

Climbing Onion - Boweia volubulis - This is a unique onion plant with very delicate foliage above the large, flaky onion bulbs that sit on the soil's surface.

Peacock Plant - Calathea lancifolia - I am a lover of Calatheas anyway, and this is one of the less common ones, with lance-shaped leaves.  This plant is towards the top of my wish list.

Coconut Palm - Cocos nucifera - This is the common coconut palm tree, which looks really cool as a specimen tree, because the stalk of the tree grows directly out of the coconut.  I have twice tried growing this plant in my house and it simply will not survive in my low-light conditions.

Sealing Wax Palm - Cyrtostachys renda - This is a really intriguing plant.  It looks just like a palm tree with bright red stems that are waxy looking (as the name implies).

Elephant's Foot - Dioscorea elephantipes - This plant reminds me a lot of the climbing onion (above).  It has a large above-ground base, in this case not a classic onion but more of a hard sphere of wood.  The upper growth of the plant has wandering branches with small roundish leaves.  It is a true oddball.  I hope to run across one of these someday.

Butterwort - Pinguicula ehlerserac x. P. oblingoloba - This little plant has bright lemony-green leaves with tall stalks of dainty magenta blooms.  Apparently this is a very easy plant that grows rapidly and likes a lot of water.

The plants are alphabetized by genus name and many times there are a couple of species covered under each genus.  At least one picture accompanies each genus in the profiles.  There is a lot of variation in plants described in the book - from colorful, showy blooms to beautiful foliage plants to spiky cacti.

There is a final, short section with some miscellaneous topics, including traveling with plants, bark mounting and summering plants outdoors.

As I said, this book is for the person who already has some experience with growing the typical houseplants (and already has a couple of books in that department).  It is for someone who is ready to try something new and maybe venture in to the world of ordering something rare, exotic and outlandish (maybe even from a foreign country) and growing it in your own home.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like a great book!
    Does it mention that clay containers are better than plastic?
    I often wonder about the containers plants are purchased in, as to whether everything should be repotted into clay or ceramic pots, and not left in their plastic pots.....