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A sad tale - but a happy ending

Posted Feb 03 2009 12:09am

This isa tale not for the faint-hearted. A sad tale of cruelty and neglect which will probably get me drummed out of the ranks of the garden blogging community. If you're liable to get upset, it might be best not to read on ...

I have an office. And in my office there was an enormous Scindapsus (or Pothos, or Epiphremnum, or Raphidophora - seeherefor why this plant has more aliases than most of the criminals listed by Interpol). A lovely plant, which trailed down about 3ft from the top of a bookcase in the office all winter, full of glossy green and yellow variegated leaves. Then in the summer months, I'd cut it back and leave it to grow back trailing over the balcony - scindapsus loves the indirect light, the heat and humidity which the balcony gets.

Scindapsus loves the light. So what do I do to it? I leave it in a completely dark room for a week.

I didn't mean to be cruel, honestly. It was just bad planning. I don't work in the office every day, but when I'm not there I always go in the morning to open the shutters and let the light in, and then go back at night to close up. And then suddenly I couldn't get there for a week.

When I did get back, the signs of neglect were evident. Gone was my glossy, bushy plant. The leaves were yellowing and starting to fall, and were full of the tell-tale brown patches which scindapsus is prone to when it's ill-treated.

Full of guilt and remorse, I brought it home for some tender loving care. Comments from the rest of the family were not encouraging : It's dead .... Throw it away.... You're not going to leave that thing there are you... What do you want another one for - you've already got a houseful.

You can see from the photo that it lost most of the leaves, but after a month of intensive light therapy by the window, the colour has come back and there are signs that it's picking up again. Some fairly hard pruning this spring (there is nothing uglier than a "leggy" scindapsus) and it should be back to normal by the autumn. Phew. Here it is today sitting on what used to be the hamster's table with four other friends.

Because, as my husband pointed out, it wasn't the only one I had. Whenever I cut it back, I can never resist replanting the stems. And it's such an easy plant to grow that they come up every time. Just stick them in some potting compost, like these which went in last year ...

... or grow them in water. Pop them into a flowervase, top the water up once a week and forget about them. They'll put out roots and be perfectly happy.

I usually let my scindapsus trail. That way it looks good on the balcony in the summer, and obscures some boring files from view in the winter. In the garden centres you usually find them trained up mossy poles - I find this a drag as they grow so quickly that you're always trimming and they quickly start to look untidy. I prefer the natural chaos of the cascade effect.

Scindapsus comes from S. East Asia where it grows among the trees in the tropical rainforest - hence it's liking for heat and humidity. Ideally you should keep them at between 18°C (65°F)and 29°C (85°F). Mine tend to stay out until about October, when temperatures may be down to about 7-10°C (45-50°F), but then it's time to bring it in. Mist regularly to provide humidity.

But if it's fussy about temperature, it's very easy-going when it comes to soil and fertiliser. It grows happily in the ordinary potting compost I get from the supermarket, and doesn't seem to care whether I fertilise or not. It gets fertiliser when I'm watering all the plants together and there's some in the watering can - but I've also let it go without for long periods with no apparent ill-effects. It's fairly happy-go-lucky about watering too - most sources advise you to water moderately and let it dry out between waterings, especially in winter. But it's been "drowned" by my plant sitters occasionally, and has always bounced back.

It's a very, very easy houseplant to grow and to look after. And also good to have around the house as it absorbs indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde (which may be released from new furniture, carpeting and other products), and benzene (plastics, detergents, synthetic fibers and more). Scindapsus is poisonous if eaten however - don't add it to your salads and keep it away from kids and pets like rabbits (or hamsters), which might be tempted to have a nibble.

Oh - and though I've never tried, they say that by controlling the light conditions, you can also control the colour. In shade, green will predominate; give it more sun and the yellow variegation will be stronger. Most sources say to avoid direct sunlight - but mine gets it for about two hours a day all summer, and there are no problems.

Just don't leave it in the dark.

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