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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Hoya


I've always been a big fan of flowering plants for indoors, but all too often these plants require a level of care that I cannot provide consistently. That doesn't stop me from buying them of course, having convinced myself that I will certainly find the time to provide them the proper care they need. Then reality strikes, and I am busy beyond belief and I forget to water my plants. Or I forget to fertilize them. More often than not I forget both. I'm left with dead or dying plants and essentially money wasted.

I used to be the person that loved the challenge of growing all types of fussy plants–the more elaborate the care the better. But as life has changed for me with marriage, homeownership, and now a new baby on the way this spring, plants that are lower maintenance are what I'm after. I've become a great fan of "indestructible" houseplants that tolerate neglect quite well. These plants combine extremely well with a busy schedule.

For me the ultimate in indestructible houseplants are ones that flower. The most spectacular example that I have had success with is a gorgeous orange-flowered Clivia. This plant requires that you not water it all winter long in order to have blooms in the spring. How perfect! It actually needs me to forget about it for awhile. That I can handle!

Another plant that I purchased because of both its reputation of being indestructible and having flowers is the Hoya. There are actually two to three hundred different species of Hoya found in the world, native to tropical Asia, Australia and Polynesia. Many of them are cultivated as houseplants in more temperate parts of the world. Hoya carnosa, which produces porcelain-like light pink flowers, is probably the most common species grown as a houseplant.

Hoya are either shrub-like or vining, with succulent shiny or hairy leaves. Looking at their leaves, it's easy to see how they earned their common name wax plant. Each leaf is perfectly formed, as if sculpted from wax. Leaves vary widely in size, but typically come to a point, and may be wrinkled or variegated.

Like most indestructible houseplants, Hoyas will tolerate low levels of light indoors. Also like most indestructible houseplants, tolerating low light does not equal thriving in low light. Without appropriate lighting, a Hoya will be a nice green vine indoors, but will not grow very fast, and will probably never flower. A healthy looking green plant is a great addition indoors, but in my opinion flowers would be even better.

Once you see the gorgeous flowers that Hoyas are capable of producing, you may reconsider settling for just a green plant. The flowers are borne in clusters called umbels. Each flower is on a small stalk radiating from a common point, much like an umbrella. The one feature that all Hoya flowers have in common is that they are all shaped like five-pointed stars.

Hoya flowers come in all shapes and sizes. Individual flowers may be only four to five millimeters in diameter, to well over three inches. Depending on the species, umbels of flowers may contain only one flower, to over fifty.

Just like the leaves, Hoya flowers may be shiny or hairy. Colors range from white, to pink, purple and brown. A true red Hoya is rare, but breeders are getting closer and closer to this goal. Blue flowers are not found in the Hoya genus.

Bright indirect light and age of the plant appear to be key elements in getting Hoyas to bloom. Sources quote that a plant needs to reach a minimum age in order to bloom. This is probably not so much about age per se as it is about size of the plant, and how rootbound it is in its pot. Many sources recommend infrequent repotting of Hoyas. Most likely this means that constricted roots are a stress on the plant that helps trigger it to flower. Bright indirect light is another trigger. Fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer during active growth may also help induce flowering.

After Hoyas are finished blooming, it's important to resist the urge to remove the spent blooms. These should be left intact, as new blooms will emerge from that same location year after year. Some people find that the scent of Hoya flowers is too strong and overpowering for indoors, and so move their plants outside when in bloom if possible.

Proper watering is essential for Hoyas. They need to dry out completely between watering. In winter, this means a lot of time will pass between watering. Expect to water more frequently in spring and summer, which is also their period of active growth.

I currently own two small specimens of Hoya. They were not labeled with specific cultivar names, so my best guess is one is a variegated cultivar of Hoya carnosa, which has shiny oval-shaped leaves, and some cultivar of Hoya compacta, which has twisted leaves that hang down and resemble ropes. One common name for this Hoya is Hindu Rope Plant.

It took two years of patiently waiting, but last summer the Hoya compacta finally bloomed. Last spring I noticed what looked like very narrow leaves emerging, and I thought the plant didn't have enough light or fertilizer, so the growth was weak. I resisted the urge to cut off the skinny little growth until I did some research. I found that those skinny weak looking growths were a sign the plant was about to flower–so I watched and waited. What developed was a perfect cluster of pale pink flowers that looked like porcelain and smelled like chocolate! The blooms lasted for several weeks and soon after the first set of blooms I was greeted with a second set of blooms. I'm still waiting for the variegated Hoya carnosa to bloom, but success with the Hoya compacta is very encouraging.

 



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