Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Can I Bring in Leaf Samples to ID?

A gentleman recently called and described two different large foliage houseplants he had bought at a retail store here in Manhattan. He bought the plants for his terrace but was not sure what they were or how best to care for them. After a brief discussion I recommended that he come into our offices here on 37th Street with leaf samples so that I could better identify his purchases. And so he did.

The first leaf I could identify right away because it was a plant I have seen plenty. In fact, we have one growing here in our offices.
Ficus lyrata is commonly called a fiddle leaf fig. The glossy dark green leaves have a unique shape and can grow to be 12 inches long. In its native habitats of tropical India and Malaysia this plant can grow to become a 40’ tree. Kept in a container, however, we can restrict the growth and can usually contain them to somewhere under 10’. Regarding care, this plants requirements are much like that of other Ficus. Ficus lyrata prefers bright sun and can tolerate some direct sun. For now it can live out on a terrace, but this plant must be brought inside in the winters because it can only tolerate cold temperatures down into the 50’s. Like with other Ficus, you want to make sure not to over-water. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Mist and sponge clean the foliage when you see dust collect. Lastly, if you choose to, you can apply a weak fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer), but cut back in the winter as the plant goes into more of a resting period.

The other leaf was not nearly as easy to identify. With it’s large round shape, glossy finish, and pronounced venation, I thought perhaps this too is a kind of Ficus.

However, a coworker was quickly able to correct me and inform me that it was a kind of aralia, a plant she had become quite familiar with growing up in Hawaii. Sure enough it turned out that the other “mystery plant” was in fact a cultivar of a shield aralia. Botanically named Polyscias scuttelaria ‘Fabian’, the Fabian shield aralia is a member of the Araliaceae family. Native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, this shrub is grown more for it’s foliage than the clusters of small flowers that are followed by small dark fruit. This plant loves humidity so do not hesitate to mist it regularly during warm weather. Place the plant in bright light but avoid lots of direct sun. Plant it in well-draining soil. Water moderately this time of year and cut back in the winter. Normal room temperature is fine, but do not leave the plant outside if it is below 70 degrees. When you move the plant inside for the winter, consider placing the pot on a saucer full of pebbles so that excess water can evaporate and provide humidity during the dry winter months. You can expect this plant to grow to 6 feet tall.

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