Botanist's Lens: Breaking the norm, and the best of the lot!


Leaves, petals, stems, bark, buds, roots are all what one expects to see when you mention any plant form. But what if there weren't any roots to begin with? How would a plant form survive? Epiphytes are a classic plant form wherein the roots, even if present, do not actually perform the normal root function of absorption of water and nutrients. They also don't need any soil. Yes, you read that correctly. They grow above ground. They literally hang on to other trees/rocks for dear life! Not parasitic or harming the host in any way, they only seek structural support.

Epiphytes are a great way to introduce life indoors and they are easy to care for. Let's look at the queen of air plants 'Tillandsia xerographica'. Its grander form easily explains why it is considered the queen! The blooms sometimes can be four times the height of the plant.

Air plants derive nutrients and moisture from the surrounding environment. Tillandsia xerographica is very easy to care for and can live for years, if water and sunlight needs are addressed appropriately. In drier zones with less humidity, a once a week misting is good. The other alternative for watering is gently dunking the entire plant in water for 15 minutes and then air drying upside down to allow any moisture to drip away from the crown. A wet crown can lead to a rot. When grown indoors, place it in indirect sunlight. T. xerographica can actually take more sunlight than most air plants.

No soil, no issues! Epiphytes are a classic example of plants surviving in conditions that aren't the norm. Some have roots, some don't (e.g., mosses and liverworts).

One more plant that caught my attention in the gardens this week and certainly seems to be beating the norm, is Jasminum nudiflorum. Jasmine and fragrance go hand in hand. Jasmine flowers are one of the most fragrant flowering species. But J. nudiflorum is beating the norm as it has zero fragrance, and also happens to be deciduous. Known for its pretty golden yellow flowers, it is an early winter bloomer (as early as January). The flowers bloom before the leaves.

Without the typical intense fragrance, the flowers still set out quite the show. Around zone 7, they are sometimes the only ones blooming in a rather dormant garden. Excellent as a drought tolerant, full sun, large screening shrub, they can beautifully enhance any winter garden.

Breaking the norm, the plant way! Amongst the stunning Camellias, you will be able to enjoy the winter Jasmine and Tillandsia xerographica at London Town on your next visit.

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