24 September, 2013

Bracket plants 吊兰 - strong stolons, tiny flowers and indoor formaldehyde killer

Bracket plant or spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is really a handy house plant.

Originated in sub-tropical Asian and African areas, these plants are evergreen and perennial all the year round. The flowering season of bracket plant is very short, lasting only a couple of weeks in March or April. Their cute tiny flowers appear in six white or creamy pedals, usually produced on sparse long rachides.

Bracket plants need almost nothing except moderate sunlight and water. They grow carefree either in soil or in water and they behave good both indoors and outdoors. In fact, these plants have great vitality and are able to survive hardships like drought and heat. I guess this may be attributed to their unique and vigorous root system.

Besides the cylindrical stout fibrous root, bracket plant has successfully developed a trait of creeping stolon ranging from 30 to 60 cm long. The stolons make it easier for bracket plants to absorb nutrients and benefit from photosynthesis.

Many people keep plots of bracket plants in their newly decorated houses because of their powerful absorbing pollutant capabilities. They are wonderful scavengers of indoor formaldehyde, benzene as they can convert these harmful gases into sugar and amino acid in a short time.

In China, one often sees eight common species of the plant, the most popular three being C. c. ocean (the one with wide leaves), C.c. Marginatum (the one with golden leaf rims) and C.c. Medio-pictum (the one with a vertical golden stripe in the middle of the leaf).

My family is growing two dozen bracket plants on our narrow balcony. Our bracket plants quite enjoy the warm and moist climate in this southeast China city, Hangzhou. Yet in the hottest days of the July, when the temperature climbs up to 40 ºC in outdoor environment, we water them twice a day in case some tender leaves wither and dry up.

Botany guides say bracket plants should better be kept in temperatures at above ºC in winter, so we remove them inside the house only when it's extremely chilly outside. But in most time of the year, we just leave them breathe free and fun in the outer air.

Strangely, the most exuberant plant has been the one we give the least care. We hold it on the outside rack of the balcony for two years and I took a photo of its wild blooming this April. In that picture, the robust rachides protrude in all directions like an octopus. Bunches of white flowers are glad to travel as far away from the pot as they would like.

Profile of Bracket plant, Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Family: Agavaceae or Liliaceae
Form: Herb
Seasonality: Evergreen, Perennials
Habitat: Native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia
Soil: Loam to sandy soil
Water: Moderate to regular
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Temperature: best in temperatures 20~24 ºC, yet not afraid of summer heat
Size: Up to 120 cm tall
Leaves: Leaves 15-75 cm long and 0.5-2 cm broad, growing from a thick
Flower: White, Cream
Propagation: Divisions, Plantlets on flowering stems