While a dozen red roses might do it for some on Valentine’s Day, I’d take a heart-shaped houseplant over such offerings any day. Not only do they last longer than a few weeks, there’s something about nurturing the plants bequeathed to you that takes an exchange of Valentine’s love into extra time. They’re also ideal gifts for saying “I love you” to cherished friends and family all year round.
My favourite is the string of hearts plant (Ceropegia woodii), with its cascade of tiny heart-shaped, silver- veined leaves, the underside of which have an added rose-pink hue. Every time I see one, the words so sweet and just delightful spring to mind, along with an uplift in spirits that often comes from appreciating the little things in life. This diminutive plant is nontoxic and relatively easygoing, preferring bright, filtered light but getting on with things in moderate shade. As with many plants, letting the soil dry out between watering is advised, with a good soak in between, taking care not to snap off any of those long tendrils, although broken growth soon grows back. Make the most of the vigorous growth, helped along with a feed of liquid balanced fertiliser once a month in spring and summer, by letting the delicate foliage trail down from a high shelf, mantlepiece, or plant hanger.
Hot on the heels of the string of hearts is the more lustrous and robust heartleaf or sweetheart plant (Philodendron scandens). Hailing from Central America and the Caribbean, this vining species — the genus name of which derives from the Greek words for loving (philo) and tree (dendron) — can reach heights of 6 metres (20 feet) in the wild, but in houseplant form is usually sold as a hanging plant or readily wound around a moss pole. In both cases this is ideal if you are limited on space. Or let nature take its course and allow those emerald green leaves to hang down or climb up a wall (something to cling to and a bit of training is needed here).
No. 1 one in cuteness factor is another sweetheart plant, known as a hoya heart, wax heart, or lucky heart (Hoya kerrii). In the wild it appears as a large if slow-growing climber with lots of thick, heart-shaped leaves that appear almost succulent. In stores it’s typically sold as a single- or double-leaf; it readily roots in a small pot of soil and can stay as a planted heart or hearts for many months without turning into a larger vine. The perfect small but low-key love token, these bijoux plants — at only 10 to 15 centimetres (4 to 6 inches) high, including pot — also make lovely gifts for kids and add instant cheer to a dressing table or desk.
If you’re looking to hot things up this Valentine’s, however, most definitely opt for a tail or flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum), a vision of glossy green leaves and the most sensual, heart-shaped, waxy spathes (modified leaves) in shades of red, pink, or white around long, spiky inflorescences (these are the flower bits). Hailing from the rainforest, where they grow on the ground or in the branches of trees, anthuriums like it hot and humid, so mist regularly and keep the soil lightly moist. Perfect for a steamy bathroom.
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