Autumn is an exciting time when it comes to flowering houseplants, with cyclamen, pot mums, winter cherries and ornamental peppers leading the chorus of colour.
There’s another little plant that appears at this time of year that fits in perfectly with October’s orange hues. It is as charming as it is colourful: the coral bead plant.
The coral bead plant is a very small and cute houseplant, often seen for sale outside florists at this time of year for use in Halloween displays.
The neat green mounds of foliage adorned with shiny orange beads make Nertera difficult to resist.
Usually available in a 9-10cm pot, the plant is very short, usually no taller than an inch high, and covers the surface of the pot with its tiny leaves, which resemble those of mind-your-own-business.
The main reason to buy this little seasonal beauty, however, is the bright orange berries which are studded all over the plant.
A plant of many names
The coral bead plant (Nertera granadensis) has a broad range in the wild occurring mainly around the Pacific Ocean, from South-East Asia to Australasia.
Aside from coral bead, it has a plethora of common names. These include pincushion plant, coral moss, coralito, English baby tears and even fruiting duckweed (though it is not a duckweed!).
In the wild, Nertera grows as ground cover and in countries where temperatures stay above freezing, it can be grown outdoors in a similar fashion.
Although a perennial, the coral bead is often treated more like a seasonal flowering (fruiting) plant and discarded after the berries have died-off. Although this doesn’t have to be the case.
Well-kept plants will flower in summer with the berries re-appearing in the autumn.
- Light: Bright light is preferred, with a little sun in the autumn and winter months. Avoid direct sunlight during summer.
- Temperature: Keep cool, but no lower than 7°C (45°F). Warm temps will see berries go over quicker and growth will become leggy.
- Watering: As the plant only really uses the top layer of compost, be careful not to overwater. In the autumn/winter this is particularly important, so allow the plant to dry somewhat between each watering.
The flowers of the coral bead are tiny and insignificant, but essential as they will lead to the vivid berries in the autumn.
- Humidity: In summer, plants benefit from sitting on a pebble tray, and addition misting is always welcome. Keeping plants cool reduces the need for high humidity during the winter months.
- Feeding & repotting: As Nertera has such a shallow root system, it doesn’t require repotting often. They are not greedy plants either, so a half-strength fertiliser once a month during the growing season should suffice.
- Pests & diseases: Aphids and red spider mite can be a problem and hard to spot in the dense foliage. The main issue for Nertera is that it will rot quickly if left waterlogged as the roots are so shallow.
The berries of the coral bead are poisonous, and although not very potent, it is advisable to place out of the reach of pets and children, as their bright colour makes them desirable.
There are white and yellow shades of coral berry available as well, however, the orange varieties, particularly 'Astrid' remain the most popular.