Our beautiful country is blessed with incredible floral diversity, giving outdoor and indoor gardeners many textures, shapes and colours to choose from for your home, office, balcony and patio.
Indigenous indoor plants are easy to care for and give that natural South African feel to your home. In this article, I will share on the numerous indigenous plants you can choose from for growing indoors and on balconies.
Plants of the forest floor, the spurflowers or spursage (Plectranthus spp.) are members of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Their leaves are characteristically aromatic. There are about fifty species indigenous to South Africa and about half these can be grown indoors. Perhaps the best known is Plectranthus oertendahlii which has large mottled silver-green leaves and white flowers. The money plant Plectranthus verticillatus has shiny succulent leaves and white flowers. Both grow well in hanging baskets and many cultivars are available, some with dark purple undersurfaces to the leaves.
Plectranthus malvinus has firm leathery leaves and pink flowers and a trailing habit that makes it a good candidate for hanging baskets. It has purplish veins on the undersurface of its leaves. Plectranthus hilliardiae has long tubular flowers and leaves with dark purple undersurfaces. The ‘stoep jacaranda’ Plectranthus saccatus has large tubular jacaranda-like flowers and an ascending habit.
The bonsai mint Plectranthus ernstii develops rounded succulent stems articulated at the nodes and looks like a bonsai. It has small pale blue flowers and aromatic leaves. Plectranthus, with their trailing stems, do well in hanging baskets and will provide a pleasing autumn show. Prune during the winter after flowering has finished and take slips as these are very easy to root.
Begonia is another popular indoor species. There are three indigenous begonias, all of which could be grown indoors. Although not as spectacular as some exotics, other features such as their thick succulent stem base make them interesting and worthwhile potplants. I recommend Begonia homonyma (formerly Begonia caffra) and Begonia sonderiana.
Streptocarpus, members of the Gesneriaceae family, are related to the African violet (Saintpaulia sp.). The South African species have attractive strap-shaped hairy leaves (which may be single or in basal rosettes) and striking pink, mauve or white to bi-coloured tubular flowers. There are about forty-six indigenous species and the most popular are those with leaves in basal rosettes. Streptocarpus is hybridized extensively and many cultivars are available today.
Pelargoniums are one of the world’s most popular house plants and thousands of cultivars exist. Although they are better stoep and windowsill plants, many can be taken indoors for short spells.
For the many people who live in flats or apartments, balconies are ideal for container gardening and here plants that require more light like the pelargoniums, Asparagus and other outdoor plants could be used. There are so many Pelargonium cultivars to choose from, creeping or compact shaped, and they are easy to propagate. If you live in an extremely cold place, plants from warmer parts can be moved indoors during winter as this would, in any case, be their resting period and the low light intensity should not affect them too much.
A few others...
The hen-and-chickens Chlorophytum comosum needs no introduction! Their fleshy roots make them drought tolerant and the plantlets that form on their flowerheads make them a joy to propagate. The cultivar with the white variegated foliage is the most popular.
There are many other less well-known indigenous plants that can be grown indoors. The forest sedge Cyperus albostriatus has a pretty variegated cultivar that is well worth tracking down. Laportea grossa has beautiful glossy, mottled white and green leaves with prickly hairs typical of the Urticaceae family. Lobelia preslii is suitable for hanging baskets and Cyanotis lapidosa with its hairy leaves is attractive. Dermatobotrys saundersii has tubular reddish flowers and usually grows in the trunks of trees in humus-rich, light soil in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. It can be grown from cuttings. There are also four Peperomia species, although they are not very similar to the exotic house plants on the market today. They have small green leaves and inconspicuous flowers.
The right potting soil
For healthy growth, plants require a well-balanced soil for their feeding, watering, support and aeration needs. Should the soil be too sandy the minerals will rapidly be washed away, not enough support will be given and the plant will dry out rapidly. Too much clay will withhold minerals, provide insufficient drainage and compact the soil. Ready prepared potting mixtures that have been sterilized are ideal as garden soil often contains harmful pathogens. These potting mixtures are usually well balanced and contain porous peat-based soil.
Make up your own potting soil by using 1 part loam, 2 parts peat and 1 part sand. The lighter and more porous the medium the more feeding and watering it requires. Remember to improve drainage by putting a layer of gravel, pebbles or shards in the bottom of your pot before adding the potting mixture, especially if you are using a pot without drainage holes. When using a clay pot with just one hole at the bottom, place a large shard across the hole and this will prevent the potting mixture from being washed away without clogging up the pot.