Episode 23: Mr Plant Geek, Michael Perry


Have you met Mr Plant Geek? Not only is Michael Perry an expert on plants of all kinds, he's also a horticultural trendspotter, globetrotting from China to Costa Rica in search of weird and wonderful species. And let's not forget his wonderfully cheeky Rude Botany t-shirts, either - who new botanical Latin could be so downright lewd? We discuss the big trends in houseplants, why we should all be growing cacti from seed, and why mainstream media still haven't latched on to indoor gardening. And I answer a listener's question about a triple-headed ponytail palm with an identity crisis.

Here's a list of the plants and nurseries we mention...

  • Haworthia truncata - the succulent plant that's selling for big bucks.
  • Pilea peperomioides and its lookalike Peperomia polybotrya 'Raindrop'
  • Monstera 'Monkey Mask'
  • The pink-flecked calathea that Michael mentions is most likely the beautiful Calathea ornata
  • Maranta
  • Lithops (stone plants)
  • African violets (Saintpaulia)
  • Petrocosmea (an African violet relative)
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia 'Raven'
  • The black gold philodendron (Philodendron melanochrysum)
  • Dibleys Nursery in North Wales, specialist in Gesneriads and Begonias
  • Javado (wholesale houseplant supplier)
  • Suttons' new foliage Begonia range.

Question of the week

Yasmin's ponytail palm. Oh dear.

Yasmin's ponytail palm. Oh dear.

Yasmin emailed On The3 Ledge about her poorly ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) which she bought because she loves this plant, but it hasn't quite lived up to expectations - her cat nibbles it, one of the three "heads" has drooped and it's generally looking rather sad. What can Yasmin do?

The good news for Yasmin is ponytail palm is not toxic to cats or dogs for that matter, so Yasmin’s kitty should be fine. The ponytail palm isn’t actually a palm at all, it comes from Mexico and is more closely related to yuccas. It is one of those caudiciform plants I was talking to Margaret Roach about a few weeks back in epsiode 20 - that means it has a swollen base which it uses to collect water. That gives it another of its common names, elephant’s foot, which I rather like.

So that immediately gives you a clue that this plant will not enjoy overwatering, particularly if it’s in a shady spot. Ponytail palm needs bright light and some sun, so Yasmin's position in a south-facing window sounds pretty good. But bear in mind whenever you buy a new plant, it will take a while for it to adjust - who knows whether it’s been left in a cold dark room while waiting to be sold. (The fact that it was on sale is a clue that perhaps it had been hanging around for a while.) I think is Yasmi wants to go for radical surgery, this is doable - unlike true palms, ponytail palm will not keel over if you chop the top off. This should be done in spring rather than now. 

Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, particularly during winter, and bear in mind it’s a slow grower so you will have to be patient. 

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

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This week's show featured the tracks Hot Lips by Bill Brown and His Brownies, as well as An Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day, Gokarna from Samuel Corwin's Selected Field Recordings from India and Nepal, Volume I (Folk Songs) and Dill Pickles by the Heftone Banjo Orchestra, both licensed under Creative Commons.