I used to bring houseplants home to Alaska whenever I visited the Lower 48. This was long before the houseplant craze caused by COVID-19, which, judging by the number of indoor plant stores I see when giving lectures, is still going strong. In fact, it defies the odds in its duration, not that I’m complaining.
Anyway, the plants I brought home were cuttings from the parents or a relative who didn’t mind taking healthy-sized cuttings (or, being Lowenfels, it was actually some rooted cuttings for me). This was not a very strange custom like the plants that appeared these days. However, they were things I couldn’t buy in the Far North. I still enjoy many of those plants. I even made scraps for others to take.
My parents are gone, and my relatives often visit Alaska these days rather than the other way around, so now I visit outdoor plant stores whenever I travel. I’d love to see if there is anything “new” that might be a worthy addition to the Alaskan collection. Given the intense nature of retail, there are usually several factories that interest me.
For example, one day I wandered into a store and saw a strange plant classified as a relative of the African violet, Ramonda myconi, also known as Pyrenean-violet. It is also known as the “hardy African violet” because it is a member of the Gesneriaceae, the family that includes African violets. Since I don’t know anything about the manufacturer, nor the store employee, I did some research to see if it was worth buying.
Come to find out that Ramonda myconi is a rock garden plant in warmer regions, although one reliable source says if you can grow primroses, you can handle Ramonda myconi. However, these plants do best in zones that fall into zone 6, and we’re not quite there yet. It can serve as an unusual houseplant in cold climates like ours.
The leaves are 3 inches long, hairy, dark green and form rosettes. The 1-inch flowers are purple with yellow “centers” (actually anthers) and grow above the leaves in a typical African violet style. The plant is about 4 inches tall and can spread to about 8 inches wide.
[Houseplants are Alaska’s way of gardening through winter. Make your collection something special.]
The interesting thing about this plant is that it is “poikilohydric,” meaning it has evolved to tolerate not only cold, but extreme drought, two conditions Alaskan houseplants often encounter. This is one of the few so-called “resurrection plants”, because they can lose up to 95% of their water, appearing completely dead, but recovering completely when exposed to moisture.
I’m sure some of you can already see a benefit in the resurrection plant; Leave home for an extended vacation and when you return, revive dead plants. Do you have a room or a second home somewhere? This is for you. (Note to self and reader: You need to do a column or two of resurrection plants.)
And look at this: Since it can be difficult to source locally or have some plants shipped in in the winter, it’s good to know this is a plant you can grow from seed. All you need is a seed (check online), light (which you already have), seed starting mix and patience, as it can take a month or so to germinate.
The other amazing thing about Ramonda myconi is the longevity of these plants. Amazingly, they can live 250 years. Yes, you read correctly. Fabulous! You may have to include a part in your will to make sure someone takes care of it after you can’t.
Hmm. What are you waiting for? The store where I saw Ramonda myconi plants charges $26 for a plant in a 3 inch pot. I was spoiled that my relatives would never pay me for plants, but I knew that if we wanted to keep the houseplant craze alive, we had to pay the going fare.
So, I come back. I hope they have one or two left. My point is not necessarily to get you to buy a Ramonda myconi, but instead to convince you to check out outdoor plant stores. They have a lot of neat stuff, and most of them are small enough to fit in a handbag. In fact, I wonder what else might be useful to them?
Jeff Alaska Garden Calendar:
The Brightest Winter Nights at the Alaska Botanical Garden: Wow! Bring your sunglasses! From Tuesday through January 21st, enjoy botanical-themed light shows, glitter, fire pits, and more! Reservations and tickets are available at https://www.alaskabg.org/brighter-winter-nights.
Poinsettias: They’re back. No drafts, keep it slightly damp, and it’s not toxic.