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by Pernell Gerver

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"Growing Unusual & Uncommon House Plants"

It's always fun to grow something unusual or uncommon. There are lots of different house plants that fit one or possibly both of these categories. The unusual house plants are great conversation starters while many of the uncommon house plants are plants that at one time were more well known, but have become more uncommon over the years. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

African GardeniaAfrican gardenia is an easy-to-grow relative of gardenia that blooms reliably in the home, blooming almost continuously all year long with no extra effort. It bears small, star-shaped flowers that are pink in bud and open creamy white. The flowers are carried in clusters all up and down its stems and even the smallest stem will have a few flowers on it. There are dozens and dozens of flowers in bloom at any one time and their fragrance is wonderful, very similar to gardenia, albeit a little more subtle. The fragrance easily carries on the breeze, perfuming a room. It's a shrubby plant that looks similar to gardenia, but on a smaller scale. It has short, slender leaves that are carried on woody stems. It rarely grows larger than a couple of feet high and wide, making a good choice for even a small windowsill garden. Not a fussy plant, African gardenia can be grown just about anywhere in the home - in sunny or shady window, in cool or warm temperatures, and in low or high humidity.

Strawberry firetails is a trailing house plant with small, deep-green leaves on semi-woody long stems. Flowers are red, fuzzy "tails" that appear in the axils of its leaves near the ends of its stems. It's an everblooming house plant that is always in bloom. Its stems grow to a foot long or more and it's a great plant for a hanging basket. It's also a nice plant for a container garden where its stems can trail over the edge of the pot.

Plantlet atop leaf of piggyback plantPiggyback plant is an unusual and uncommon house plant. It has medium- to dark-green, hairy leaves that are roughly heart shaped with deeply-lobed edges. The leaves are also deeply veined, giving them a quilted appearance. The leaves are two to three inches across and are borne on four-inch-long leaf stems. What is so unusual about this plant is that each leaf bears a live, young plant. This method of reproduction is called viviparous, meaning bearing live young. The small plantlet appears to sit atop the leaf, but it is actually borne in the axil where the leaf meets the short leaf stem. The little plantlet is an exact replica of the mature plant, but in miniature. The plantlets are bright green that matures to deep green. In addition to bearing plantlets atop its leaves, piggyback plant also produces plantlets along runners, similar to the way a strawberry plant grows. At maturity, piggyback plant can spread 12 to 15 inches around and be nearly a foot tall.

Peperomia rotundifoliaPeperomia rotundifolia is a low-growing creeping or trailing plant with small, rounded leaves. The leaves are olive green marked with darker patches. The succulent leaves grow opposite one another along its thin creeping stems. Its flowers are upright spikes that stand above the foliage and bloom in late summer and early autumn. This unusual house plant grows well in bright light and tolerates low humidity well.

Foxtail FernFoxtail fern is an attractive, yet uncommon, foliage house plant. It bears stiff, upright plumes that form a dense clump with age. The emerald-green fronds have a soft texture and mature plants can grow several feet high and wide. In addition to being a nice house plant, it's also a good plant to use in containers mixed with summer annuals. It provides a nice texture contrast.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Store Saved Seeds in Refrigerator"

Q. This year I saved some seeds from various flowers in my garden. I was wondering what is the best way to keep them over winter? Thank you for your advice!

A. Believe it or not, the best place to store seeds, whether ones you collected or leftover seed packets, is in a sealed jar containing a little silica gel and keep the jar in the refrigerator. Seeds are extremely sensitive to excess humidity and wide fluctuations in temperature. In a refrigerator both are constant and that will result in the best viability of the seeds and therefore better germination at planting time.

Click here to read more about Silica Gel and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Click here to submit gardening questions for Pernell Gerver's online Q & A column.

Click here to read previous online columns in the archives.

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