Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dr. Seuss' jade plant

Species name: Crassula ovata "Monstruosa"

Common name: trumpet jade, Gollum's fingers

Location: UWO Greenhouse

The jade plant, and many of its closest relatives like this one, is native to South Africa. This specific cultivar, originally thought to be a hybrid of two different species but now known to just be selective breeding with the "true" jade plant, is rumoured on gardening websites to be incredibly rare, yet everyone seems to have one. I personally had never seen this plant until I photographed it in the greenhouse, so there might be something to this "rare-ness." I even had to call it the "Dr. Seuss Jade Plant" in my notes since I had never seen anything like it! Now that I know I can master the art of growing a regular jade plant, I'm thinking of asking the director of the greenhouses to make me a cutting so I can have one of these, too. The fun you can have with succulents! The status of the jade plant and its closest relatives is unknown in South Africa. I can't imagine it's in danger of over-hunting by greenhouses and gardening shops since it is so easily propagated, but it would have its own set of natural threats like infringing on its native growth range by urban expansion and conversion of arid locations into agricultural land. Is anyone from South Africa and can comment on how common it is in the wild? Or has ever been to South Africa and has noticed it growing there?

The jade plant is one of the most common indoor potted plants (both the bonsai version and the regular "full grown" version) because of their ease of growth indoors. When I was in high school and someone told me this, I would have called them a liar since I managed to kill mine in a few short months. Turns out I killed it with kindness (this was before I recognized that plants with thick, glossy, fleshy leaves are probably succulents and so dislike being watered more often than once every couple of weeks). Jade plants thrive under conditions of neglect, perfect for those of you with black thumbs that want to try growing plants again. The same cannot be said about getting jade plants to flower; they are notoriously difficult flower-ers in pots indoors. The key is to deprive them of water in October, expose them to cool (but not cold) nights, and no more than 8 hours of daylight for October, November and December. Resume regular care in January, and by February or March the plants will be ready to flower. This sounds like a whole lot of work to me for some puny little white or slightly pink flowers; plus, the leaves are so attractive on their own!

Along with over-watering, there are a few indoor pests that are more than happy to attack your jade plants should they find their way into your home. The first are mealy bugs. They're easily removed with a toothbrush (don't press too hard! You want to scrape them off the cuticle or the waxy coating of the leaf, not scrape into the cuticle and damage the epidermis; this will lead to far more problems later on), and then the whole plant can be sprayed with a very mild dish soap solution in a spray-bottle. Make sure you cover the soil with a towel because even a slight amount of soap in the soil can damage the roots and hence the whole plant. The second problem are spider mites which can spin a white, silky web-like substance on branching points or at the base of leaves, and then at those spots the plant literally falls apart (entire branches will fall off with no prior warning, like they've been severed off from the inside outwards). The same treatment applies; take a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol and remove any white silk you find and spray the plant with a very mild dish soap solution, making sure you don't get too much of it on the soil.

I've heard a few people say that they use their jade plant as an aloe substitute, especially when the plant is mature and has a lot of leaves to spare. I can't imagine this working at all in their favour; there are no reports of jade plants being at all successful in promoting skin wound healing or relieving the pain of burned skin. Something tells me the placebo effect is hard at work here!

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