March 8, 2011

Walkin' Miracles

We have been growing Neomarica as houseplants for at least a dozen years.  Our first one came as a gift and, to the best of my knowledge, the 100+ specimens we have given away have all been offspring of that first one in its three-inch pot.  Neomarica is a tropical plant, a member of the Iridaceae family (iris to us mere mortals).  Each plant puts up dozens of thin iris-live leaves from a thick rhizome but some of those leaves are flower stalks in disguise. 

Neomarica, in its brief hours of glory
 For 350 days a year, Neomarica is a snoozer of a houseplant.  In fact, to be both unkind but entirely accurate, its sole benefits are that it is green and requires little care.  But then, for two weeks a year at the end of winter, something wonderful happens.  A couple of those leaves begin to swell near their tips.  And then, miracle of miracles, little flower buds appear and then open to form a stunning and complex flower.

Look fast, though.  The flower you see open when you get up in the morning will already be flagging by late afternoon.  Overnight, it folds back into itself and, by morning, it's a little ball of brown mud.

But then, lo and behold, another bud swells up from the same stem and there's another day of beauty.  And then a second stem gets into the action and third.  For about a week, you get to play this marvelous game of guessing how many flowers will be open this morning - five?  six?  eight?  One morning, an especially thick clump had a total of 14 flowers open all at once.

Just as quickly, however, bud production falls.  A few days later you're back to sporadic bloom here and there and, a week later, there's one or two laggards as the stem is spent.  Then.... it's back to being green background scenery.

350 days a year, it's green
background scenery; but for
two weeks at the end of
winter, it's glorious.
Neomarica has one more trick up its sleeve.  After the last stem has produced its last flower, it bends over as though it had been to the maternity ward one too many times.  The stem lays down on the ground if it's in the tropics.  If it is in your home, you need to get a little pot and some potting mix, and steer that poor, tired stalk toward your pot.  In a few weeks, it will root.  And, a few weeks after that, the rooting is putting up a new crop of leaves.  When that happens outdoors, the plant is growing by 'walking', hence the name 'Walking Iris'.  When it happens indoors, it's an opportunity.

We have rooted upward of 15 pots each year of Neomarica this way.  An established pot can also be readily divided into half a dozen plants after a year.  Those pots go with her when she gives presentations on houseplant care to garden clubs.  They're always a hit.  And, perhaps one of them will be given as a gift to a friend, who will watch it grow, see it flower, and put out a pot...

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