Sweethearts of the Garden

Thursday, February 9, 2012
Cordate is the horticultural term for heart-shaped leaves. When you look at lists of plants by leaf shape, there are far fewer cordates than round (orbicular), triangular (deltoid), or my usual favorite, spear-shaped (hastate) leaves. Their relatively rarity makes them all the more special, I suppose, rather like true love and earth-shaking romance. Choosing a plant with heart-shaped leaves for your Valentine just might get both for you. Redbud tree is prized for its very early spring flowers, red-purple or white and striking against the naked limbs. I describe them as ‘glassine’ because they look as if you could see through them and the petals shatter into beads when they fall off the tree. Romantic, especially if you plant the tree for your sweetie, but the best is yet to come. After the flowers, deeply veined cordate leaves unfurl to sing your love all year. Both flowers and leaves of Anthurium are heart-shaped, iconic symbols of Hawaii and all things tropical. Also called patent leather flower, its flowers can be white, pink, or the perfect Valentine red. A great addition to the indoor garden, anthuriums need moist, not wet, soil and bright light; its flowers and leaves last for a week or more in the vase. Heart-leaf Philodendrons are often the first houseplant people grow, sometimes trailing from a pot and sometimes climbing a pole at its center. They thrive in low light areas and tolerate dry indoor conditions better than most plants without losing the subtle coloration of new growth. P. hederaceum ‘Brazil’ is definitely a favorite, streaked with lighter green that is sometimes a neat line but usually quite random. And I want to bring back totem poles – the higher a vining Philodendron climbs, the bigger its leaves become. Pothos or pothos ivy is a plant with thicker cordate leaves than Philodendron in brighter green shades often streaked or mottled with yellow or white patches. Many people choose this one after other climbing ivies, but this one fills a basket faster in a sunny room with regular water and fertilizer. Cyclamen sings of romance. A neat clump of patterned hearts covers the top of its pot, usually a deep gray-green marked and edged with white. Sturdy stems hold up sumptuous flowers with deep purple-red, pink, or white flowers. Extend the indoor life of cyclamen with bright light, not direct sun, and consistent watering. Group the pot with others to increase humidity or add a glass bell jar to the gift package. Some peperomias, notably one with puckered leaves called ‘Emerald Leaf’, are among the easiest plants to grow on a desk or side table. Like most indoor plants, more peperomias succumb to overwatering than anything else. Water these when the top of the soil feels dry to your touch. Among the first succulents I was allowed to water and propagate in the greenhouse at LSU was string of hearts, Ceropegia woodii. I still love this delicate beauty that needs a warm, sunny room to drop its thin stems from a basket or pot. Each cordate leaf is painted as if by hand in an endless array in colors from green and almost pink to white and nearly gray. Water succulents only when their soil has dried thoroughly. Impressively big, heart-shaped leaves are yours in split leaf and elephant ear plants. Monstera, or split leaf, may be solid green or marbled with white. Each leaf starts out entire, and then splits neatly. It’s not supposed to be a symbol of a broken heart, but some take it that way! Elephant ears may be Alocasia, with leaves pointing down like African mask, or Colocasia whose cordate leaves point mostly up. Then there’s taro, caladium, tater vine, plus some hoyas and oxalis that will show your heart’s desire just how dear he or she is to you. Get the candy and perfume, but don’t forget the cordate cuties.
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