New and newsworthy plants for 2022
We can all agree that 2021 was a year for strange news, from British bakeries using illegal U.S. sprinkles for cake décor to the sky-high prices for NFT (non-fungible token) artwork such as the $69 million paid for a digital photo collage.
In the midst of 24/7 broadcasting, however, you may have missed some of these unusual plant articles.
Philodendron’s price peaks
Philodendron is a large genus in the Araceae family that contains extremely attractive tropical plants. Its name is derived from the Greek words philo (love), and dendron (tree). Literally interpreted, its name means “lover of trees” and refers to the vine-growing species that use trees as a means of support.
Since philodendron grow naturally under heavy tree canopies, they can grow in low light, which is a great characteristic for indoor plants.
A hybrid cultivar known as “Pink Princess” seemed to take off in popularity during the pandemic. Generally, hybrids require medium to bright indirect light to retain their foliage color and to thrive. With more people working from home, colorful foliage and unique specimens became coveted.
According to Joyce Mast of Bloomscape (a website that sells plants), “The ‘Pink Princess’ is a rare and much sought-after philodendron with stunning, variegated dark green and pink leaves. One of the reasons it is expensive is due to the fact that growers cannot guarantee every plant of this variety will actually have enough pink on the green leaves to sell as a pink princess.”
Southern Living reported in May that Etsy was listing the ‘Princess Pink’ philodendrons for almost $2000. I found several for sale in a local garden center with a price of $800 for a plant in an eight-inch pot! Owners and growers need to be aware that the leaves must have green variegation mixed with the pink, since the plant needs chlorophyll that is produced by the green leaves.
Plants grown in space
In 2021, NASA reported on its three separate projects to grow plants in space. The Vegetable Production System, called Veggie, is a space garden that resides on the International Space Station. Veggie’s purpose is to help NASA study plant growth in microgravity, while adding fresh food to the astronauts’ diet and enhancing their mental and physical well-being.
Holding six plants, Veggie is about the size of a carry-on piece of luggage. Each plant snuggles in a “pillow” of clay-based growth media that help distribute water, nutrients and air around the roots. A bank of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) above the plants produces the light suited for the plants’ growth.
Veggie has produced lettuce, cabbage, kale and zinnias. Some of the plants were harvested and eaten by the crew members, with remaining samples returned to Earth for analysis.
The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) is another growth chamber for plant research. Unlike Veggie, the astronauts don’t tend this garden. It is enclosed and automated with cameras and more than 180 sensors that are in constant interactive contact with a team on the ground at Kennedy Space Center.
The Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) is used to study the effects of space on organisms small enough to grow in petri dishes, such as yeast and microbes. BRIC-LED is the latest version, with added LEDs to support mosses, algae and cyanobacteria that need light to make their food. Soon researchers will use BRIC to conduct studies.
Arborists halve tree
In Sheffield, U.K., homeowner Bharat Mistry had a fir tree between his yard and a neighbor’s. Over 25 years, and at the neighbor’s request, he climbed up the 16-foot tree above head height and pruned it in a ball shape.
During the pandemic lockdown, the neighbor asked to have the tree removed, according to the BBC. Fed up by the birds in the trees and their excrement, the neighbor called in a tree removal team, who cut the tree in half, removing the branches that hung over his driveway. The before and after photos became an internet sensation.
While there was probably a rift between the neighbors, the true damage will be to the tree. Certified arborists recommend that no more than 30% of a tree or bush should be removed at one time.
Invasive weeds for sale?
Labeled one of “the world’s worst invasive weeds” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and banned by federal legislation, Japanese blood grass or cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) is available to purchase from nurseries, garden centers and online retailers, according to a 2021 study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and reported by Smithsonian Magazine.
Researchers discovered that cogongrass and nearly 1,300 other invasive plants are currently being sold to the public. Cogongrass is by far “the most concerning case of federally designated noxious weed sales,” lead author Evelyn M. Beaury states.
She and her colleagues found that cogongrass was being sold by 33 vendors in 17 states. Even if plant breeders market a sterile cultivar, research shows that it may still become invasive.
Beware also of other invasive species for sale, including Japanese barberry, Chinese privet, Norway maple, Russian olive, garlic mustard, Canada thistle and kudzu.
Look out for plants in the news during 2022!
Lela Martin is a Master Gardener with the Chesterfield County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.