HOW TO GROW COLUMNEA (goldfish plant)

13 deg C/55 deg F

Because of their showy winter tlowers, two columneas are valuable plants for hanging containers in warm homes. In both cases, the flowers are 6.5cm (2]in) long, bright orange to red in colour with a yellow or orange throat. The tips are hooded and lobed. suggesting the fins of a goldfish and giving rise to the common name. The flowers are borne from October to April.

C. gloriosa, from Costa Rica, has trailing stems of pale green spear-shaped hairy leaves, borne in pairs, and tinted purple in the form ‘Purpurea’. The flowers are very bright red with yellow throat markings. C. xbanksii. a cross between C. oerstediana and C. schiedeana, is quite different in that the leaves are dark green and glossy – not hairy. The flowers have a reddish-orange colour, with pure orange throat markings. The flowers are often followed by pale violet berries. In favourable conditions, both these columneas trail to a length of 90cm (3ft) or more. There are other species that can at least double this, but they tend to be better suited to greenhouses and conservatories.

Columneas like a moisture-retentive compost that is well aerated. A wire or teak slatted basket is the best container. Use a peat-based compost mixed with

about a third of its volume of sphagnum moss and a little crushed charcoal. Year-round humidity and a high temperature are required. Hven in winter, the compost must be kept moist. Overhead spraying with clean rainwater is most beneficial, and encourages healthy growth. During summer slight shade should be given. Young plants can have the ends of the shoots removed to induce branching and to provide plenty of stems to trail over the edge of the container. A well-grown plant is beautiful when a cascade of flowers is produced. The plants can be propagated from cuttings taken in spring, but they are not usually easy to root without greenhouse facilities. Established plants should have all straggly, weak shoots or decayed growth removed in spring. Columneas are rarely successful in centrally-heated homes with dry air. but may do well if there is some form of humidificalion. If the atmosphere is dry. care has to be taken to spray the plants and keep the air moist. Lack of humidity and adequate temperature leads to sickness. otherwise the plants are remarkably free from pests and disease problems.

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