SENECIO (including cineraria)

This is an incredibly large genus, including about 3,000 species. However, as far as houseplants are concerned, probably the most important is the cineraria. sometimes given the pseudo-botanical name of Senecio emeritus. However the plants known as cineraria are numerous cultivars, with a parentage involving the true S. emeritus, S. heritieri, and other species native to the Canary Islands, and are the result of many years of intensive breeding and selection. There are now numerous named seed strains offered. and the variety of size. form, colouring and flowering period, is considerable. In all cases, they are usually grown from seed as biennials and are quite easy to grow under greenhouse or conservatory conditions, with minimum winter temperatures little more than frost-free. They are often grown with calceolarias. as they need similar conditions and treatment. Cinerarias come into the shops from about December to spring and are best bought when the buds are just beginning to show colour. Most of them are dwarf and compact, and have a mass of daisy-shaped flowers in a wide range of glorious colours sometimes zoned with white.

In recent years, a double form called ‘Gubler’s Double’ has been introduced.

but the colour range is limited and less exciting and the flowers tend to be too heavy for their stalks. Various giant-flowered strains are available but are best bought as seedlings in autumn from nurseries and grown on over winter on a bright window-sill. These are at least twice as tall as the normal florists’ strains and have an abundance of impressively large flowers. A form called ‘Stellata’ is usually even taller and bears a mass of small starry flowers giving a beautiful effect. However, these plants are more suited to decorating a conservatory. The culture and maintenance of cinerarias is almost exactly the same as described for calceolarias , but the plants are even more prone to wilting if given too much warmth and they are particularly prone to aphid attack. Kept cool, moist and shaded, cinerarias last a very long time. Like calceolarias the dwarf forms tend to flower earlier, and the giant types later. By selecting the various types, flowers can be enjoyed from Christmas to about early June. After flowering the plants should be discarded.

Two South African climbing species are pleasing foliage plants and remarkably ivy-like in appearance. They require a winter minimum of about 10 deg C (50 deg F) and ought to be far better known; both have yellow flowers in winter. S.

mikaniodes, German ivy. has exaggerated ivy-type leaves, the points being extremely sharp. S. macroylossus is usually seen in the form ‘Variegatus’, in which the leaf shape is more typical of ivy and the colouring is green and golden-yellow. It has the common names Cape ivy and, because the leaves are rather waxy in texture, wax vine. Both these species can be trained to a considerable height up bamboo supports. In conservatories they can grow up into the roof and even along roof supports. They are similarly useful for garden rooms, and grow well in any of the usual potting composts. Plants required to grow vigorously to lill height and space will need potting on to 25cm (10in) pots. Give a slightly shaded place, but not too gloomy, and water well in summer. Keep the roots only slightly moist in winter. Scale insects are the most likely pest and should be removed promptly before infestation becomes severe.

Another species that has become popular for window-sills is S. rowleyanus. This is absolutely different from the other senecios described here. It is a mat-forming trailer useful for hanging pots, wall pots, and for pedestals, and is a very strange plant from South-west Africa. The leaves are succulent and almost spherical in shape and borne on long thread-like stems. This has led to the

obvious common name of string of beads. If examined closely each beadlike leaf will be seen to have a semi-transparent band and a tiny pointed tip. In autumn sweetly scented white brushlike flowers with purple stigmas are produced. Provide a bright position. water freely in summer and sparingly the rest of the year. The stems often send out roots freely and the plants can be propagated in spring by potting pieces of rooted stems, or by division. It is not fussy about potting compost, provided it is well drained.

S. bicolor (syn. S. maritimus) is often grown under the name of Cineraria mar-itima for garden bedding, where its beautiful silvery-grey ferny foliage makes a delightful contrast to many bedding plant flowers. For this purpose it is grown from seed sown early in the year. However, it is perennial and can make a useful foliage plant for winter decoration in quite chilly places in the home. Plants for potting can be bought from garden shops during spring and should be given 13cm (5 in.) pots. If kept for more than about a year or so the plants may become leggy. Yellow daisy-shaped flowers are borne profusely from summer to autumn, but they tend to be

straggly and. although pretty, have dif-liculty in competing with the exceptionally striking foliage. For growing in pots the dwarf and neat form called ‘Silver Dust’ is specially recommended. For the iirst year it will grow little more than about 30cm (1 ft) in height. The bright silver-grey colour of the plant is not common among house-plants and it is surprising that it has not become better known for this purpose. It looks especially impressive when combined with red-leaved plants or flowers. the combination of red and grey being most effective. Keep nicely moist in summer, but on the dry side in winter. Pests and diseases are unusual.

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