'These are a few of my favourite things': Botanical edition
Though my memory of the exact details of the Calvin cycle and those chloroplast photosystems are remnants of a bygone age (i.e. a few years ago in A-Level Biology), there’s always been something I’ve deeply appreciated about the many leafy green friends sat in their various positions around the house or slowly clambering their way up an outside wall. This is an interest I’ve carried from a rather young age, perhaps a product of being the daughter of a plant virologist and having my fair share of conversations about how these predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes respond to the potential of viral infections despite being literally rooted in position, arguments as to how to water a plant (sub-6-year-old Lucy was wholly convinced you were meant to water the leaves, and the soil was just… there), as well as experiences in accidentally planting quite a sizeable number of orange trees in the garden from my sibling’s and my pip-spitting antics. Needless to say, our mum was pretty irritated and spent a good while uprooting those newly-emerging trees. In particular, bamboo has always been a part of what I perceive as ‘home’: whether listening patiently to my dad point out all the new shoots (‘look at how many I found!’) growing from the thick, yet pliable, stems, or walking past the bamboo trees in some of the nature parks I’ve visited whilst back in China.
During my first year here, the presence of a bit of greenery on even the dullest of Easter term days always had a perhaps surprising ability to cheer me up, so the small investments I made to add some botanical joy to my room were definitely worth it. There is also evidence to suggest that interactions with indoor plants may in fact reduce psychological and physiological stress (Lee et al. 2015), which is something I think we can all get on board with in our often manic and overwhelming lives!
In a bid to encourage anyone reading this to consider getting an indoor plant, here is a short guide:
Mexican snow ball/Mexican gem/white Mexican rose
Binomial name: Echeveria elegans
This is a gorgeous evergreen succulent which lives for over 2 years (a perennial) and tends to have pale, bluey-green rosette-like leaves. It is reasonably tolerant to a wide range of temperatures, and needs watering only sparingly, so won’t mind if you accidentally forget about it for a day or two.
Binomial name (of the particular species grown as an indoor plant): Yucca elephantipes
I think of my yucca plant as a little tree – it has a beautiful splay of numerous green leaves, with more often sprouting from various points of its stem. Yuccas need to be watered sparingly (I hope you sense a theme here), and from my experience, popping it in a deep container on a brightly lit window sill is all they really need.
Binomial name: Aloe vera
Aloe plants are evergreen perennials and have thick and fleshy leaves with a serrated margin. They’re happy to be sat pretty much anywhere in indirect sunlight (part of a desk positioned away from the window would be perfect). I once knew someone at school who only used the shampoo made from her aloe plant to wash her hair, which was always super glossy, so that’s always something to consider!
Binomial name: Sansevierias trifasciata
This species of flowering plant has many names, including the snake plant, Saint George’s sword, mother-in-laws’ tongue. and viper’s bowstring hemp. It is very tough and hardy plant with tall, stiff and often vertical leaves that have a characteristic distribution of centrally green and peripherally yellow colouration. Snake plants are tolerant of low light levels and do not require much watering, making them an excellent companion for those short winter days.
Binomial name: Asparagus setaceus
The best way to describe Asparagus setaceus is ‘fluffy’, in my opinion, with its finely branched and seemingly paper-thin leaves. My family has had one in the kitchen for quite a while now, and provided it is watered regularly to keep its soil moist, this plant can adapt to varying light conditions.
Binomial name: Dracaena sanderiana
As most bamboo species are native to warm and moist tropical climates, owning an indoor bamboo plant requires quite a lot of commitment because the high light intensity and humidity are difficult to replicate, particularly in the wintery weather we get in Cambridge! A popular indoor plant with a similar appearance to bamboo is the so-called ‘lucky bamboo’ (of a different taxonomic order), which can be grown in a confined, relatively warm, semi-shaded space, and requires regular watering.
Watering the various plants (the correct way) and rotating their pots always gives me a small sense of responsibility over the care of another living organism, and often that is a very welcome reminder that, even in the midst of a busy term, we too all need watering and nutrition!
(Reference, Lee MS, Lee J, Park BJ, Miyazaki Y. Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study)