21, Jul 2023
Cercestis Mirabilis and Other New Plants

I have already written about how “new” has lost all meaning in the context of indoor plants. Still, it is fascinating to take a look at the species marketed as “new”… so here are three types that have recently landed in the emails of sellers in my inbox.

Cercestis mirabilis (photo above) is an African Aroid described by the Aroid legend Josef Bogner in 1985 (it was previously placed in the genera Nephthytis and Rhectophyllum), but exploded into the world of indoor plants about two years ago. It has received the common name Aroid of African influence and grows in humid lowland forests, where it is an epiphyte climbing through the tree canopy. Although it is not a very important plant medically or culinary, it has various uses in its countries of origin, including Benin, Angola and Uganda. Like most aroids, the leaves transform, lose their silvery markings and grow larger as they mature: there is excellent information and images here.

Episcia cupreata, the flame purple, is finally gaining ground in the UK. It’s a member of the Gesneseriad family that I’m totally partial to: I love it. Episcia ‘Harlequin’ seems to be the available variety, but don’t believe the sites that tell you that this plant is compact: it spreads through the stolons and, under the right conditions, migrates beautifully. This species is native to northern South America and would need a lot of moisture, but I grow mine without problems in about 50%, in a pot with zero Drainage (Yes zero) (don’t try this at home, kids!). The stolons mean that it is extremely easy to propagate, which is fun. Unfortunately, many cool varieties like ‘Pink Smoke’ are very difficult to find in the UK.

Hydnophytum moseleyanum (usually mistakenly called H. papuanum) is a caudex plant and also an ant plant – or Myrmecophyte, if you prefer. This means that it has developed a complex relationship with the ants: the base of the fattened trunk, or Caudex, contains chambers in which the ants (those of the genus Philidris) have their home. The ants deposit detritus that decomposes and feeds the plant, while the ants collect the honeydew from the scale insects on the trees where the plant grows like an insect. It is native to the humid tropical regions of Southeast Asia, including the Solomon Islands, The Philippines and New Guinea. Caudex ant plants are becoming more and more popular, other species are also coming on the market: Esoterica Exotica has an excellent article on these and other species of the Hydnophytum genus. I would always recommend careful consideration of sellers when buying caudex plants to make sure that they have been grown from seed or at least obtained responsibly.

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