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Foliage Power: Flowers Aren't Everything
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All Photos: Bodie Pennisi

Since the Victorian era, fanciers of foliage plants have prized these durable wonders for their remarkable variety of leaf sizes, shapes, textures and colors.

Foliage plants make wonderful gifts. They blend very well with traditional flowering potted plants such as African violets, Gloxinias and many others.

In coordinated groupings, small foliage plants present delightful displays in dish gardens, offering an instant miniature garden.

Many Plants Available

Today, many species and cultivars of foliage plants are available. And new ones are introduced every year.

Foliage plant breeders have focused their efforts on improving plants' appearance and performance in interior environments. Each year they select plants for qualities such as repeat flowering, increased disease resistance and tolerance to low light levels and temperatures.

The motto for the foliage plant breeders this year seems to have been "More color!" Indeed, some of the new plants show a spectacular display of leaf colors that are hard to pass by.

A Few of the New

Here are some of the exciting, new foliage plants you should look for in the garden center.

  • Aglaonema 'Red Gold' features green and yellow speckled leaves with very characteristic and unusual pink petioles. As with all Chinese evergreens, it can perform excellently indoors.
  • Anthurium 'Tropic Fire' features bright fiery-red spathe and white spadix. This new cultivar produces a full pot of rich, medium green, shiny foliage.
  • Calathea 'Silver Plate' features silver-green, glossy foliage, and long-lasting lighter pink flowers. One of the few flowering calatheas in culture.
  • Carludovica 'Jungle Drums' is a new plant species for the foliage trade. It's stemless, with rounded, fan-shaped, rich green leaves, usually cut in two parts. They resemble corrugated palm leaves but are much softer. Panama hats are traditionally made of a close relative of this plant.
  • Chlorophytum 'Fire Flash' has glossy-green, lance-head-shaped leaves with distinct, parallel veins and a bright coral petiole. The coral veins and petioles make a strong contrast with the leaves, while the small flowers are white in a dense, cylindric panicle partly hidden in the foliage. This plant is a close relative of the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) but has much larger leaves.
  • Dracaena 'Rikki' has foliage that produces graceful arcs of deep green, glossy leaves, with highlighted yellow bands in the center running the length of the leaf. It is a wonderful companion to all other dracaenas and does a credit to this genus of old favorites.
  • Homalomena 'Purple Sword' has spectacularly colored dark green and silver-marked leaves with contrasting dark purple on the undersides.
  • Polypodium 'Green Wave' has distinctive upright, dark green fronds. This new tropical fern grows as vigorously as a Boston fern.
  • Spathiphyllum 'Hi Ho Silver' is a variant of "Ceres," the European variety that blooms with a symmetrical shape. The leaf veins are lighter, compared to the rest of the lamina, giving the leaf a unique look of a subtle white web on a green background. This beautiful new cultivar resembles a gray-green Aglaonema.
  • Syngonium podophyllum 'Neon' has bright, new hot-pink foliage. This small plant branches freely and is perfect in large assortments or dish gardens.

(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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