Foliage house plants up till now have had a hard time getting used to living inside. Now the University of Florida has developed a way of helping the plants make the transition.
Most of the foliage house plants sold in the United States are grown in Florida, Texas and California. Up until a short time ago they were grown mostly in fullsun or the near equivalent. When taken into the average home with its low light intensity, they did not last very long. It was too drastic a change. A few managed to survive, most dropped their leaves and died within a short time.
Those were the days when artificial plants were popular. The leaves stayed on those plants instead of on the floor.
The University of Florida came to the rescue. Its research center at Apopka, with Dr. Charles A. Conover in charge, went to work exclusively on the problem.
"Our aim," said Conover, "is that every plant shipped from Florida be in good health, free of insects and in such condition that it can survive in the environment of the home into which it goes."
The big need was for acclimatization-the climatic adaption of a plant to a particular environment. Acclimatization prepares the foliage plant for a life indoors.
Today, more than 90 percent of the foliage plants that leaves the grower to go to market are capable of survival in the average home if given good care.
"We have learned how to acclimatize foliage plants and have made considerable progress toward understanding the physiology involved," says Conover.
In other words, if the plant doesn't get too rough a treatment on the way to market, and if given decent care at the retail outlet, it should be more or less at home when it arrives in the home.
The big difference is, the plant has been adapted to lower light insentisities, a reduced respiration rate (lowered requirement for food) and a somewhat lowered water need, Conover says.
Plants grown in full sunlight have what is called "sun leaves." They are smaller than shade leaves of the same species and thicker in the cross section. When placed indoors under low light they are unable to photosynthesize the food needed because they are very inefficient under low light.
This results in the plant consuming stored food to remain alive. If the light difference is too wide, the plant usually dies before it can adapt to the new environment.
Shade leaves are usually (but not always) larger than sun leaves, thinner in the cross section, and make maximum use of light energy. If a shade plant is placed in full sun for even a short time, it will be severely injured because of cell death caused by high temperatures.
Surveys indicate a high percentage of foliage house plants are sold to the public by supermarkets.
The plants may have been on the road five days in a box without light. We don't know how long plants can go without light and not be damaged. Some say seven days is the maximum.
There may have been a buildup of respiration gases in the packing boxes. All plants produce some ethylene; too high a concentration of this gas will harm them.
The plants may have gotten chilled, or the truck's exhaust system may have leaked fumes into the truck. Gas injury sometimes is not severe enough to be seen immediately, but it is possible there could be symptoms visible.
The quantity of light in the retail shop may be much lower than desirable. However, foliage plants will not deteriorate rapidly unless light levels are below 50 footcandles.
The plants may have been given too much or too little water. If a plant has wilted for lack of water, it will quickly recover once given the moisture it needs. If too much has been applied, the roots may have been seriously damaged, perhaps beyond recovery.
If there are indications the plant may not be in first-class condition, don't buy it. Go elsewhere. That is the one certain way to persuade the outlet to take good care of the plants while in its possession.