Paperwhites, moth orchids and poinsettias_ the houseplants of christmas _ life and style _ the guardian

You’ll not find it mentioned in carols or pictured on cards, but phalaenopsis orchids fly off the shelves in supermarkets, big box DIY shops and chic florists alike in December. Recommended humidity level for home uk This obsession is not new, nor is it limited to Christmas: we have been coveting orchids since the first plant hunters were sent across the globe in the eighteenth century to track down specimens at great expense, and often at the cost of their lives.

To trace this orchidelirium back through history, I recommend reading The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Recommended humidity level in a house It is not a pretty story, in places.

Recommended humidity level in home Orlean writes: “Because orchid hunters hated the thought of another hunter’s finding any plants they might have missed, they would ‘collect out’ an area, and then they would burn the place down.” Unfortunately an illegal trade in orchids ripped from the wild continues today, although the vast majority of commercially-available moth orchids are hybrids mass produced via tissue culture techniques developed in the 1970s. Recommended humidity level in home canada You can watch a video of a UK orchid greenhouse in production here. Recommended humidity level in home during summer Referring back to my previous post on mistletoe, it’s worth noting that moth orchids are not parasites or even hemiparasites, but epiphytes – they use trees as an anchor point, but gain no sustenance from them.

Phalaenopsis make great gifts, and for about the same price as a hand-tied bouquet, they should last far longer, provided if you follow some simple rules. Recommended humidity level in home during winter If you find it hard to keep moth orchids alive, or simply want to try something different, try a cape primrose, aka streptocarpus. Recommended humidity level in home during winter canada They are available from many garden centres, and Dibleys Nursery in Wales provide a mail order gift service for these easygoing houseplants. Recommended humidity level in home in winter Poinsettia

This is the bit where I try to find something positive to say about poinsettias as a houseplant, and fail. Recommended humidity level in home summer I must be in a minority in my unalloyed hatred of this plant*, as they are still hugely popular. Recommended humidity level in home winter I write “as a houseplant”, because look at pictures of growing in their native Mexico and other parts of the world where the climate is right, and they are rather charming shrubs (or in some cases, trees).

But indoors, my problem with them is twofold: they are hard to keep alive in the average house, and then people will insist on treating them as permanent residents. Recommended humidity level in house You can try to keep your poinsettia until next Christmas so it can rebloom, but you will have to look at an ugly plant all year and you’ll still fail, most likely. Recommended humidity level in house during winter In his still unsurpassed book The Houseplant Expert, Dr DG Hessayon explains an important distinction between flowering pot plants and houseplants: about the former he writes: “Don’t choose a flowering pot plant if you want something which will permanently adorn your living room.”

Nevertheless, like many iconic plants, poinsettia ( Euphorbia pulcherrima) has an interesting backstory if you care to look: the Aztecs called it cuetlaxochitl (brilliant flower), made a purple dye from its bracts and a fever medicine from its sap. Recommended humidity levels for home summer Joel Roberts Poinsett, US ambassador to Mexico, brought it home from his travels in 1825. Relative humidity in a home Just as for moth orchids, plant breeders in the 1960s worked hard to make the poinsettia more colourful, compact and floriferous, making it the blockbuster Christmas plant it is today.

If you have bought one of these and want to keep it alive at least until the new year, it requires humidity – achieved by grouping plants together and/or standing the pot on a tray filled with pebbles and water – careful watering (let the compost dry out between applications) and bright light but not direct sunlight. Relative humidity in the home uk If you still want rush out and buy a poinsettia, at least consider plant miles – look for the Home Grown logo which indicates the plant was grown in the UK.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Schlumbergera: try saying that after a few glasses of Baileys this Christmas. Relative humidity levels in a home Photograph: Chad Kleitsch/Getty Images/Science Faction

Given the current craze for cacti, I’d hoped for a revival in the fate of the Schlumbergera, a plant you probably last saw in a basket pot on your grandmother’s console table circa 1979. Suggested humidity level in house The Christmas cactus (close relatives Schlumbergera truncata and S. What are normal humidity levels in a home × buckleyi are both referred to by this common name) is, like the moth orchid, aother epiphyte, hanging around in the shade of the tropical rainforests of Brazil, being pollinated by hummingbirds.

I can’t find who first described their flowers as resembling leaping shrimps, but they were absolutely right. What can cause high humidity in a house The blooms come in all possible shades of pink, white and purple, although new orange and yellow cultivars are being developed by breeders.

For a wonderfully geeky post about Schlumbergera breeding and all things Christmas cactus-related, visit the houseplant blog Plants Are The Strangest People. What causes high humidity levels in a house For a shorter read, there’s care advice in this piece by Alys Fowler. What humidity level should my house be in summer Paperwhites