Tropical Plants, Strawberry Springs and Winter Blues!

Listen friends, at McArdle’s we get the Winter blues as much as anyone, so Strawberry Springs (tricky warm spells in late winter, a term coined by Stephen King) turn our minds to warmer climates. If, like us, you find yourself craving a little taste of the warmth, tropical plants are a fabulous way to introduce a little equatorial flare into your life. Tropical varieties offer vibrant colors and unique foliage that can serve as beautiful accents on their own or when contrasted against more native varieties. Here at McArdle’s, we have a fully stocked greenhouse brimming with beautiful houseplants that would love to find their home with you. They are also truly unique gifts, sure to lift the spirits of your recipient!  Let me tell you a little bit about some of our favorite types, including some tips for keeping them all happy and healthy.

BROMELIADSneoregelia tiger bromeliad tatiana bromeliadbromeliads tropical

Bromeliads are fascinating plants that grow radially around a central stalk forming a cup at their centers. In their native jungles, bromeliads catch water in this cup, and it allows them to regulate their own hydration. Some bromeliads have cups deep enough to form tiny ponds that host other life! Poison Dart Frogs, for example, lay their eggs in the water captured in bromeliads, and the little tadpoles spend their infancy in the bromeliad’s protective little nursery. Our bromeliads come in many varieties from smaller Guzmania with a tall, flower-like stalk to hefty Neoreglia Sunkiss, which form those cups we just spoke about. No matter the type, though, these plants feature dazzling colors and a different shape than most houseplants. Now, even though bromeliads do catch water to regulate themselves in nature, our homes are not jungles, and that change of environment plays into the way that these plants live and grow. In your home, you don’t have to worry if a little water spills into the plants, but you would probably want to water the soil rather than only pouring water into the plant’s center. Also, be sure to check the soil for dryness by inserting your finger a couple of inches below the surface before watering.


Croton tropical plant
Croton may only be leafy plants, but they can match the showiness of any blooming plants with their entrancing colors. Croton come in many varieties with colors ranging from nearly neon pinks to screaming yellows, and some varieties even have deep blue-black tones around their brighter spots. Their leaves also come in a wide variety of shapes. With croton, good light (from bright-indirect up to direct sun) and air circulation will take you far.  If your croton are cramped or left in dim rooms, they’ll break your heart.


air plant - tropicals
In their natural environments, air plants cling to rocky, nutrient impoverished surfaces, so they’ve adapted to gather all their nutrition from the sunlight and the air. We carry mostly varieties of Tillandsia, some of which bloom, some of which are spindly and green. Either way, your biggest concern with air plants is light rather than water. Air plants are more likely to fail from lack of light than water. As long as your air plants have good, bright light, watering is an easy operation; either mist them once a day, or submerge and soak them in freshwater once a week. If you do soak them, be sure to shake out any excess water to avoid rot.


AKA Ficus Lyrata. These are the plants of the moment. They’re en vogue in a big way, and everyone wants one with good reason. They’re full and bushy, with large, bright green leaves; gorgeous is the only suitable word. As it happens, you’ve probably seen these plants in decorating magazines, but keep in mind that what you see in magazines is often staged, only for the sake of the photograph. These plants are native to western Africa, but grow in lowland rainforest throughout the tropics. Due to their tropical origins, these plants thrive in bright light – they need at least bright indirect light, but will take, and thrive in, direct sun. Warm rooms with large, south or west facing windows will be your best bet to really enjoy these gorgeous plants. As for water, the procedure is the same as most houseplants: check the soil with your finger before watering.


kumquat tree full of fruit in our greenhouse!
These beauties are coveted for their ability to produce sumptuous bunches of fruit, which, with their bright color, strike a lovely contrast against the foliage. Citrus trees also offer a sort of Mediterranean charm to any setting; you’ll often find villas in Italy and Spain with rows of lemon trees around pools or through gardens. Historically, we’ve carried kumquats, lemons, and limes, and these trees will give you their all as long as they have bright light (their lighting needs are similar to the fiddle leaf fig), good air circulation (like croton), and plenty of water. Fruit formation takes a lot of energy and water, so you want to be sure that you water when the soil is approaching dryness beneath the surface. Never let the soil dry completely.

A Note on Humidity:

All of these tropical plants thrive in warm, bright, humid environments, and though the humidity in homes varies, during the winter when New Englanders run their heat, the average humidity is around 5%. That stands in stark contrast to the 60% that most houseplants prefer, and the 75% that most tropical plants prefer. We can’t make you do anything, but we will say that a humidifier is beneficial to your plants and to your own health (respiratory, skin, etc.)

So stop by and see what all we have to offer by way of tropical plants. A trip to Martinique or the Maldives is always a treat, but when you can’t get away, standing under the limbs of a fiddle leaf fig, or looking over the fronds of a bromeliad will give you almost as much pleasure. Our tropical plant selection changes faster than the speed of the internet so most of these are not available on our website.  Call or come in to see these stunning specimens!  We look forward to seeing you in our greenhouse.


lizard    Check out this lizard that we found on one of our trees! He made the journey all the way from Florida, and we’ve seen him off to a safe new home.

by Justin Lievano, an expert in the art of flora, and a wordsmith extraordinaire.