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  • Paddy
  • Born and educated in Germany, I came to live in the UK in 1982. After working in various jobs over the years, I am now a freelance writer. I have a passion for wildlife and nature in general and love my family, my dog Jet, writing, music and dragons.
  • Born and educated in Germany, I came to live in the UK in 1982. After working in various jobs over the years, I am now a freelance writer. I have a passion for wildlife and nature in general and love my family, my dog Jet, writing, music and dragons.

A - Z Plant List

A - B - C - D/E

F - G - H/I/J

K/L - M - N/O

P - Q/R - S

T to Z


The A - Z of House Plants is currently under construction. Plant names will be linked to their corresponding articles as they are added. Please be patient - there are a lot of plants, and there may be days when only one or two articles can be added at a time. In the meantime, why not take a look at some of these general care articles:


A brief Guide to Potting Mixes


When and how to repot House Plants


Grooming House Plants - the Basics


Indoor House Plants and Light


Ten House Plants tolerating low Light Conditions


Indoor House Plants and Humidity Levels


Watering Indoor House Plants


Fertilising House Plants


To save readers having to scroll through the whole alphabet when looking for a specific plant, each section will be moved to its own page once all corresponding articles have been added. 


Yet to come: 




(Haworthia species)

Heartleaf Philodendron

(Philodendron scandens)


(Helleborus niger)


(Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

Hyacinth Flower

(Hyacinthus orientalis hybrids)


(Hydrangea macrophylla)




(Impatiens hybrids)

Iron Cross Begonia

(Begonia masoniana)

Ivy Geranium

(Pelargonium peltatum)


(Ixora coccinea)



Jade Plant

(Crassula ovata)

Janet Craig Dracaena

(Dracaena deremensis)

Japanese Aralia

(Fatsia japonica)

Jasmine Plant

(Jasminum polyanthum)

Jerusalem Cherry

(Solanum pseudocapsicum)



Kaffir Lily

(Clivia miniata)

Kentia Palm

(Howea forsteriana)



Lady Palm

(Rhapis excelsa)

Lantana Plants

(Lantana camara)

Lily of the Valley                                      

(Convallaria majalis)

Lipstick Plant                                          

(Aeschynanthus lobbianus)

Living Stones                                           

(Lithops species)

Lucky Bamboo                                        

(Dracaena sanderiana)



Madagascar Palm                                    

(Pachypodium lamerei)

Maidenhair Fern                                       


Mandevilla Plant                                       

(Mandevilla hybrids)

Martha Washington Geranium                   

(Pelargonium domesticum)


(Medinilla magnifica)

Ming Aralia                                              

(Polyscias fruticosa)

Miniature Roses                                        

(Rosa chinensis hybrids)

Mona Lavender                                        

(Plectranthus hybrid)

Money Tree Plant                                     

(Pachira aquatica)

Moses in the Cradle                                 

(Tradescantia spathacea)

Mother of Thousands                                

(Kalanchoe daigremontiana)

Mother-in-Law's Tongue/ Snake Plant        

(Sansevieria trifasciata)



Nerve Plant                                              

(Fittonia verschaffeltii)

New Guinea Impatiens                              

(Impatiens x hawkeri hybrid)

Norfolk Island Pine                                   

(Araucaria heterophylla)



Oleander Plant                                         

(Nerium oleander)

Orchid Cactus                                         

(Epiphyllum species and hybrids)

Ornamental Chili Pepper                           

(Capsicum annuum)



Paddle Plant                                            

(Kalanchoe thyrsiflora)

Panda Plant                                            

(Kalanchoe tomentosa)


(Viola x wittrockiana)

Paperwhite Narcissus                               

(Narcissus jonquilla)

Papyrus Plant                                          

(Cyperus papyrus)

Parlor Palm                                             

(Chamaedorea elegans)

Parrot Flower                                           

(Heliconia psittacorum)

Passion Flower                                        

(Passiflora caerulea)

Peace Lily


Peacock Plant                                         

(Calathea makoyana)


(Peperomia caperata)

Periwinkle Flower                                     

(Catharanthus roseus)

Persian Shield                                         

(Strobilanthes dyerianus)

Persian Violet                                          

(Exacum affine)

Piggyback Plant                                      

(Tolmiea menziesii)

Pink Calla Lily                                         

(Zantedeschia rehmannii)

Pink Quill                                                

(Tillandsia cyanea)

Pitcher Plant                                           

(Nepenthes hybrids)


(Plumeria rubra)

Pocketbook Plant                                    

(Calceolaria herbeohybrida)


(Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Polka Dot Plant                                       

(Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Ponytail Palm                                          

(Beaucarnea recurvata)

Pothos/ Devil's Ivy                                    

(Epipremnum aureum)

Powder Puff Tree                                      

(Calliandra haematocephala)

Prayer Plant                                            

(Maranta leuconeura)

Primrose Flowers                                     

(Primula hybrids)

Purple Heart Plant                                    

(Tradescantia pallida)

Purple Passion Plant                                

(Gynura aurantiaca)

Purple Shamrock                                     

(Oxalis regnellii)

Pygmy Date Palm                                     

(Phoenix roebelenii)



Queen's Tears                                         

(Billbergia nutans)



Rabbit Foot Fern                                      

(Davallia fejeensis)

Rex Begonia                                            

(Begonia rex)

Rosary Vine                                            

(Ceropegia woodii)

Rubber Plant                                           

(Ficus elastica)



Sago Palm                                              

(Cycas revoluta)

Satin Pothos                                           

(Scindapsus pictus)

Scarlet Star                                             

(Guzmania lingulata)

Scented Geranium                                   

(Pelargonium species and hybrids)


(Schefflera actinophylla)

Sensitive Plant                                         

(Mimosa pudica)

Shamrock Plant                                       

(Oxalis species)

Shrimp Plant                                           

(Justicia brandegeana)

Siam Tulip                                               

(Curcuma alismatifolia)

Spider Lily                                               

(Hymenocallis littoralis)

Spider Plant

(Chlorophytum comosum)

Split-Leaf Philodendron                             

(Philodendron bipinnatifidum)

Staghorn Fern                                          

(Platycerium bifurcatum)

Strawberry Begonia                                  

(Saxifraga stolonifera)

String of Pearls                                        

(Senecio rowleyanus)

Swedish Ivy                                             

(Plectranthus species)

Sweet Potato Vine                                   

(Ipomea batatas)

Swiss Cheese Plant                                 

(Monstera deliciosa)


Thanksgiving Cactus                                

(Schlumbergera truncata)

Ti Plant                                                   

(Cordyline terminalis)

Tiger's Jaw                                              

(Faucaria tigrina)


(Tulipa hybrids)


U - V - W

Urn Plant                                                 

(Aechmea fasciata)

Venus Fly Trap                                        

(Dionaea muscipula)

Wandering Jew                                        

(Tradescantia albiflora)

Wax Begonia                                           

(Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum)

Wax Plant                                               

(Hoya carnosa)

Weeping Fig                                            

(Ficus benjamina)

Windmill Palm Tree                                  

(Trachycarpus fortunei)


X - Y - Z


(Yucca elephantipes)

Zebra Plant                                              

(Aphelandra squarrosa)

ZZ Plant                                                  

(Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Sad News...


Stop Animal Cruelty

Instead of protecting the precious diversity of life on our planet, many countries, groups and individuals delight in performing acts of incredible cruelty to and on animals. To help stop this insanity going on, please go to The Petitions Site and add your voice to the thousands of individuals who are prepared to stand up and say: ' Enough is enough. Stop this now!' 

March 31 2013 1 31 /03 /March /2013 09:31

coverThis list includes a selection of common, not quite so common and unusual house plants beginning with the letter 'G'. If the name of a plant is not known - sometimes well meaning friends remove details before giving a plant as a present because the price happens to be on the label - it may be possible to first of all identify it by taking a peek at the images shown in the Green Thumb Photo Album

Plants are listed purely in alphabetical order, as opposed to splitting them by type, to make finding them a little easier. It can be difficult to find a plant if only armed with a name, rather than knowing whether it is of the flowering, foliage, succulent or cactus type. 



(Gardenia jasminoides)


(Pelargonium x hortorum)

Gerbera Daisy

(Gerbera jamesonii)

Glory Lily

(Gloriosa superba)


(Sinningia speciosa hybrids)

Gold Dust Plant

(Aucuba japonica)

Golden Shrimp Plant

(Pachystachys lutea)

Golden Trumpet

(Allamanda cathartica)

Goldfish Plant

(Columnea hybrids)

Grape Hyacinths

(Muscari spp.)

Grape Ivy

(Cissus rhombifolia)

Nobody is perfect, and there may well be some plants readers are aware of that are not featured here, so if any one has an idea or knows of a plant that should be included here, please leave a comment. The plant in question will then be researched and included as soon as humanly possible. 

It would also be appreciated if a photo that can be used here would be included with such suggestions, as the writer obviously does not have these plants readily available to take photos (otherwise they would already be included), and finding images that are not bound by copyrights is not always as easy as one would imagine. 

In the hope that this list and the associated images and articles will prove helpful, enjoy having a read, please share the articles with family, friends, colleagues and other acquaintances, and please feel free to leave comments of any kind - as long as they are not rude :-) 

While it is appreciated that it will not be possible to please everybody all the time, constructive criticism is worth far more - and will be taken note of - than raving abuse, which will simply be deleted.

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March 31 2013 1 31 /03 /March /2013 09:24

Plant Summary

grape-ivyBotanical Name: Cissus rhombifolia

Type: Foliage

Origin: Cissus rhombifolia originates from South America. A close relative, Cissus antarctica - better known as the Kangaroo Vine - is native to Australia.

Height: Different varieties of Grape Ivy grow to different heights, with some varieties climbing - if adequately supported - up to 1. 8 m (6 ft) in height. These plants can be kept at a manageable size of around 60 cm (2 ft) through regular pruning. There are also some Bonsai varieties, which will naturally stay small.

Soil: An Africa Violet or any other good potting mix based on peat moss will be ideal for this house plant.

Light: Grape Ivies like moderate to bright conditions as far as light is concerned. They should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as this may cause brown, unsightly scorch marks on the plants' leaves.

Humidity: Cissus rhombifolia prefers levels of relative humidity to range between 40 and 60 per cent. Dry air may result in browning of leaf tips. This can be prevented by misting the plant, but good air circulation is vital in order to avoid the development of powdery mildew. 

grape-ivy-gtTemperatures: Grape Ivy needs to be kept fairly warm during the months of spring and summer - at temperatures ranging between 18 and 27 degrees C (65 to 80 degrees F) - and cool during autumn and winter, when temperatures should range between 10 and 21 degrees C (50 to 70 degrees F).

Water: Throughout the growing season (spring/ summer and into autumn), this plant should be watered generously, aiming to keep the soil evenly moistened at all times. In winter, watering needs to be reduced to a point where the soil's top 2.5 cm (1 in) are allowed to dry between watering sessions.

Fertiliser: Feed the Grape Ivy with a diluted (half/half) liquid balanced fertiliser - once a month - during spring and summer.

Propagation: Near the end of spring, strip lower leaves of 7.5 to 10 cm (3 to 4 in) stem tip cuttings, dip them into rooting powder and insert them into a moistened peat/ perlite mixture (1:1). Then completely enclose the pot with a plastic bag in order to retain humidity. Within 6 to 8 weeks, roots should begin to form. 

Description and Care Tips

grape-ivy-woExtremely well adapted to indoor living, the evergreen Grape Ivy is a vigorous vine that is easy to keep as a house plant. Each of its glossy, gorgeous compound leaves bears three leaflets. When young, these leaves are somewhat fuzzy, providing them with a lovely silvery sheen.

This house plant will show of its trailing, beautiful foliage extremely well when planted in a hanging basket, but looks equally magnificent if trained to grow up a moss pole or trellis. In essence, the Grape Ivy's sturdy vines will use their curling tendrils to scramble up on any support provided.

To keep this plant bushy and compact, it should be pinched and pruned. The tender growing tips are tender enough to be pinched out with the fingernails and can be used for propagation (see above).

In spring, the plant should be pruned to keep its size under control. Pruning should always be done with sharp, clean pruners and by cutting the stems just above leaf nodes (where leaves attache to stems) at a 45 degree angle.

grape-ivy-stWhen the roots fill the plant's container, it is time to repot. Usually only necessary every two years or so, this should be done in spring. To prevent root rot, it is vital to use a pot with adequate drainage holes. For the same reason, it is essential not to over-water this plant. Being an evergreen, Grape Ivy does not go dormant during the winter months, but growth does slow down, so watering should be reduced and fertilising should be stopped during this period.

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March 30 2013 7 30 /03 /March /2013 20:34

Plant Summary

grape-hyacinthBotanical Name: Muscari spp.

Type: Flowering

Origin: Grape Hyacinths originate from Western Asia.

Height: Muscari spp.varieties can grow to heights of around 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 in).

Soil: This plant will do well in any quality potting mix and can also be quite easily grown in water.

Light: During the cold treatment (see below) the Grape Hyacinth's bulbs need to be kept in the dark (covered with a pot, box or black bag). Flowering plants need lots of bright, but indirect light and should not be placed into direct sunlight.

Humidity: Muscari spp. are happy with average levels of humidity, so no measures to raise levels are required.

grape-hyacinth-gtTemperatures: This is one house plant that likes to be kept cool - temperatures are best kept at 4 to 18 degrees C (40 to 65 degrees F) to prolong blooming.

Water: The soil for this plant needs to be kept evenly moist.

Fertiliser: There is no need to fertilise the Grape Hyacinth.

Propagation: Once forced into blooming indoors, Grape Hyacinths do not bloom again. They do, however, produce offsets that can be planted outdoors. For this purpose, the foliage should be allowed to die off naturally before cutting it off. The bulbs then need to be stored in a dry, cool place for the summer and can be planted in the garden during the autumn. 

Description and Care Tips

Grape Hyacinth bulbs produce thick, upright flower stems surrounded by arching, narrow leaves. Each flower stem carries a cluster of lightly fragrant, rounded flowers (resembling a bunch of grapes) in lovely shades of lavender-blue, purple, white or pink (depending on variety). 

Naturally flowering in spring, Muscari spp. can be forced into blooming during the winter months by tricking them into behaving as though they had a cold winter rest followed by the warmth and light of spring. When forced indoors, flowers will last for a month or so, providing temperatures are kept low (see above).

Forcing Grape Hyacinth Bulbs

grape-hyacinth-woFor mid-winter blooms, it is best to start this process during the month of October, although anytime during autumn is fine - in any case, bulbs will require a cold treatment lasting for 10 weeks in order to bloom.

Begin by filling a pot - which must be at least 7 cm (3 in) deep and have drainage holes - loosely with a quality potting mix. Set the bulbs loosely (do not press them in) into the potting mix with the pointed end up. They should be close without touching one another, and the tips should be level with the rim of the pot. Add potting mix to the top, ensuring the tips remain exposed.

After watering the pot thoroughly and discarding the drained off water, move the pot into a cool - minimum temperature should be around 4 degrees C/ 40 degrees F - dark place (basement, garage or even a fridge, as long as it is guaranteed temperatures do not drop to freezing point). If necessary, cover the pot with a box, an upturned pot or a black bag to keep it dark. 

The pot needs to remain in this location for 10 weeks, keeping the potting mix barely moist throughout. When the new shoots reach a height of about 5 cm (2 in), move the pot to a slightly warmer - 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) - location with low light. Increase watering slightly to ensure the soil is kept evenly moistened. 

grape-hyacinth-stMove the pot gradually closer to a sunny window over the next couple of days. To make sure the plant grows evenly, turn the pot regularly (quarter turn per day). Once fully in bloom, the plant should be kept at a temperature of around 18 degrees C (65 degrees F) in a bright location (but out of direct sunlight) to prolong blooming.

Alternatively, place the bulbs into paper bags for the chilling period, then place them into hour-glass shaped hyacinth bulb vases once they begin to sprout. The vases should be set in a cool, bright location, and the bottom needs to be kept filled with water. It is, however, essential to ensure the bulb does not sit in the water, as this will cause it to rot.

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March 25 2013 2 25 /03 /March /2013 19:25

Plant Summary

goldfish-plantBotanical Name: Columnea gloriosa (and varying hybrids)

Type: Flowering

Origin: The Goldfish Plant has its origins in South and Central America.

Height: Stems that are not pinched back may grow as long as 90 cm (3 ft).

Soil: This house plant grows best in a potting mix that is peat moss based.

Light: Columnea gloriosa and its many hybrids require lots of bright light in order to bloom, but should not be placed into direct sunlight. 

Humidity: A humidity tray - or room humidifiers - will help to maintain the moderate to high levels of humidity this house plant requires. The foliage of the Goldfish Plant should be misted daily, using room-temperature water (cold water will results in brown spots developing on the leaves). 

Temperatures: Goldfish Plants prefer to be moderately warm, at temperatures ranging between 18 and 24 degrees C (65 to 75 degrees F).

goldfish-plant-gtWater: During spring, summer and autumn, the Goldfish Plant should be watered thoroughly. Between watering sessions, the top 5 cm (2 in) of soil should be allowed to dry out a little. In winter, watering can be reduced to almost allowing the soil to dry out between sessions. 

Fertiliser: A high phosphorus (10-30-10, for example) liquid fertiliser should be diluted (1:1) and fed to the Columnea gloriosa every 14 days during spring and summer.

Propagation: Goldfish Plants can be propagated from stem tip cuttings at around 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) in length. Ensuring cuttings do not bear flowers, they should be taken in spring or summer and dipped into root hormone powder to improve chances of success. Newly planted cuttings should be kept in a warm, humid and bright area until growth emerges. The new plants will, by the way, not flower until the next summer.

Description and Care Tips 

The exotic perennial Columnea gloriosa is a member of the  Gesneriaceae family and owes its common name of Goldfish Plant to its long, tubular and typically orange-red flowers, which give an impression of leaping fish.

goldfish-plant-woThe long stems of this house plant are densely covered in dark green, thick and waxy leaves. Trailing up to 90 cm (3 ft), these cascade beautifully over the edge of containers, making a particularly spectacular display of foliage and magnificent flowers when planted into a hanging basket or onto a pedestal.

Giving a mature Goldfish Plant plenty of bright, but indirect, light will ensure an abundance of dozens of gorgeous blooms. Keeping the soil slightly on the dry side during the winter months will also help to encourage plentiful flowers in spring, although it is vital not to allow the soil to dry out completely.

Pinching off the Goldfish Plant's growing tips (which can be used for propagation if so desired) will encourage branching and subsequently achieve a much fuller, bushier appearance. In addition, keeping the stems at a maximum of around 30 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) will also prevent them from becoming leggy and bare looking.

As this plant blooms best when it is slightly pot-bound, repotting should only be done when absolutely necessary. When this is the case, the plant should be repotted in spring, using a container with drainage holes to prevent soil from becoming soggy.

goldfish-plant-stGrowers around the world have bred a wonderful variety of Columnea gloriosa hybrids, some of which feature the same fuzzy leaves as the plant's cousin, the African Violet (with this variety in particular, it is vital to prevent fungal issues by avoiding getting the leaves wet). Other hybrids feature yellow or red flowers, and one, 'Fire Light', features leaves with a lovely variegated pattern.

Somewhat sensitive to moisture on the leaves and high heat, Goldfish Plants should be checked for browning of leaves/ leaf drop, as these signs indicate that either the leaves are getting wet or temperatures are too high.

In addition, aphids, mealy bugs and spider mites have a penchant for these plants, so checking regularly for and immediately treating infestations of these pests is vital.

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March 25 2013 2 25 /03 /March /2013 11:18

Plant Summary

golden-trumpetBotanical Name: Allamanda cathartica

Type: Flowering

Origin: The Golden Trumpet Vine originates from Brazil.

Height: Not pruned, this house plant can reach heights of up to 2.4 m (8 ft). Dwarf varieties grow up to 38 cm (15 in) in height. 

Soil: Allamanda cathartica can be planted in any high quality potting mix.

Light: Golden Trumpets need plenty of bright light, including a minimum of 4 hours worth of direct sunlight per day.

Humidity: This tropical plant requires moderate to high (50 per cent and upwards) levels of relative humidity. Levels can be raised using a humidifier or a wet pebble (humidity) tray.

Temperatures: The frost-tender Allamanda does not like to be cold in any way, although it will tolerate winter temperatures down to 16 degrees C (60 degrees F). Ideal temperatures for this house plant range, however, between 18 and 27 degrees C (65 to 80 degrees F).

Water: Golden Trumpet plants need to be watered thoroughly, allowing the top layer (5 cm/ 2 in) of potting mix to dry out between watering sessions. Drainage trays must be emptied immediately to prevent the soil getting soggy.

golden-trumpet-gtFertiliser: Allamanda cathartica needs to be fed with a high-potassium - diluted (50:50) - liquid fertiliser on a bi-weekly (every two weeks) basis, starting in spring and on into autumn. 

Propagation: Early spring is the best time to take and root (in moistened soil) Golden Trumpet stem tip cuttings (8 to 10 cm/ 3 - 4 in long). Using a heat mat will produce the best results.

Description and Care Tips

Like the pink-flowered Mandevilla, the Golden Trumpet belongs to the Apocynaceae family, which is also commonly known as the Dogbane family. Similar to other members of this family, the Golden Trumpet has a milky sap that is considered to be poisonous (likely to cause serious skin irritations). In addition, all of its parts are cathartic, meaning they induce accelerated evacuation of the bowel.

The stunning beauty of this tropical twining vine does, however, make the effort of wearing gloves while handling the plant well worth it. 

golden-trumpet-woThe whorled, leathery and deeply veined leaves of Allamanda cathartica are bright green - ranging into light green - and, combined with the plant's twining habit, make this a highly attractive plant at the best of times. 

The main attraction of Allamanda cathartica, however, are its stunning, 7.5 to 10 cm (3 to 4 in) wide, trumpet-shaped flowers. Typically bright yellow in colour (although there are now some varieties featuring creamy coloured flowers), these magnificent blooms gradually unfold from the scrolled flower buds that emerge from the plant's stem tips in summer. Blooming lasts from summer right through into autumn.

Some Golden Trumpet cultivars have been specifically bred to provide beautiful fragrances. One of these cultivars features darker leaves than the original species and brown, furry buds.

To grow and bloom well, Allamanda cathartica needs to be given plenty of bright light. The plant can be moved outside (into a semi-shaded position) during the summer to increase its blooming power. It must, however, be returned to a sunny spot inside before temperatures are likely to drop below 16 degrees C (60 degrees F), as it does not tolerate being cold.

Golden Trumpets can be trained to grow up and through a supporting trellis, which will really show off its spectacular flowers. If size needs to be controlled, this house plant can be pruned back by as much as half its size in early spring. 

In addition to keeping the size under control, this pruning will also encourage more flowers, as will cutting off spent blooms.

golden-trumpet-stSpring is also a good time to repot the plant. As Allamanda cathartica grows well in comparatively large containers, it can be repotted into pots a size larger than the previous year every spring. Naturally, it is important to use containers with drainage holes to prevent soggy soil.

After the plant has flowered, it will produce prickly seed pods, from which - when the pods have dried and break open - winged seeds will emerge and fly about. Although Allamanda cathartica is an evergreen, its growth will slow as winter approaches, and the plant should be given a winter rest. 

While it is important to keep this tender plant at room temperatures, watering should be reduced slightly - though not enough to allow the potting mix to completely dry out.

Both aphids and mealy bugs do, by the way, like to make a meal out of this house plant, so it is important to look out for and immediately treat infestations.

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March 17 2013 1 17 /03 /March /2013 15:23

In spite of being the world's most widely distributed bird - occurring naturally in much of Asia, the Mediterranean and much of Europe, as well as having been introduced (partly by accident and partly intentional) to parts of Africa, the Americas and Australia - populations of the House Sparrow, known by the scientific name of Passer domesticus, are declining rapidly in many areas, including the UK, where numbers have decreased by as much as 60 per cent in cities and by almost half in rural areas. 

Though currently only listed as 'least concern' on the ICUN Red List, the RSPB has this lovely bird classed under the 'Red List Status'.


Sparrow-maleThe fairly compact House Sparrow, a member of the Passeridae family, is typically between 14 and 18 cm (5.5 to 7.1 in) long and has a relatively large, rounded head. Its stout bill has an upper ridge (culmen) length of between 1.1 and 1.5 cm (between 0.42 and 0.59 in); its wing chord measures 6.7 up to 8.9 cm (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 in), and its tail ranges in length between 5.2 and 6.5 cm (2 to just over 2 1/2 in). 

The weight of a House Sparrow can range between 24 and 39.5 g (0.85 to 1.39 oz), depending on the bird's age and sex, as well as the time of year. Females are typically a little smaller than males, but will be larger during the birds' breeding season, while the males tend to be bigger during the winter. 

The plumage of House Sparrows consists mostly of varying shades of brown and grey, and differs between males and females.  Females have brown heads and upper parts, with some dark streaks around the back and wings (mantle). They do not have the black markings - or the grey crown - of the males, but feature a very distinct, pale supercilium (a stripe running from the beak's base over the eye and towards the back of the head). Usually, the underparts of the female are of a pale grey-brown colour.

Male House Sparrows have reddish backs, bold markings and dark grey crowns reaching from their bill's top across to their backs, with the sides of their heads being chestnut brown. They also have black around the bill, on the lores (the spaces between the eyes and the bill) and on the throat. 

There is a fairly small white stripe located between the crown and the lores, and behind the eyes are small white spots (known as postoculars), and black patches above and below them. The male's ear coverts (covering feathers), cheeks and underparts are white or pale-grey, as are the stripes located at the head's base.

sparrow-femaleThe mantle and upper back of the male are warm brown and feature broad, black streaks. The rump, lower back and the upper tail's coverts are typically grey-brown. Much duller - and featuring whitish tips on the ends of many fresh feathers - during the non-breeding season, the black and bright brown markings (including the black patch, badge or bib on the male's throat and chest) are gradually exposed more prominently through preening and general wear. The badge varies in size from one bird to the next, and it is believed that the increase in size is related to the age of a bird.

The plumage of juvenile House Sparrows is generally fairly similar to females, although it tends to be plainer above and of a deeper brown colour below. Although juvenile males often have white postoculars and darker throats, this is not a reliable method of determining the sex of a juvenile.

Sparrows are certainly vocal and can often be heard before they are seen. Most of their vocalisations are essentially variations of their short, but incessant chirping - often transcribed as either chirrup, philip or tschilp - call. This particular note is generally used:

  • As a general contact call among resting/ flocking birds
  • As a nest-ownership proclamation 
  • As an pairing invitation during the breeding season

The latter is typically performed with great speed and emphasis - though not necessarily adhering to a specific rhythm - and repetitively by the male, forming a song-like 'ecstatic call', although it may also be described as a song.

Aggressive males - as well as females establishing dominance over their partner when replacing them to incubate eggs or feed offspring during the breeding season - often also give trilled versions of this call, generally transcribed as 'chur-chur-r-r-it-it-it-it'.

A sound transcribed as 'quer' is given as a nasal alarm call, and a bird in serious distress will produce what can only be described as a shrill 'quee'. Mated pairs also appease one another with an aggression-inhibiting, soft 'quee'.

Young birds, especially those with the misfortune of ending up in captivity, often also produce a 'true song' similar to the warbling of another species of bird, the European Greenfinch.


Well adapted to living among humans, House Sparrows can be found in both urban and sub-urban areas around the world - often even breeding indoors, such as in zoos, warehouses or factories, for instance. Sparrows have even been found breeding 640 m (2,100 ft) - in a coal mine in England - below ground. Others prefer lofty heights - the observation deck of the Empire State building is apparently a favourite haunt for feeding Sparrows during the night.

Although this bird tolerates a broad variety of climates, it does tend to prefer drier conditions, and can survive periods without water by eating berries. In essence, the only habitats in which it is not possible to find Sparrows are tundra and densely forested areas. 

Behaviour, Biology and Diet 

sparrow-woGregarious throughout the year, especially when feeding, House Sparrows are extremely social birds and can often be seen flocking with other bird species. They roost communally; nests are typically grouped in clumps, and there is nothing a Sparrow enjoys quite as much as sharing a communal dust or water bath. Feeding mostly at ground level, these birds flock in bushes and trees - often in large groups (during the non-breeding season) - where they can often be heard indulging in a little communal singing. 

The main nesting season for House Sparrows ranges from April through into August, although this may occasionally be extended either end, mostly depending on weather conditions. Nest sites vary, although cavities - like eaves/ other crevices found in buildings, holes in rotten trees/ branches or sandy banks - are generally preferred. In warmer regions, Sparrows may also nest in hedges or the branches of - preferably evergreen - trees. 

Wherever the site may be, pairs often use the same site year after year. Many pairs also remain faithful to each other for life, although it rarely takes more than a few days to replace a lost partner. At the nest - as well as at feeding stations - the female, though smaller than the male, is dominant.

Typically domed (although nests built/ taken over inside buildings, etc, may be left uncovered) nest holes are first of all filled with straw and/ or dry grass, then lined with feathers, string, hairs, scraps of paper or any other soft material the bird can find (or steal - sparrows have been known to pluck feathers for their nests straight out of living pigeons). 

sparrow-nestThe female then lays a clutch of four to five white, greenish-white or bluish-white, spotted (grey or brown) eggs, often over a period of two to three days. While nesting duties are shared by male and female Sparrows, the female is better equipped for incubation (she develops a special brooding patch of bare skin) and therefore tends to spend most of her time - especially during the night - incubating, while the male perches nearby.

After 11 to 14 days, the chicks begin to hatch. They are then brooded for between 6 and 8 days, although they only begin to control their own body temperature from the age of 10 or 11 days. Typically remaining in the nest for anything between 11 and 23 days, the hatchlings - which will open their eyes after four days and grow the first bits of down after around 8 days - are fed by both parents.

Occasionally, hatchlings fall out of the nest. Those that survive such a fall should - if at all possible - be returned to the nest, as hand-rearing them is extremely difficult and rarely successful, even for experienced rehabilitators (to whom they should be passed on). 

Fledglings still unable to fly should only be moved if likely to be at risk from vehicles, cats, etc - their parents will be nearby and will continue to feed them until ready to sustain themselves. As it is, most fledglings will be able to fly by the time they leave the nest, although they will not start feeding themselves - at least partly - until a day or two after leaving the nest. Their parents will continue to feed them for up to 14 days, after which they reach the ability to sustain themselves and gradually disperse further and further away from the nest.

Females will then lay another clutch, commencing the cycle again. The care of fledglings may, as a matter of fact, be left completely left to the male, while the female prepares the nest - and herself - for the next clutch' often laid within days of the previous brood leaving her care. Altogether, a pair may produce three to for clutches in a single year. 

sparrow-fledglingWhile the majority of House Sparrows tends to move little further than a few kilometres, most regions have limited migration. In coastal areas, for instance, young birds may disperse over comparatively long distances, while Sparrows living in mountain regions tend to move down to lower altitudes for the winter.

Young birds - especially the 'newly independent' ones - tend to gather in huge flocks, seeking areas with an abundance of food. Feeding stations in local gardens and patches of wasteland are some of the preferred areas these 'teenagers' hang out in. Ripening fields of grain are also highly tempting for rural birds, and once the adults have finished nesting, they often join the crowd to feast on the ripening grain. As autumn arrives, the flocks tend to break up, and the Sparrows return to the sites of their nesting colonies.

Adaptable and opportunistic, House Sparrows predominantly feed on seeds of weeds or grain (with a preference for wheat and oats), but will supplement their diet with whatever else is available. This includes anything provided - accidentally or deliberately - by humans (including bread, although they much prefer seeds); flower buds, berries and a variety of fruits like cherries and grapes, for instance. Sparrows in temperate areas are also known to tear up flowers (in particular yellow ones) during the spring.

This does by no means indicate that Sparrows are vegetarian, though. Their diet also includes:

  • Ants
  • Aphids
  • Beetles 
  • Caterpillars 
  • Crickets
  • Crustaceans and mollusks (where available)
  • Dipteran flies
  • Earthworms 
  • Grasshoppers
  • Sawflies
  • Spiders and more

Even frogs and lizards have been known to compliment the Sparrow's diet on occasion. Basically taking advantage of whatever food happens to be in abundance, Sparrows have also been know to steal prey from robins and other birds.

Until around two weeks after hatching, young Sparrows are typically fed predominantly on insects, but they may also be given the odd spider and small quantities of seeds and grit. The latter may sound a little odd, but grit - which may consist of tiny stones, bits of masonry, egg or snail shells - is important for a Sparrows' ability to digest the typically hard seeds it feeds on.

sparrows-in-flight.jpgConsidering all this, it seems remarkable that this gorgeous little creature's numbers should be declining. Unfortunately, young Sparrows suffer a comparatively high rate of mortality - on average, only between 20 and 25 per cent of hatchlings will actually survive long enough to experience their first breeding season. 

In addition, House Sparrows are preyed on by cats, corvids, squirrels and birds of prey (merlins, accipiters and others), as well as - sadly - by humans. In particular around the Mediterranean, House Sparrows are still very much part of the menu for human consumption. To add to the tragedy, these little birds are - especially on European roads - also common road kill victims.

Pesticides also take their toll, as do diseases like Salmonella and Escherichia coli, for example. There are also several parasites that, while usually harmless to adult Sparrows, can seriously affect youngsters. In spite of laws governing the removal of Sparrows' nests without government licences and making the killing of Sparrows illegal, the fact that farmers often see them as pests often also still results in persecution in many areas.

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March 17 2013 1 17 /03 /March /2013 10:28

Plant Summary

golden-shrimp-plantBotanical Name: Pachystachys lutea

Type: Flowering

Origin: The Golden Shrimp Plant has its origins in South America.

Height: If no size control is applied through pruning, Pachystachys lutea can grow to heights of around 90 cm (3 ft).

Soil: Golden Shrimp Plants are quite content in any potting mix of high quality.

Light: This house plant needs plenty of bright light for its lovely blooms to develop, but should be kept out of direct sunlight.

golden-shrimp-plant-gtHumidity: Pachystachys lutea can be kept in an environment with average levels of humidity.

Temperatures: Average room temperatures should be kept at approximately 18 to 24 degrees C (65 to 75 degrees F) for this plant.

Water: Golden Shrimp Plants should be watered enough to keep the potting mix evenly moistened during spring, summer and autumn. In winter, it can be kept a little drier, but the soil should not be allowed to dry out too much, as this will result in the leaves dropping off. 

Fertiliser: For the first three quarters of the year, Pachystachys lutea should be feed with a diluted (50:50) high potassium fertiliser (liquid) on a bi-weekly bases (every two weeks).

Propagation: This beautiful house plant develops seed heads that, if allowed to dry on the plant and collected, can be stored and sown in spring. Alternatively, Golden Shrimp Plants can be propagated through 10 cm (4 in) long stem tip cuttings. These cuttings should be taken and rooted in early summer.

Description and Care Tips

gold-dust-plant-woPachystachys lutea, a member of the Acanthaceae family, is an evergreen perennial shrub with woody, branching stems. The deeply veined, long leaves of this house plant are dark green and grow in opposite pairs. 

Lovely as these leaves are, the plant's main attraction are its magnificent flower spikes. These spikes feature long lasting (spring right through to the end of summer), up to 10 cm (4 in) long, bright golden and upright bracts. These bracts, by the way, give rise to an alternative common name for this house plant - namely Lollipop Plant. Gradually - starting from the bottom and working up to the top - white, long flowers begin to emerge from the bracts. 

To prevent the Golden Shrimp Plant becoming leggy - and keep it at a manageable height - it should be pruned regularly. Done in spring, when new growth is setting in, the plant can be pruned back hard - if necessary, it can be pruned back by half. 

Pinching out growing tips will also encourage branching, resulting in a much bushier, fuller looking compact plant. If desired, these cuttings can be used for propagation. Spring is also the time to repot this house plant. Repotting becomes necessary when the plant's roots begin to show through the pot's bottom.  

With a little loving care, lots of bright, but indirect light; regular watering and pruning, this gorgeous house plant will last and produce magnificent flower displays for many years.

golden-shrimp-plant-stThe Golden Shrimp Plant should, by the way, not be confused with it's relative, Justicia brandegeana, often sold under the name of Shrimp Plant, or Mexican Shrimp Plant. The main differences between these two house plant consist of the facts that a) the leaves of Justicia brandegeana are smaller, and b) Justicia brandegeana's flower spikes arch to one side, whereas those of Pachystachys lutea are held upright. 

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March 13 2013 4 13 /03 /March /2013 16:39

Plant Summary

gold-dust-plantBotanical Name: Aucuba japonica

Type: Foliage

Origin: The majority of Gold Dust Plants consists of cultivars with parents originating from China or Japan.

Height: Kept indoors, Aucuba japonica plants typically grow to heights of around 90 cm (3 ft). Pruning regularly will assist in keeping these shrubs down to manageable sizes. Outside, plants can grow as tall as 3 m (9 ft).

Soil: This house plant is usually quite happy in any quality potting mix.

Light: Gold Dust Plants require plenty of bright, but indirect light. A little direct, cool morning sun should not harm this plant.

gold-dust-plant-gtHumidity: Levels of humidity need to be moderate for Gold Dust Plants, so if conditions are particularly dry, they may need to be raised a little with a the help of a wet pebble tray.

Temperatures: Aucuba japonica is typically content with temperatures ranging around a cool 7 to 18 degrees C (45 to 65 degrees F) and, if kept as an outdoor plant, will tolerate temperatures as low as -15 degrees C (5 degrees F).

Water: The potting mix for this plant should be kept evenly moistened from spring through into late autumn. As the plant's growth slows down during the winter months, winter watering should be reduced a little.

Fertiliser: Gold Dust Plants should be fed with a liquid fertiliser (balanced; diluted by half) on a monthly basis from the onset of spring right through to the end of autumn.

Propagation: Aucuba japonica can be propagated from seeds (should be sown in spring) or stem tip cuttings (which should be approximately 10 cm/ 4 in in length) rooted in moistened potting mix. The best time to take cuttings is, like for most other plants, spring or early summer. 

Description and Care Tips

gold-dust-plant-woA heavy dusting of golden-yellow spots or golden yellow central areas/ margins (depending on the selected variety, see image above for examples) on leathery, mid-green leaves make Gold Dust Plants a cheery addition to house plant collections. 

Because Aucuba japonica, an evergreen shrub belonging to the Garryaceae family, adapts extremely well to life indoors, it requires very little care to provide a lasting, beautiful accent among selections of perhaps less showy foliage plants.

Growing well in pots, all this plant needs is regular watering, a cool environment shaded from direct sunlight and the occasional pruning to control its size.

Although Gold Dust Plants are comparatively slow growing, they can get quite tall and begin to appear a little leggy in time. To keep them at a manageable size and encourage branching, resulting in a fuller, bushier look, the plant's stems should be pruned back hard at the beginning of spring.

Pruning should be done with clean, sharp pruners (to prevent tearing and/ or transmission of pests/ diseases from other plants), cutting stems just above leaf/ branch nodes at a 45 degree angle.

gold-dust-plant-stSpring, by the way, is also the best time to repot this house plant. Younger, relatively small plants should be given a pot just one size larger than the previous container every two to three years, while plants that have reached the desired size can be left in the same pot - all they will require is top-dressing (removing and replacing top 5 to 7.5 cm/ 2 to 3 in of potting mix).

Giving the gorgeous leaves an occasional wipe with a soft, damp cloth will keep them dust free and beautifully shiny.

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March 12 2013 3 12 /03 /March /2013 09:46

Plant Summary

gloxiniaBotanical Name: Sinningia speciosa hybrids

Type: Flowering

Origin: Gloxinias have their original habitat in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. 

Height: Sinningia speciosa hybrids typically grow to heights of approximately 20 cm (8 in).

Soil: This house plant does well African Violet mix or similar moisture holding potting mixes.

Light: While this plant requires plenty of bright light, it should never be positioned in direct sunlight.

Humidity: The Gloxinia requires moderate levels of humidity, which can be achieved with the help of a wet pebble tray. These plants should not be misted, as misting could result in permanent damage to leaves and flowers.

Temperatures: Keeping room temperatures at around 16 to 24 degrees C (60 to 75 degrees F) will enure Sinningia speciosa plants are happy.

gloxinia-gtWater: Potting mixes should be kept evenly moist, although it is important to provide good drainage, as soggy soil will result in rotting roots.

Fertiliser: During the Gloxinia's growing and blooming seasons, it should be fed fortnightly with a diluted (half/ half) liquid high-phosphorus fertiliser.

Propagation: These house plants can be propagated from leaf cuttings, seeds or via tuber division.

Description and Care Tips

Originally grown from dormant tubers, many of the Gloxinia hybrids bred today will grow from seeds. While these hybrids do produce better blooms - essentially because their energy is not devoted to root-systems - they do tend to not grow back well after periods of dormancy, meaning they are, like many other unfortunate annuals, thrown out after just one blooming season.

In any case, this showy house plant features a lovely rosette of hairy, fairly large oval leaves, the edges of which are scalloped. Rising above this rosette on slender stems are the large velvety, bell-shaped and ruffled flowers. 

gloxinia-woA real joy to behold, these showy blooms come in an array of colours - from white or pink through red or burgundy to purple and violet. Some of these gorgeous flowers may feature spotted, contrasting throat colours, while other may feature white edging.

Each individual flower will last for around a week, and a succession of flowers ensures a magnificent display for several weeks. Removing spent flowers immediately will not only encourage more blooms, it will also help to prevent pests and diseases.

Once all flowers have gone, the Gloxinia should be watered only lightly until the foliage dies down naturally. If the plant was grown from a tuber, the potting mix can then be allowed to dry out to prepare the tuber for over-wintering (once the mix is dry, the tuber can remain in the pot for the winter). During this period, temperatures should be kept at around 10 degrees C (50 degrees F).

In spring, the over-wintered tuber should be potted on fresh potting mix (on the surface; hollow side up). The mix should then be moistened every couple of weeks until fresh growth appears. At this point, the new plant needs to be placed into bright light (but not direct sunlight) and watered, as well as fertilised, regularly.

gloxinia-stDropping buds, by the way, may indicate one or both of two things: 1) the plant is exposed to drafts (meaning it should be moved into a more suitable, draft free position), or 2) humidity levels are not high enough. If the latter is the case, humidity around the tropical Gloxinia - which is used to average humidity levels of around 70 per cent - needs to be raised. Find out how.


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March 10 2013 1 10 /03 /March /2013 11:49

Plant Summary

glory-lilyBotanical Name: Gloriosa superba

Type: Flowering

Origin: Gloriosa superba originates from tropical Africa and parts of India.

Height: Different varieties of the Glory Lily can grow to heights ranging from 40 cm (16 in) up to as much as 4 m (13 ft).

Soil: Glory Lilies should be planted in well-draining peat moss potting mixes.

Light: This house plant requires lots of bright, but indirect light in order to bloom.

Humidity: Gloriosa superba plants need moderate to high levels of humidity. Levels can be raised using humidity trays and/ or by misting the plants' foliage. 

Temperatures: Being a tropical plant, Gloriosa superba requires average temperatures of 16 to 24 degrees C (60 to 75 degrees F) to thrive.

glory-lily-gtWater: During the Glory Lily's growing season (spring/ summer), the potting mix must be kept evenly moistened at all times. It is, however, vital to prevent it from getting soggy, as this will cause the plant's tuber to rot.

Fertiliser: Dilute a high potassium fertiliser (liquid) by half and feed every 14 to 21 days during the growing season.

Propagation: Sow Glory Lily seeds in spring or propagate this house plant by dividing tuber offsets (typically forming during the plant's growing season). 

Description and Care Tips 

The perennial Gloriosa superba is a vigorously climbing evergreen vine belonging to the Colchicaceae family, a member of the Liliaceae clan. Growing in open woodland, as well as along roads and cultivated land margins in its native habitat of India and eastern Africa, this incredible plant typically features climbing stems that can get several metres long and have narrow oval, often lanceolate, alternate leaves. The tips of these leaves are typically tipped with tendrils that are short, but very efficient.  

In reality, however, there is very little that is typical about this unique and certainly variable plant. Gloriosa superba may be climbing or erect; leaves may be narrow or broad, oval or linear and tipped with tendrils or without. What's more, a single plant may look different with each new growing season.

The flowers show an equally bewildering diversity. Colours vary from single or bi-colour shades of yellow, fiery oranges and/ or red to crimson, scarlet and/or purple. The margins of the petals may also be more or less (or not at all) undulated. 

As a result of these differences, the plant is known under a range of synonyms, including Gloriosa lutea, Gloriosa rothschildiana and Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'. Often marketed as different species, they are, in fact, all variations of the same species.

glory-lily-woWhat all of these variations have in common is that watching the buds - which start out as insignificant looking, pale green and modestly hanging heads - develop is a joy to behold. When the petals start opening and gently flexing outwards, a pink blush appears, and their margins may start to curl and crimp (I guess whether they do depends on the mood the plant is in at the time). 

Gradually rising higher, the blooms then climax in what can only be described as a glorious, flaming corona of colour - set above radiating stars of golden pollen tipped stamens and sweeping to one side as though they were deliberately bent at their base.

In spite of the fact that the Glory Lily is highly toxic (see Wise Owl's Nuggets of Knowledge), it is an extremely popular house plant and - given that care is taken when handling it - can be grown and cared for easily.

Best started off in spring, the tubers should be handled with great care not only because they are the plant's most toxic part, but also because they are very brittle and can break easily. They should be planted - at a depth of approximately 8 cm (3 in) - horizontally in rich, freely draining potting mix contained within a reasonably sized pot (this is important, as limited space will result in downward growth, producing more tubers, rather than flowering plants).  

Once shoots begin to emerge, regular watering and fertilising are vital in order to keep the plant happy and encourage flowering. It may also be necessary to provide support for the Glory Lily's wispy tendrils.

Well looked after Gloriosa superba plants will produce flowers throughout the summer months, followed by the appearance of oval, fairly large seed pods. If allowed to dry while still on the plant, the seeds can then be gathered and kept dry until the next spring.

glory-lily-stTo use them, they should be soaked for 24 hours (in tepid water), after which the flesh should be removed before sowing them approximately 2 cm (just over 1/2 in) deep in quality seed compost. Kept at a constant temperature of 20 to 25 degrees C (68 to 77 degrees F), the slow-germinating seeds should produce seedlings after around four months, although germination may take longer, so patience is required).

Dead-heading spent flowers will, by the way, encourage new blooms. Once flowering has finished, seeds have been gathered and the foliage has died back naturally, withered stems should be cut off before storing the tubers in a cool (16 degrees C/ 60 degrees F), dry place until spring, when they can be divided (while still dormant) and planted again.

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