by Mark Hooten, the Garden Doc
About the Author
Mark Hooten has been fascinated by horticulture since childhood, with interests including tropical fruits, cacti, ethnobotany, entheogens, and variegates. Having been employed in both FL and CA by botanical gardens and specialist nurseries as horticulturist, manager, propagator, and consultant, he is happy to speak with fellow plant worshipers at TopTropicals Nursery. Mark is currently busy writing a volume on the complicated history of croton varieties. His passions are plants, cats, and art of painting.
Q: I live here in Florida, and because I have ordered many wonderful plants from Top Tropicals over the years, my garden is filled with the kinds of things that none of my friends have ever seen, and simply cannot be bought locally at any nursery. Currently my Chains of Glory (Clerodendrum schmidtii) is flowering so spectacularly that passers-by stop to take pictures and ask what it is and where I got it! I am happy to tell them about you. Because I trust your opinion, I am writing to ask a question:
I have a favorite nephew who lives in the central mid-west. He is still in high school and has developed a passion for growing bonsai trees, mostly ones he intends to keep below a foot in height. While doing very well growing out-door evergreens like pine and juniper trees, his attempt at growing a few tropical things indoors such as Ficus has not proved to be very successful, due he says to wintertime low humidity from having electric heating. As his birthday is coming up soon, I would like to send him something extra nice that he might be able to actually grow indoors as a bonsai which would naturally stay small, tolerate low humidity, and if possible also make flowers or something interesting. Any suggestions?
A: This is a great question, and yes, I have a couple of suggestions. One would be an especially compact, basically thorn-less Bougainvillea which is called Pixie. I have grown it myself very successfully as a very tiny and beautiful bonsai, which flowered frequently for a number of years (until a hurricane got the better of it). Those should tolerate the low humidity of winter heating better than a Ficus.
But, even better than that perhaps, would be a particular variety of Euphorbia millii or Crown of Thorns, which Top Tropicals has exclusively introduced from Thailand, and is called - of all things - Money Money. (Those Thai seem to give their hybrids names which don't seem to make sense to us English speakers). I have one growing as a bonsai myself, and hold it with much esteem. It has all the qualities which you are hoping for...
It is a tiny, densely branched miniature shrub-let, with minuscule tufts of nearly teardrop sized leaves, and a constant, year-around display of equally small but distinct, brightly colored flowers of unusual coloration. The flowers are a hot salmon-pink with pale yellow centers, a combination not seen in the many other much larger giant hybrids which have become justifiably popular in recent years.
But most of all, I believe it is perhaps the tiniest, most picturesque, ever-blooming, window-sill type plant I have ever encountered. Also, being a crown of thorns, any lack of humidity really isn't even a factor. Plus, the "thorns" on this variety are not at all sharp, and bend easily like soft rubber. Without any more thought, this would be my top-most suggestion.
I do love this tiniest of varieties! It IS special!!