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Interesting and unique gasteria

Gasteria plants are succulents — a term applied to plants that have the ability to hold large amounts of water in their tissues. They belong to a number of different plant families and within each plant family are a number of genera and within each genus are many species. The genus gasteria belongs to the Liliaceae or lily plant family.

They make great houseplants as they can go for weeks without being watered — good for people who are away for long periods or for those who simply forget to water on a regular basis. They are very undemanding and tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.

Gasteria will perform well in cool environments — mine are in my cool, all-season sunroom during the winter — but do not object to warmer temperatures either. They are not at all fussy about soil and as long as the potting mix and container provide good drainage, they will be happy. When I am potting cacti and succulents, I always mix a bit of sand into my potting mix and usually cover the soil surface with sand to create a desert-like landscape. The sand helps to increase the soil’s drainage. Succulents need only be fertilized infrequently and when they are fed plant food, care must be taken as any water containing fertilizer can mark the leaves if it is allowed to drip onto the foliage.

Smaller gasteria plants can be included in dish gardens with other succulents or cacti, while individually potted specimens can be displayed alone or combined with other plants within a larger plant grouping to add interest and texture.

It is the unique colouration and texture of gasteria leaves that make them so interesting and unique. G. maculata has blunt-tipped, tongue-shaped, glossy leaves that are dark green and marked with white spots or bands. The leaves are 15 cm long and five cm wide and arranged in two opposite, flattened rows one leaf atop the next. G. verrucosa is another interesting gasteria whose leaves are about the same size as those of G. maculata, but a bit narrower and somewhat concave on the top. This plant has the common name “Ox Tongue” because the dark-green leaves are covered with small white warts — giving the leaves the texture of a cow’s tongue. I have a large specimen of this variety and it has been in the same pot for over 10 years and other than the clump getting larger due to the production of more offshoots, it doesn’t change very much from year to year.

Another plus for this plant genus is that its members do not need to be repotted very often; they have a very slow growth rate so they do not outgrow their space. Every once in a while I give the leaves a quick wipe with a damp cloth to get rid of the dust and make them more attractive. They are indeed low-maintenance plants.

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