The Columnea family of plants consist of generally evergreen trailing shrubs, normally found in rainforest and cloud forest locations throughout many area of the tropical world. As with many plays that live in such locations, they are often epiphytic, though also derive some nutrition directly from the humus-rich surroundings in which they live.
Living in such environments indicates their preference for humid conditions with dappled light rather than full sun – not the easiest of environments to produce indoors. Nevertheless, they are quite accommodating to a wide range of situations for short terms and also survive for long periods in many indoor situations..
When grown as houseplants, Columneas are rarely thought of as being shrubs, but simply as trailing plants.
Columneas have small oval leaves on long trailing stems and do well in a hanging basket, producing masses of scarlet tubular flowers. They can also be grown in normal pots – preferably at a higher level, where the protruding blooms are seen to advantage with their protruding stamens and ‘hooded’ appearance being an added attraction.
They need well-draining friable potting mix with added organic matter by way of peat or coir compost. Most multi-purpose potting composts provide this now. The main requirement is for good drainage. One thing Columnea resent more than anything else is soggy roots so take care not to over-water. This, in spite of their high-humidity rainforest background!
Warmth and humidity are also essential for good flower production, together with good light – but not direct window position sunshine. Gentle air movement around plant will complete the growing needs – but draughts and cold air will lead to rapid demise.
General Care: Keep Columnea warm and in humid conditions, mist spray if hot weather, or place saucer of water near plant. Do not place the plant in a pot of water. Water the plants weekly in the growing season, but sparingly during the winter months. For feeding this houseplant, reduce the concentration of your favourite feed and use spatringly.
Remove flowers as soon as they are past their best. Trim straggly plant growth in spring for a neater growth habit. This should help it to branch out, though they generally have long single un-branched stems when grown as houseplants.
Good for: Columneas are stunning in a hanging basket when in bloom. Easy care no fuss plant, but are sometimes lax in their flower-producing department. If this is the case with your plant – change the growing environment by re-positioning or providing extra humidity.
Watch out for red spider mite which will be difficult to see in the masses of stems. General poor appearance or the sight of mottled leaves and fine webs with probably be the first tell-tale sign. Close inspection at least once each month will be a good cultural move.
Mealybugs and assorted aphids can also be a problem. The white mealy bugs appear as fluffy little patches in within the cover of all the small leaves.
Stem cutting are easy to root in the spring months with a little bottom heat as is normally the case with a heated propagator. In their wild haunts, they normally produce roots where the long stems touch the ground or humus-rich crotches of host tree branches.