With the hot sun recently, I have spent a lot of time in my understory garden. We are fortunate in that there is a little stream flowing just down an arroyo from the house. Although we were told it was seasonal, we have had so much rain in the past few years that it has never stopped flowing. You can even hear it from the house, a cheerful sound.
What better place for the garden
than under the trees and near the stream?
So, what else goes in your understory garden? Well, it’s a jungle out there so you probably have any number of things that you want to keep. Chief among them are the philodendrons.
Philodendron are epiphytes. They do not harm the trees they grow on, although they can get so large and heavy that they break a branch or pull down a sapling. What do I like about them? Those leaves are amazing. Look at a young specimen near the ground, and you will see small leaves. Look at a mature specimen up in a tree, and the leaves are huge. Why? As the plant grows upwards, the leaves respond to increasing light and get bigger. Then there are the types of leaves, heart-shaped, lobed, pinnate, spear-shaped. The differences make you wonder if they are all the same genus of plants.
But let’s look down. Besides those ferns we talked about, you are going to find plants that are often called fern allies. These are smaller plants, in the understory usually less than 25 cms. (10 inches) in height, that have a fern-like appearance. Spikemoss and club moss are the most common in my area. Like ferns, they reproduce with spores. Fern allies are easy to transplant and enjoy the leaf litter in your understory area.
Then there are the anthurium and pentagonia groups, both locally called tabacón. These are terrestrial, and grow long leaves from a usually unbranched center. Some are small. Some grow to 7 meters (25 feet). Flowers are on a central spike. I try to find the smaller ones. Seven meters is a bit much, even for me.
Occasionally, you are going to find a surprise in the understory. I found one in early September near my stream. The plant stem is about a half meter tall (20 inches) with a whorl of leaves at the top. The flower grows from a bulbous inflorescence and it appears that only one flower emerges at a time.
So I did what I always do when I haven’t a clue: I posted it on the Web and my plant buddy, Ray Granade, immediately came up with Costas pictus. How he does it, I’ll never know.