The whimsical Twisted Lipstick Plant stays green all year
The world inside our homes can be warm and inviting, just as the world outside can be filled with danger and even death. Traditionally, the winter solstice (Dec. 21) was an especially dangerous time, and bringing greenery indoors would not only drive away evil spirits, but ensure the eventual return of the outdoor greenery of spring.
We still deck the halls with greenery, and one simple way to do that is to keep evergreen houseplants.
One of the best indoor plants that stays green all year and pops with bright red flowers is the whimsical Twisted Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus Radicans Curly or Rasta). This dangling plant is perfect in a hanging basket. Twisted or Rasta lipstick plant thrives in low light and the drier indoor air of winter homes. This plant is interesting even when not in bloom, thanks to its densely curled leaves that gracefully flow over the edge of the pot.
The bright tubular flowers really do look like tubes of red lipstick. The leaves are a fascinating corkscrew shape that curls in on itself.
Twisted Lipstick plants are epiphytes, or air plants, that unlike parasites, live in trees but get their nutrition from the air. This is a tropical plant that is comfortable in a heated home. For best results keep it at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the most flowers, place the hanging basket in bright light. Keep it out of harsh, direct sunlight that could burn the leaves. Water your lipstick plant to keep the soil moist, but don't let it sit in too much water, which can cause the roots to rot. Let it dry out before you water it again. Keep humidity high by misting your plant with a water spray bottle a few times a week.
You can apply fertilizer every month in spring and summer when it is actively growing. Use a liquid fertilizer meant for blooming plants. After the flowers fade, cut back the stems to encourage more growth. If your curly lipstick plant gets too leggy, cut the stems down to four to five inches.
Every three years or so, you may want to repot your lipstick plant. Put it into a new pot that is about one-and-a-half times deeper and wider than its current pot. Use a potting soil mixed with sand or peat moss so it drains quickly.
The hanging plants can be attacked by aphids, mealybugs and cyclamen mites. If you see any of these pests, simply use an insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray. You can also place the entire plant in a bag with mothballs overnight to kill any pests.
A few times a year you can drench the potting soil with water to wash out any buildup of soluble salts.
Curly Lipstick plants are often available at local nurseries or by mail from greenhouses such as Logee's (www.logees.com, 141 North St., Danielson, CT 06239, phone 860-774-8038), or Glasshouse Works (www.glasshouseworks.com, phone 740-662-2142).
Bring a Twisted Lipstick plant indoors for the winter and you will be rewarded with crazy, curly leaves and bright-red trumpet flowers popping out. It is enough to lift your winter spirits, and keep goblins and ghosts away.