Murdannia – a new houseplant

It is not often that a completely new houseplant appears for us to try but last year I was tempted by something I had never seen before, called Murdannia ‘Bright Star’. When I was in charge of buying houseplants at Nags Hall, several decades ago I often let my heart rule my head and bought in anything unusual – not always for the best since some of the plants were weird and wonderful but didn’t sell very well. I think people are worried about plants that are just too odd. The good news is that, although this plant sounds unfamiliar, a long look suggests that it is familiar, because it is a close relative of the most popular of all houseplants, the tradescantia.

Murdannia does not have a common name although the plain green plant is sometimes called Beijng Grass. It is from China but does not look much like grass. The form you can buy is called ‘Bright Star’ and differs from the wild plant in the greyish silver colour of the leaves. It is a bit like a very chunky tradescantia with leaves up to 10cm (4in) long. I have had my plant for more than a year and it has been trouble free on a west-facing windowsill. It will take temperatures down to 5c but I would suggest that keeping it above 10c (50f) in winter. It seems tolerant of drying out but do not allow it to sit in water. It seems easy to root from cuttings.

The only downside I have found is that each shoot ends in a much-branched cluster of tiny white flowers, that open in the afternoon. I love tradescantia flowers but these are so tiny you can hardly see them. And, as with all tradescantias, the flowers only last a day. And then they drop off. I have not counted but at times there must have been hundreds of flowers open each day. And that means a lot of dead flowers dropping onto the windowsill every day! I am not overly houseproud but I am not prepared to clean the windowsill every day so I now cut off the flower stems as they appear. It also displays the leaves better.

I would completely recommend this easy plant as an addition to your plants. What I also like about it is that it does not grow too fast, unlike its relatives below! My original plant, more than a year old, is not a lot bigger than when I bought it, though I have repotted it, and looks healthy and neat.

Tradescantia flowers only live for a day but they are usually produced in vast numbers. They have three petals and six furry stamens. They are small in the kinds grown as houseplants but much larger in the hardy kinds like T. virginiana which makes good garden plants.

And there are many species that are available now and then that make easy houseplants, especially on windowsills and in cool rooms.

‘Maiden’s Blush’
‘Bridal Veil’
Tradescantia zebrina
Tradescantia sillamontana

Jobs for the week

Collect leaves and make leafmould. If you do not have a compost heap squash them into bin bags, tie the top and puncture with a garden fork to allow air in.

Weed. If you can get out and it is not too wet and cold it really pays to control any annual or biennial weeds that germinated in the past few months. It will be very busy in spring and as soon as it gets warmer they will grow quickly.

Get your digging done! It really does pay to get the digging done before winter. It is especially useful on heavy soils – the frost will start to break up the clods.

Get your pots emptied ready for replanting as soon as you can get to the garden centre again to buy new plants. December is not too late to plant them up and tulips will do well even if planted as late as December.

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