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The WAXY legend

Rupa Gopal
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Not needing much water, Hoya, the showy climber, is perfect for southern gardens, says Rupa Gopal

Wax plant’, ‘porcelain flower’, ‘wax flower’ — these are some common names for the exotic and out of the world Hoya, thought to have over 300 varieties. A native of Asian jungles, it spread over to the East Indies, the Philippines, Malaysia, as well as Singapore, Australia and India. Belonging to the Asclepias or milkweed family, the Hoya’s fleshy stems are quite easily layered, and multiplied.

A lot of legend surrounds the Hoya, named after Thomas Hoym, gardener to the Duke of Northumberland. International Hoya Associations exist in Australia, New Zealand and far-off Sweden, with the latter even having a ‘Hoya Telegraph’ through which collectors buy, sell, or swap their treasures.

So, what makes the Hoya so special? First, it’s the sheer shock value of its flower — a collection of small flowers growing in almost a ball on umbels, with some times up to 60 flowers on one umbel. The Hoya is a rampant climber, a very good potted plant, perfect as an epiphyte on an idle tree, or as a bushy trailer in decorative hanging pots in the patio or balcony. It does not demand too much water or too hot a sun — a semi shady corner is just fine — and it does not like to be re-potted often. Its greatest asset is its being quite pest-free for much of the time, though ants can be a bother. Tiny spider mites too can find a home among the dense foliage of the Hoya. A quick spray of water generally works in cleaning things up, as also a light saltwater spray, and a spread of anti-ant powder on the ground around the pot. This way, the chemical does not touch the plant. An NPK mix of a spoonful is enough once in 2 months, for an average pot, the fertiliser watered in at once, on application. The beauty of the Hoya is as much in its diverse leaves as in its glorious blooms — the leaves may be very long, sometimes about 20cm in length, round, small, elliptical, speckled, heart-shaped, and tri-coloured. The thick leaves too make good cuttings, for new plants.

Too much water is the Hoya’s enemy number one, leading to rapid stem-rot. Watering thrice a week is more than enough.

A well-drained soil is a compulsion — a mix of sand and gravel or perlite, or perhaps a mix of coconut husk ground, or moss with a little limey mud makes a good medium. Try a base of used tea bags, mixed with sand and gravel. Support in the form of trellis, stakes, or wire frame keeps the plant tidy and showy.

In south India, the Hoya Australis grows best, although the Hoya Carnosa is the most common one and called the Indian Rope plant. It has fabulous pale pink to shocking pink flowers. The Multiflora, with its longish flowers like shooting stars, also does well.

The beauty of the Hoya is as much in its diverse leaves as in its glorious blooms


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