Impressive pleomeles
Published on: Sunday, May 17, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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A pleomele shrub measuring about 115cm in height started from cuttings eight months ago.
GARDENING enthusiasts are a lucky, well-blessed lot.  The choices of plants in the world of flora is virtually limitless in the sense that anyone can go on selecting and picking and planting.  The cycle can continue depending on the depth of one’s pocket or the thickness of his check book, as well as the interest and energy to consistently keep on plodding. 

At the end of the day, something has got to be planted, be it shrubs, vegetables, trees, flowering plants or ferns, as the planting beds and pots cannot be left waiting to be soon filled with weeds.  

This goes to show that every gardening enthusiast can be assured of at least a plant that is suitable for each location.

Some of such plants may be more attractive than others.  Or they may be more colourful, flower more profusely, or have foliage that are greener and denser too.  

Notwithstanding the existence of numerous positive features in every plant, one attractive leafy ornamental is none other than Pleomele reflexa, a beautiful plant that many people have called it Pleomele in short.  

Commonly known as Song of India for the variety that is primarily yellow to whitish in its foliage but with longitudinal streaks of green at the midrib, the ornamental is also known as Song of Jamaica for the variety that has green leaves with several streaks of faint yellow along the midrib.  

Perhaps one day, it is possible a variety of ornamental in Sabah could be given a common name of “Song of Kinabalu” or its equivalent.

After all, common names of plants are mainly adopted from common usage in a particular locality which may have spread later on to a wider geographical area.  When that happens, that day will be remembered as truly epochal for the world of flora in Sabah, and Sabahans should be able to hold their heads high in acknowledgement of the adulation and recognition of the wonders of plants in the Land Below The Wind while santai-santai and basking in the limelight.

Whatever the stripes and colours, pleomeles are certainly one of the most outstanding of foliage decorative plants.  The plant is a woody evergreen perennial that is also a very much cherished ornamental variety for both indoor and outdoor uses.  Because of its growing habit, a pleomele may sometimes produce stems or slim trunks that appear to be gnarled and crooked such as to create an impression of being very old and awesome.

Although pleomeles are not exactly trees, it may nevertheless reach a height of about six to nine metres with multiple branches spreading out in all directions.  A 30-year-old plant may still be quite slim and shapely, with a base width at collar ranging from 10-20cm.  Normally, potted young plants that are less than 10 years old may still retain a full complement of foliage right up to the base, but as the plant grows taller and taller, the lower leaves start to drop off to expose in full the lower section of the plant.

Such characteristics of foliage abscission and retention and the impressive stem formation all contribute to the joy of owning one or more of the lovely plant.

Why the pleomele?

There is little doubt that the pleomele is a wonderful and most rewarding plant to grow because of the beautiful colour of the lush foliage and the peculiar overall form of the plant.  

When swaying lithely in the wind, it looks delicate but firm and graceful while not snapping any branches or shedding any leaves.  These are plus points as there is no need to tidy up the garden once the monsoonal winds are over.

For decorative purposes, the pleomele can be grown on the ground, but its beauty is best displayed when it is grown in pots.  In such a case, it is important to choose an equally nice and stylish pot in which to cultivate the plant.  

A salted-egg jar, or even a purpose-build concrete tub would serve the purpose fine as well as being to sustain the plant for decades.

The main stem of the pleomele usually grows in a vertical manner, but as it matures, there is a tendency for the plant to become more woody and to grow into a form that carries some drooping or twisted branches especially those at the upper level.  

Also, as stem grows taller, the lower levels tend to retain less and less leaves, and in this way, the lower section of the main stem becomes visible to reveal its true shape.  It would be of great interest to be able to miniaturise pleomeles or convert them into bonzais to benefit from the attractive form, but in reality, it is next to impossible to do that.

Normally, the provision of some shade in the cultivation of pleomeles do generate great rewards in the beauty of the foliage. Shading induces the exhibition of the richest and best colour, that is, the rich deep golden yellow stripes intermingled with the stripes of solid deep green.  

However, care has to be taken when handling potted plants grown under some degree of shading. This is most important as a sudden expose of such plants to sunlight in the outdoors may result in varying degrees of sunburn on the leaves.  

Sun-hardened plants may also suffer some degree of bleaching and thinning of foliage colour as compared to partially shaded plants.

Multiplying pleomeles the simple way

Although the pleomele is so easy to propagate, yet the plant is not frequently seen, surprisingly. In fact, more of such plants should be cultivated as they are not only easy to plant and maintain, but they also do not need to be repotted all the time, and better still, if they are grown on the ground, they can sit at the same spot for generations.  

A great advantage of pleomeles is that they release very little foliar trash unlike many plants and flowering trees where the foliar turnover regularly exceeds 100pc per year.  This is a huge benefit in that there is little need to spend on oms to clean up the location, which is of particular advantage to many people who are either busily trying to make more, or just to scrounge around trying to make ends meet.

Seeds are available for sale although old plants do flower and produce seeds, only to be lost as they are not highly noticeable.  But the most common and easiest way to multiply and grow new plants is by vegetative means of propagation.  Even a short piece of stem or branch could be gainfully used to produce good, healthy and beautiful plants.

The method involves using either terminal cuttings or mid-section stem cuttings taken from mature plants.  Both ways are equally simple to do, and indeed it is such a breeze that before you have even downed your first cuppa or bottle, the propagation work is already done.

With terminal cuttings, it is quite straightforward.  Just cut off in an oblique manner the top 10-15cm length of a growing shoot and then stick the lower one-third into a suitable rooting medium.  With mid-section stem cuttings, the cut should also be made in the same way in pieces each measuring 10-15cm long and then inserted into some rooting medium for roots to set.

Cuttings should take root successfully within three to four weeks, plus another several weeks for robust growth of shoots to show.  Large new flushes of foliage should start to sprout within eight to 10 weeks from the insertion of cuttings.  By the end of the fourth month, the height of cuttings should reach 25cm, by which time, a nice pot should be readied for transplanting.

Aftercare of pleomeles

The pleomele is relatively easy to care for even though it may appear to be delicate and soft.  The local environmental and climatic conditions are perfect for the healthy growth of the plant as the temperature, light and rainfall levels are just fine and at suitable levels.

However, sometimes, the heat tends to get overwhelming, in which case, it is best to provide a little shade for the plant to prevent scorching and leaf burn.  A little shade would usually enhance the rich colour of the ornamental whereas overshading tends to dull the leaf sheen.

Watering should be done on a regular basis but should not be overdone as this could prove to be detrimental particularly to the roots. The problem of overwatering can be avoided if good quality soils that are porous and well-drained are used for growing the plant.  It is best to keep the soil just slightly moist at all times but not wet and soggy.

A little fertiliser may be dug into the soil once in a month or two to improve the growth. With ground-grown plants, fertilisers may be broadcast over the soil surrounding the plant and then lightly dug into the soil surface for more efficient utilisation of the resource while at the same time preventing birds, chicken or other animals from picking them up and popping them into the mouths.

Pruning of pleomeles is rarely necessary but as growth advances to a wider spread and greater heights, there is a tendency for some branches to droop badly especially after a heavy downpour.  

This calls for some pruning to remove the unsightly patches and return the plant to its original trim and neat form.  

When there is a need to reshape the plant, hard pruning may be resorted to whereby skilful removals are applied to encourage the plant to produce more branches at selected spots, and also to help create a more compact, neat and attractive bush.

- The writer may be reached at [email protected]


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