Mollycoddling spotted leopard plants
Published on: Sunday, July 03, 2022
By: Eskay Ong
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A basin-type pot filled with Leopard Plants.
IN A country where the quality of education is of world standard, theoretically, it must follow that everybody should know what a leopard is. Therefore, whenever the name of the animal is mentioned, the young and old, men and women, girls and boys, would be able to conjure up, virtually instantly, the correct image of a leopard.

Surprisingly, most people are knowledgeable too about the colour and patterns on the hides of leopards which they see as being spotted dark brown or black on a background of cream to yellowish or dark orange, like little rosettes liberally scattered around.  

This is correct but it refers to African leopards which has, over the past decades, been played out over print, cartoons and electronic media so intensively that even small kids can tell to which animal the named colours and patterns belong.  

Unfortunately, few know much about the local equivalent, that is, Clouded Leopard, which, much like Mount Kinabalu, is the pride of Sabahans. Clouded Leopards carry different varietal names and hide colours and patterns, and they are not often seen, even in the wild. Since wild animals are completely out of the scope of this column, it is best to leave the subject to the relevant experts such as those in the Wildlife Department.

That’s so much for the little digression the discourse of which is on opposite poles of a story that is going to unfold about small leafy ornamental plants that sport quite a lot of dark spots too.

A single leaf of the Leopard Plant showing the characteristic dark blotches or spots.

Plantlets with visible bulbs ready for transplanting.  

This particular ornamental has a number of common names such as Leopard Plant, Leopard Ears, Little White Soldiers, or African Hosta, among others. 

It is a small-sized foliage decorative plant that is best suited for most situations. Healthy plants produce a lot of elongated to ovate leaves that bear multiple spots that are sited mainly on the upper surfaces of the more mature leaves or those that are exposed to diffused light. The spots are not necessarily round but are instead an assortment of blotches of black or dark greenish grey colour.   

The common name of the plant carries the name of Leopard because of the shape of the leaves and the plentiful spots on them. Botanically, it is known as Drimiopsis maculata and it originates in the Southern part of the African continent. It is considered to be a herbaceous perennial plant where the entire structure is succulent without any amount of wood.  

The plant is a prolific grower which can multiply surprisingly quickly when grown in loose friable soil. 

This is easily seen when cultivating the plant in pots where a single good-sized bulb is able to fill the entire contraption within a year.  

In extreme cases, the large number of mature, maturing and young bulbs can result in so much overcrowding that the larger bulbs appear to be in a float. This is when the squeeze for space is so intense that the bulbs are seen to be pushed up to a level that is way above the normal soil level in the pot.  

This is a good sign indeed as it shows that there is abundance in the planting materials that can be gathered from it for propagation purposes.

Leopard plants can be grown anywhere

Many ornamental plants struggle when they are juggled around the house – from the front yard to the backyard, from the balcony to the rooftop, from the sitting room to the kitchen, or from under tree canopies to right under the sun.  

This shuffling and juggling around of plants is possible only with potted plants of reasonable sizes. The large planter boxes or those grown in large containers such as the 50-60cm diameter jars are usually too bulky and massive to be moved around easily. 

Even the hardy oms would find it backbreaking to do the job even though trollies are provided as they know the well-being of their lumbar spine is at stake. Once there is a snap, it is sayonara to the job regardless of his decades of experience.

Nevertheless, moving or shifting plants around is not all that agonising or one that is filled with bitterness and angst. The trick is to enjoy the whole exercise together with a long kupi-kupi2, snacking and yakyakking session in the garden, rooftop or balcony.  

For instance, careful planning earlier on should be able to ensure that pots used are all of manageable sizes. The use of 30cm pots should be a very comfortable size for most Sabahans, but those 6-footers with rippling biceps and solid 6-Pack Abs should have no problem doing container gardening using mainly 45-60cm diameter pots, or even clunky cement planters.

Irrespective of the size of pots used, the important thing is that at the end of the day, good results can be seen.  

This means that there are beautiful foliage plants for decorative purposes, and mouth-watering fruit vegetables such as bountiful tomatoes or brinjals to be displayed, or attractive flowers to be enjoyed, or even leafy greens for the kuali in the case of edibles. To many, this is indescribable joy that can only be equalled by an equivalent ecstasy such as during the collection of dedak or an award of some form of title.

Being a green leafy and durable ornamental plant, a Leopard Plant usually has no problem fitting itself into many kinds of environmental situations. The plant is able to grow to a height and spread of about 20-30cm, and it is quite drought resistant with the bulbs being able to store moisture to tide over tough times.  

It is equally at home regardless of whether it is being placed in indoor conditions, or even outdoors under the tree canopy. The best is not for the plant to be placed outside and directly under the sun, such as on bricked driveways, garden paver slabs, or concrete pedestals.  

This may endanger the wellbeing of the plant as it may suffer from serious sunscorch. However, to prevent this from happening, the plant may be slowly exposed to sunshine on an increasingly longer and longer period of time. Such exposures should be spread out over a period of from 7-10 days in order to harden the plant sufficiently, thus enabling it to take on the harsh heat of the fiery sun.

In the absence of tree canopies, broad eaves or awnings, an alternative way may be to place the plant under some shade cloth of 30-50% shading intensity. The problem is that under well-shaded conditions, hardiness is slightly reduced, which may result in easier breakages of parts of the plant such as leaf petioles, flower spikes, etc.

Two months later. The whole bowl should be full of bulbs and leaves after another six to eight months, suggesting that abundance is just ahead.

A small pottie can be placed on your study table indoors.  


Cultivating leopard plants

Leopard plants are hardy, tolerant of harsh conditions, and are able to withstand a fairly long period of dry season as long as the bulbs remain turgid and full. Under prolonged dry conditions, the foliage may turn yellow, shrivel and dry up before crumbling to the lower level, but there is no worry as the plant is able to regenerate new growths as soon as water is available.

The plant may be easily cultivated using a variety of soils such as rich topsoil, lateritic soil, sandy loam, or compost-fortified sandy soils. In extreme cases, a self-formulated soil comprising sand, silt/clay and organic matter such as compost or peat, can be easily made up according to a percentage ratio of 40-30-30. This allows for efficient drainage and good soil aeration for the plant especially the newly planted ones.

The fastest way to start growing Leopard plants is to separate a few bulbs from a pot of overcrowded mother plant. In fact, if the entire clump in the pot is carefully loosened and removed, the bulbs can be separated and then set into several individual pots each of which may hold from three to five bulbs. Under such a scenario, small porcelain jars are most appropriate for a stunning match-up and attractive display.  

Larger porcelain jars such as those of 30cm diameter can sustain a lush green display especially when placed on the top of an equally attractive pedestal. However, as porcelain jars normally do not have drainage holes at the base, it is therefore necessary to get a skilled carpenter or mason to drill the required number of holes.  

In this respect, it is only the skilled and experienced that can get the job done without cracking or splitting the expensive jar.

Once everything is done, the jar of Leopard Plant may finally be placed on a classy porcelain plate and then displayed atop an equally expensive pedestal.

Plenty of bulbs in a very crowded situation.

Four bulbs in a bowl.  


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December 20, 2014