by Sarah Davin
As the leaves fall this autumn, so does serotonin and melatonin, disrupting our circadian rhythm and making it more difficult to sleep. This can lead to that glum feeling during the long winter months now diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder—or SAD. It grows serious enough for six percent of Americans to be hospitalized with depression, according to psychologytoday.com. While plants can’t bring back the sun, they nonetheless have the power to uplift, as demonstrated in a 2007 Norwegian survey of 385 office workers that indicated the presence of plants helped keep workers healthier and more productive. The Bridge spoke with local plant purveyors to find the best green friends to help you get through the darkest days.
The Christmas cactus, though it does not resemble a desert cactus, is actually a true tropical cactus. Christmas cacti look more like small green waterfalls of ridged leaves punctuated with tiny flowers blooming out of larger flowers in vibrant pink, red, and purple. Christmas cacti make popular seasonal gifts, and by removing y-shaped leaf segments, you can create new plants to give away for the holiday. Leslie Blouin of Agway in Montpelier had a few suggestions for caring for these succulents. She recommends bright, indirect lighting for Christmas cacti and reminds us to water them when the soil becomes dry.
The “lemon-lime” dracaena, has a palmesque look to it with its thin, long leaves marked by eye-catching stripes of dark green. It not only looks cheery, but has great “air-scrubbing” abilities. In a NASA study entitled “Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement,” the space agency tested four varieties of dracaena and found the plants were effective in removing the toxic compound trichloroethylene from a sealed air chamber. When we are indoors the most, the Dracaena’s filtering abilities will be the most valuable. The dracaena comes recommended by Sonja Grahn and Sarah McAllister, owners of Botanica in downtown Montpelier.
When we think of cannabis, we often think of its physchoactive properties, but what about raising hemp or marijuana as a houseplant? These distinctly recognizable plants are a bold choice of decor and, if grown properly, can have medicinal value. According to Kelsy Rapp of Green State Gardeners in Burlington, “These are wonderful indoor plants, but they do require fairly intensive inputs (especially in terms of light) if you want them to provide flowers for personal use, so not a common choice for a houseplant.” Cannabis is a fast-growing plant, but it does take extra effort to get it to flower, so if you are looking for a wintertime high, think about planning ahead.
Kalanchoe, which is native to tropical Madagascar, is a plant that actually thrives in low humidity, such as we experience during indoor heating season. This is due to its succulent nature. Alexis Dexter, owner of Forget-Me-Not in Barre explained, “Their little star-shaped flowers are very bright and cheerful and bloom in big, bold clusters for a long time and even after they fade, they will eventually bloom again, sometimes shortly after the first batch fade.” Kalanchoe are also very similar to succulents and are hardy and easy to care for. Multiple blooms can be an excellent way to cheer up a space during winter, but keep your kalanchoe out of reach of pets, as the plant ranges from mildly to moderately poisonous.
Not only are orchids beautiful, but they have stress-relieving properties. The plants are used regularly in traditional Chinese medicine to promote relaxation and assist with sleep. Dried orchid, in the right preparation, is also thought to help build up the immune system and prevent against infection, which could be useful for warding off winter bugs during the cold season. You don’t need to be a botanist to experience the benefits of an orchid; research shows that the aroma of an orchid will create a tranquil effect. While most flowers stop blooming in winter, short days actually initiate bud development and blooming in orchid species such as the Christmas orchid.