Scientific Name: dracaena fragrans massangeana
Common Name: Corn Plant
Only-in-the-Philippines Name: Fortune Plant
Difficulty: Brain-dead-absolute-beginner easy
I love plants. I really do. It’s one of those things my peers look weirdly at me for, but it was an interest that developed sporadically and independently of my love for travel, and they just meshed together in the end. :) Now whenever I travel, I find myself paying keen attention to the flora of any given place. Plants to me have become beautiful, an art form in themselves, a symbol of life, a quiet, humble dignity that is so different from the modern world that I was thrown in. I would plant trees in my backyard if I could, if I had one, but unfortunately I live in a building, and I only have balconies and window areas to place potted plants in. Currently raising all sorts of flowering and foliage plants, a few sown from seed.
Dracaena fragrans is a common hedge plant native to Africa. It grows on stalks with foliage that resembles the corn plant, thus its common nickname of “Corn Plant”. I first bought this plant about 5 months ago because I needed something to fill an huge, vertical, empty space in the house, and it has grown considerably since. The picture at the very top was my first d. fragrans ever. I have gotten two more batches since!
Important: For some very weird reason, it’s called “Fortune Plant” here in the Philippines. I remember combing through Google to find better care instructions for it but failing miserably due to the sheer number of marketers calling their plants “fortune” plants. Luckily, after a few days of searching and plant-indexing I found what it was truly called–“corn plant”. The photographed variety is of the massangeana hybrid, set apart by the light green line that runs through the middle of each leaf. The normal d. fragrans is just a solid emerald green.
According to a study by NASA, this variety of the d. fragrans is one of the best air-purifying house plants ever. Amazing! It effectively removes very common indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde (found in most household objects in the form of ureaformaldehyde resins, and cigarette smoke), trichloroethylene (a potent liver carcinogen), and benzene (from cigarette smoke, glue, paint, furniture wax, and detergents). Again, amazing, right?
Now if that isn’t a selling point enough for you, get a load of these VERY EASY (AS IN VERY EASY) care instructions:
The Fortune Plant is a bit masochistic in that it actually fares better underloved than overloved.
- Never ever ever over water. It’s better to leave it alone and water once every two weeks to once a week. Remember that this plant originated in parts of Africa that are dry and hot in the mornings and cooler at night, without much rainfall (why I think it’s ideally placed in a bedroom by a window. Filtered sunlight in the day, and aircon at night while you sleep — your Fortune Plant will be doubly happy)
- No pests/diseases except sensitivity to fluoride in the water (leads to brown leaf tips).
- Indoors, water thoroughly ONLY about once every two weeks (“thoroughly” means, water until it drains through the bottom holes). This is to flush the soil and to make sure all parts get equally watered. I hear it also makes the roots stronger and more resourceful in trying to reach out to find water when it’s thirsty versus regular over-watering which leads to root rot which leads to, you guessed it, death.
- Outdoors, find a subtly shaded spot to put it in. Although I’ve never tried, I don’t think it can handle direct Philippine sunshine. It is prone to browning at the tips if it’s burned, over-watered, or completely neglected. However, when outdoors, be sure to water more often. Check the first two inches of soil. If it’s dry, time to water thoroughly. If it’s still moist, meh, leave it a few days more before watering.
- Water as infrequently as is necessary to just let the plant live. Why? Tap water contains flouride, which is toxic to this plant. Boiling does not remove flouride. You’ll soon end up with ugly, brown, dead leaf tips if you water more than is needed to get your Fortune Plant to survive. Flouride deposits accumulate in the soil, so it is better to water thoroughly once in a while to flush what flouride you can than to water every single day and compound the amount of flouride in the soil.
- If you are more loving and vigilant towards your Fortune Plant, switch to distilled water. Water stations often offer cheap distilled water by the gallon versus buying the branded ones in supermarkets. Also, since you’ll only ever water once in a while, it’s going to be pretty cost-efficient. Think about how much your Fortune Plant purifies your air for you, without needing electricity or any other maintenance, while beautifying any room, reducing your stress, and you can’t even be assed to buy distilled water for it?
- Each stalk (the wood-like part) is a separate plant. Sellers often sell these plants bundled and arranged. The picture above shows one of my arrangements. Plants came from a vendor who seemed to just want to get rid of it as it was her last batch. She gave me seven short stalks in a single pot (about 4′ in height for the tallest and 12 inches for the smallest) for Php200. I separated the stalks into a group of 3 and a 4, put them in different pots in different rooms. One was a smoking room. It’s still alive and kicking.
- I have heard miracle stories of Fortune Plants suddenly flowering, and they say the fragrans in the scientific name is there because of it. The flowers reportedly have a very strong, pleasant smell that can carry past the room it’s in. However, the flowering patterns remain a mystery, and nobody knows how to induce the plant into flowering. I have heard of many stories where the plant has been with them for 5-10 years with no incidence of flowering, but one random day it suddenly flowers. The blooms last for a week or two. I’m still waiting for my moment, though, but I’ll let you know once my Fortune Plant blooms. It seems like a majestic tear-worthy experience if it really takes that long for it to bloom (but then some lucky people have plants that flower yearly)!
- Like any other plant, the Fortune Plant does best when placed within a reasonable reach of sunshine. My other Fortune Plant, the biggest and oldest of the bunch, receives the least sunlight out of the three that I have at home, and its leaves have gradually become a lighter shade of green. It is still alive, but I suppose it isn’t thriving, in the colors department. But in terms of size, it has been doing absolutely great. It has grown more than the others.
- You can propagate a Fortune Plant by cutting off a third of the top stem and removing the leaves. Remember which way is up, though, and put the cut part in a pot of well-draining soil or potting mix. Water. Sunshine. Pray. Talk to it. Play classical music. Etc. Eventually, roots will grow, and new leaf nodes will come out from the top of the stalk you cut from, and the “new” stalk you produced and planted.
- Arrange stalks alternately by height. Be playful with this, and try to achieve as great a balance as possible for the foliage to be even. I find that Fortune Plants don’t mind being crammed together very tightly. The roots don’t seem to be competing nor complaining, and the growth of the foliage is pretty even between each stalk.
- Lastly, sit back and enjoy your gift of nature. Any place with a plant is a place instantly beautified. Consider giving a house plant as a gift! They’re inexpensive, pretty, therapeutic, and beneficial! :)
I think I have an obsession with bringing nature into my living space because it reminds me of travel, and the big blue (or green) world out there beyond the concrete walls of my home. It comforts me to see that no matter how far I am from the lush greenery of unspoiled nature, I have a piece of it that stays by me all day. Plus, it’s incredibly fascinating, therapeutic, and inspiring to see the progress of plants growing! Really! Sometimes I feel like if I stay under the sun with them, I can photosynthesize too! haha :p
Any other travel-and-plant-loving people out there?
Where to buy plants:
- White Plains (a whole strip of plants and gardening essentials)
- Farmer’s Garden Cubao (in front of Farmer’s Market. Specializes in potted plants, shrubs, flowers)
- SM Cubao walk (the side in front of Alimall – best for foliage plant-shopping)
- Greenhills V-mall square (Specializes in ornamental plants like orchids, lilies, and other flowering plants)