A Plant Story – the plant in our family tree

Our family tree includes a plant.  Once lush with many shiny, leathery green leaves, my now straggly, not-so-attractive Hoya plant has a 3 generation history. It began as a cutting from a plant of my mom’s, her plant being a cutting from my paternal grandfather’s. Grandpa’s plant, of unknown origins and age, covered the entire ceiling of an enclosed back porch in the farm house where my dad and his siblings grew up. Mom’s plant moved east with us when I was 5, living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and eventually coming back to Washington with my parents.  At some point in my 20s I began my plant, now over 40 yrs. old. Not sure how long mom’s lived. Her’s began to have mealy bug problems in its/her later years, and though she still had a Hoya in her 90s, when she moved from her house, it may not have been her original.

My plant, though dropping lots of leaves, continues to bloom pale pink velvety stars, with centers of  red centered pale yellow stars.

The plant genus Hoya was named after Thomas Hoy, a respected plant biologist and propagator in England in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Hoyas grow in the wild throughout Asia, especially India, some species are also found in Australia. The soft velvety pale pink variety of our family plant is Hoya carnosa, and though it is sometimes called Wax Plant, I’ve never heard anyone in my family call it that. I would call it velvet plant, the pink stars so fuzzy you want to pet them, but if you do you will get sticky fingers from the sweet nectar, which is very tasty! Hoya carnosa is said to have been cultivated for 200 years. If I add up the age of my plant, my mom’s, and think of how long ago Grandpa started his, I estimate the Hubbard plant is from a very early cultivator!

Being a tropical vine, it is “natural” for the plant to get “viney”,  and perhaps drop lower leaves as it adds new growth. Over the years I’ve cut out old dead vines and it has responded by increased new leaves and blooms further up the vines. Not having a tropical forest to climb up through, its vines, trained back on themselves around a trellis, made a visual mass of evergreen leaves when it had more leaves. Hoyas are easy to grow, survivors of many conditions, not wanting too much water or attention, but often tricky to get to bloom. Someone once gave me a Hoya they had that never bloomed, I kept it for years but never could get it to bloom.  I was taught they must be root bound to bloom, perhaps blooming when stressed.  Mine has always bloomed, regardless of where it is located. I’m thinking of cutting my plant back, even re-potting it, which will mean no blooms for possibly years, but it has sent up a few new leaves from its base, a hopeful sign.

Aunt Jackie’s second generation Hoya growing in the same house Grandpa grew his. She has not let hers cover the ceiling however! (thank you Shaun Hubbard for the photo)

So what happened to Grandpa’s plant?  My cousin Shaun tells me when her parents, my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Jackie, who own the original farm house, moved the house in the 60s the plant went to a hair salon where my cousin Laurie was working at the time. Aunt Jackie took cuttings and when the old enclosed porch was remodeled into a room, Aunt Jackie’s second generation plant was reinstalled, where it continues to grow today.  Over 90 herself, Jackie continues to pass out cuttings from her second generation plant, as grandpa did with the original plant. There are no doubt extended family Hubbard Hoya plants in the homes of many family members and friends. (Any cousins reading this who have their own Hoya story, I’d love to hear it!)

When I do cut back my plant, I have someone in mind to pass a cutting on to, who I think will nurture the cutting into a fourth generation plant. And if my cutting doesn’t make it…..there’s always Aunt Jackie’s!

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