Products with trunks come in many shapes and sizes: from short and thin to thick and tall, and from twisting shapes to sleek straight trunks. The succulent properties of the trunk enable the plant to store water in order to survive dry periods in the wild. This convenience is very handy in the home: they’re ‘easy care’ plants that take little looking after.
Most ‘greenery on a trunk’ is produced in Central America in countries like Guatemala and Costa Rica; some also come from China. The trunks are shipped to the Netherlands in sea containers, after which they are ‘finished’ at a nursery. Often there are virtually no roots on the plant when it arrives. Within a few months the plants will have grown roots and produced a fabulous array of foliage at the top in many colours, shapes and sizes, depending on the species and cultivar.
When buying plants with trunks it’s important to check how well the plants are rooted in the pot. In general the roots must have grown all the way to the bottom of the pot to have a successful, healthy plant.
Also check the pot size in relation to the number of heads per trunk or trunks per pot, the shape of the trunk, the height/length of the plant and the age of the plant. Apart from Beaucarnea, which is supplied in a pot that is only slightly larger than the plant, the other indoor trees need a pot with some growing room.
Most plants on trunks come in various forms: single trunk, top cutting, clump (several plants of one species in a pot), branched (2 or more side branches on main trunk), with underplanting, stump or mummies (coarse natural trunk shapes).
There should be no dried (brown) leaf tips longer than 5mm.
The plant needs to be free of diseases and pests: with these kinds of woody trunks look particularly for mealybug, brown scale and scale insects, and possibly banana moth (larvae) in the trunks.
The top of the trunk must be sealed with wax or something similar in order to prevent rot from moisture or the penetration of water. Most indoor trees are sensitive to cold – don’t let the temperature drop below 12-15°C. There is an extensive range of ‘indoor trees’ on offer.
The most common indoor trees are Dracaena and Beaucarnea, which are both members of the Agavaceae family. Pachira is a plant from the Malvaceae family, and Polyscias is a member of the Araliaceae, which also includes ivy, for example. Here are four in more depth:
Dracaena is the most common genus in the trade. The range features many different species and cultivars, which vary in terms of leaf shape and colour. The size or appearance of Dracaena has nothing to do with the name.
The plants are easiest to distinguish from one another by looking at the width of the leaves at species level. D. marginata is 1 cm wide and always has a red edge, D. deremensis is 2-3 cm wide, D. fragrans is 4-7 cm wide. There is also D. reflexa with rather short, bent leaves. A number of species are less well-known: D. surculosa and D. sanderiana. There are various cultivars of all these species available for sale.
There are two forms of Beaucarnea recurvata available. The adult form is sold as Beaucarnea and always has an attractive, fairly smooth trunk. The young plant is sold under the name Nolina, but is actually the same plant and is characterised by the small ball out of which the narrow leaves grow.
We see many different forms of Polyscias, from fine jagged leaves (P. fruticosa) to P. scutellaria and P. balfouriana with almost round leaves.
Only one type of Pachira is sold – P. aquatica. However, there are many different forms, from small trunks to trees which are several metres high.