Pacific northwest workplace plants trends - by JOanne Craft

As an interior plantscaping professional and resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, I consider myself quite aesthetically blessed to be surrounded by a stunning landscape of mountains, forests and oceans. As a person with a keen eye for detail who loves creating ambiences for businesses that enrich the work experience, I am a careful observer of workplace trends. As I visit with dozens of businesses in the hospitality, retail, transportation, and commercial real estate industries, I am able to relay my top plant picks for workplaces across the Pacific Northwest. Trends in workplace greenery for 2011 favor luminescent tones and variegated foliage. The following ten plants, which are found in haute, high-end business interiors across British Columbia, not only heighten and satisfy our senses but also help to keep our workplace environments happier and healthier:

Cast-Iron Plants

Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior) - This perennial, native to southern Japan, has a global reputation for withstanding neglect, giving rise to its common name of Cast-iron Plant. With small, solitary purple-hued flowers that often appear at the base of the plant in the spring, the Cast-Iron Plant, is best situated away from direct light to keep the leaves from getting bleached, but is generally tolerant of temperature fluctuation, sporadic watering, low light and humidity. The Cast-Iron Plant has broad, dark green leaves that rise up from tough, underground roots. Some varieties of the Cast-Iron plant are variegated with creamy streaks or dots.

Green Lady (Aglaonema Green Lady) - The plants’ scientific name originates from two Greek words; “aglaos,” meaning “bright” and “nama,” a filament or thread, referring to the striking stamens produced within the flowers. It is a popular plant with the Chinese, to whom it symbolizes long life. The less romantic common name of “Painted droptongue” refers to the leathery, tongue-shaped leaves of Aglaonema crispum. The Green Lady is characterized by its dark green leaves with silver green markings, rapid growth rate; and resistance to diseases common to other Aglaonema.

Lady Palm (Rhapis Excelsa) - The Lady Palm Tree is a slow-growing, miniature fan palm with shiny, dark green leaves. The rigid, bamboo-like stems are covered with a coarse, brown fibre. Rhapis grows wild in Southern China and Japan and is named after the Greek word for needle which reference its thin leaves and elegant form. The latter also gave rise to its common name “Lady palm” or “Kannonchiku” in Japan, where it has been in cultivation as a pot plant for hundreds of years. During that time gardeners produced several variegated leaf forms, although only one, the aptly named “Variegata” is now being actively grown. Rhapis reached Europe in 1774, but in spite of their love of palms, it was little grown by the Victorians. It is only recently that it has become available in quantity as an extremely elegant addition to the range of indoor palms.

Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus Pandurata) - The Fiddleaf fig tree grows best in a high to medium high light environment. The large leaves can add a striking accent to the home or office. With large, green and glossy leaves, the Fiddleaf Fig is a member of the weeping ficus family and is most commonly found as a standard tree or a bush type.

Giant White Bird of Paradise or Wild Banana (Strelitzia Nicolai) - These banana-like plants can reach a height of 20 feet and be more than 12 feet wide. The unusual flowers of this plant can resemble the heads of exotic birds, such as cranes or birds of paradise. Related to, and resembling a banana plant, Strelitzia reginae is a compact, clump-forming perennial with long, lanceolate, grey-green leaves. 

The most impressive feature of the plant is its strikingly exotic and long-lived inflorescence. Each flower has three bright orange sepals and three shimmering, peacock blue petals, two of which are fused to form a nectary. Emerging from a horizontal green and pink boat-shaped bract, the flowers look like the crest on a bird’s head and give the species its common name. Sunbirds pollinate plants in the wild. The variety, Strelitzia reginae farinosa is similar but has yellow flowers. Other forms include Strelitzia reginae juncea, which has robust, rush-like leaf stalks and Strelitzia reginae humilis, which has a dwarf habit. There a several other species of Strelitzia in cultivation including Strelitzia nicolai which can grow up to 8m tall and has pale blue flowers, and Strelitzia alba which is similar but produces white flowers.

Dracaena Limelight - Characterized by bright lime-green leaves that glow in low interior light, this stunning yellow-leaved variety of Dracaena deremensis, grows well under low light. This variety looks beautiful when planted in a feature bed among dark-leaved varieties. Dracaena is a genus of forty species of subtropical, evergreen, woody plants grown for their statuesque form and ornamental foliage. They are sometimes mistakenly identified as palms but are actually more closely related to lilies. The name Dracaena is derived from the Greek word “drakaina,” a female dragon. The link between plant and beast is the resinous red gum produced when the stem is cut. When this red gum is thickened, it is fabled to resemble dragon’s blood. It is also used as a varnish and in photo engraving.

Black Coral (Sansevieria Trifasciata Black Coral) - This exotic plant with tall narrow leaves with gray and green wavy lines across a rich green background, can be used as artful accent or in mass in planters or beds. The seemingly indestructible Black Coral can be grown in any type of light, tolerates low humidity and water and sporadic feeding. A tall, narrow leaf cultivar with gray-green wavy lines over a dark green background that appears almost black.

Dracaena Janet Craig Compacta (Dracaena Deremensis) - The name Dracaena is derived from the Greek word “drakaina,” a female dragon. The link between plant and beast is the resinous red gum produced when the stem is cut which, when thickened, is fabled to resemble dragon’s blood. It is used as a varnish and in photo engraving. Dracaena is a genus of forty species of subtropical, evergreen, woody plants grown for their statuesque form and ornamental foliage. They are sometimes mistakenly identified as palms but are actually more closely related to lilies.

Philodendron Red Congo - Philodendron Red Congo is a new and distinct cultivar of Philodendron. It is a product of the cross or breeding between Philodendron ‘Imperial Red’ as the female parent and an unidentified cultivar of the Philodendron tatei. This plant grows vigorously in an upright but spreading or open manner. New Red Congo leaves are brownish maroon to almost red in color while the large mature ones are dark green in color with a touch of red. The plant’s leaf petioles remain reddish purple to bright right with long-lasting petiole sheaths.

Cycas revoluta (sago cycad) is an attractive plant native to southern Japan. Though often known by the common name of king sago palm, or just sago palm, it is not a palm at all, but a cycad which are seed plants characterized by a large crown of compound leaves and a stout trunk.

Green plants provide many benefits, both physiological and psychological, to all of our five senses. Plants are installed in buildings because they look attractive and help to provide a pleasant, tranquil environment in which to work or relax. Research has shown that healthy, well-maintained plants can improve air quality, reduce background noise and affect peoples’ behavior. Being close to plants reduces stress. Our heart rate, blood pressure and skin conductivity all benefit from the presence of plants and we’ve found that people in well landscaped offices recover from stress more quickly than those in work environments without plants. If you work in an office building, it is ideal to keep a plant right on your desk if possible as well as other areas throughout the office.

Businesses today place more emphasis on single, high quality plants in striking containers, to produce displays that have a “wow” factor. An ever-expanding range of plant varieties and container designs is available and a great deal of imagination is being applied to their use. Plants truly engage all five senses in many powerful and subtle ways. Who can fail to be charmed by the graceful arch of palm leaves or the exotic beauty of orchids? Research continues to show that the value of plants goes far beyond the purely aesthetic. Plants are actually good for the building and its occupants in a number of subtle ways and are an important element in providing a pleasant, tranquil environment where people can work or relax. Make your workplace greener, healthier and more beautiful by incorporating plants into your workplace.