The schizanthus is an attractive annual plant originating from Chile. Schizanthus pinnatus is known as the poor man’s orchid.
Part of the Solanaceae family, the plant’s name of schizanthus originates from two Greek words meaning divided flower, aptly describing the plant. The flower head resembles an orchid, a good specimen having quite an exotic appearance. Schizanthus pinnatus, the usual form termed the poor man’s orchid, is also sometimes called the butterfly flower.
It is an attractive annual plant, often with white or pale colored flowers with purple streaks on its petals. The center of the flower is usually yellow and the flower is normally about an inch wide. Hybrid varieties exhibit various color schemes. A schizanthus has naturally sticky stems and feathery, fern-like leaves which in some varieties, can help create impressive group displays.
The species naturally grows up to two feet high. As houseplants, dwarf varieties are also popular. There are also greenhouse varieties that grow to around three feet tall. Houseplant varieties of schizanthus grow well in pots. A five-inch pot is sufficient for compact varieties of this houseplant. No more than a seven-inch pot should be required for larger specimens.
Keeping the young schizanthus plants for longer than normal in smaller pots in order to limit their growth risks the plant becoming pot-bound and unhealthy, as with other plants. However, as the plant is normally considered an annual, this can be a solution if the specific plant is becoming bedraggled before it has bloomed.
Young shoots of the plant can be pinched out to encourage bushy growth. This is often worthwhile with schizanthus to prevent the plant from becoming leggy. As a houseplant, the schizanthus is ideally suited to a sunny window position or a conservatory. Most varieties will tolerate some direct sun if not for too prolonged a period.
Seeds of schizanthus pinnatus can be sown in spring or late summer for summer or autumn/winter blooms respectively. Schizanthus houseplants can be fed while actively growing, and will require regular watering and some misting to retain humidity. The compost in the pot should be kept moist. 55F to 64F is the ideal temperature range for a houseplant schizanthus. Too high a temperature drastically shortens the flowering period. Schizanthus plants grow best if kept fairly cool and in good light.
Schizanthus wisentonensis and its hybrids are very similar plants to schizanthus pinnatus and are also sold as poor man’s orchids. Numerous hybrids and cultivars of schizanthus pinnatus are available nowadays. Some of the more well-established popular varieties of schizanthus include “Dwarf Bouquet”, “Hit Parade” and “Crimson Cardinal”, the latter having striking deep red blooms. “Dwarf Bouquet” has been around for many years and there are numerous related strains now available.