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February 20, 2012

Dolphin plant offers spectacular blooms

PLATTSBURGH — Brenda LeClair tends a cabin-fever breaker in the bay window of her shop, Northland Upholstery.

Sandy Carlo, her friend and client, gave her three slips of a dolphin plant, and now LeClair's got pods diving up from dark-green leafy tendrils.

"I put the slips in water and let them root and put them in this tiny 4-inch pot," LeClair said. "It bloomed once before."

Nothing near as spectacular as the present blooms.

"I was getting ready to put it in a bigger pot. I realized there was a couple of them blooming. I looked some more, and they were everywhere. I love the color, the brightness of it. I water it three times a week. It's very happy in that window," she said.

The plant's scientific name is "Columnea billbergiana."

"They are related to African violets, believe it or not, and gloxinia and streptocarpus," said Amy Ivy, executive director and horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County. "The bigger classification is gesneriad. The big thing of all the members of this family, they like warm temperatures. They don't like it chilly, chilly."

The lipstick and goldfish plants are also in this family.

"To propagate, they're easy to root," Ivy said. "Cut the last 3 inches (of a slip), and take the bottom leaves off for an inch. Take a 3- to 4-inch pot with really nice potting soil, and put three or four of those cuttings with the stem down with a clear plastic bag over it. You wait. It takes a few weeks, but you will see new growth come out of the ends. Then, you know it has taken root."

Carlo's mother dolphin plant is not in all its glory yet. When it blossoms, she expects 400 dancing dolphins.

"Now, it's just starting to blossom," said Carlo, a City of Plattsburgh resident. "I had it for 20 years. It's gorgeous. I just water it when it's dry. Now and then, every couple of months, I give it some plant food. That's all I do for it. It hangs down about 4½ feet."

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