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Hoya ahoy!

22 April 2024
Fishtail hoya
The variegated fishtail hoya was first cultivated here in New Zealand.

Drape a hoya around your home for the ultimate piece of living art.
Words & Photos Liz Carlson

Hands up if you had a grandma or aunt who had a huge hoya plant woven around her kitchen windowsill or patio trellis? Beloved for decades, hoya have long been one of the most popular houseplants and have never gone out of style. Known as wax plants, they tend to have thick, succulent leaves and flower well indoors.

With more than 500 known species, hoyas are perfect houseplants for those who love collecting. With so many varieties and cultivars available, in almost every shape and colour, it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Waxy, star-shaped clusters of blooms, each unique to the plant, make hoyas incredibly decorative plants. Many are quite low-maintenance too, so they’re great for serial killers of plants. They’re pet-friendly, another plus. Immensely popular since they were first discovered at the beginning of the 19th century, you can’t go wrong with one – or 100 – hoya at home.
Often sold under the umbrella name ‘hoya’ or ‘wax plant’, the most common is scented Hoya carnosa, which can be found just about anywhere in New Zealand. As tough as they are popular, these hoyas can even survive outside in a South Island winter.
Hoyas are known for their very long lifespans and if you play your cards right, they will live forever. I know because I inherited a century-old H. carnosa that survived for years in an unheated garage/storage space in Christchurch.

Stemming from the original hoya are many beautiful cultivars, developed over hundreds of years in many colours or variegations. ‘Krimson Princess’ has variegated, green-edged leaves with pink or cream centres, while ‘Krimson Queen’ is green with white edges.
H. carnosa ‘Compacta’, or Hindu rope, is a cultivar with twisted leaves that cascade down like ropes. Pretty strange to behold, they are standout plants that really can make a shelf pop. If you’re ready to drop some serious coin, start looking for variegated versions of this hoya – one sold a few years ago for $6500.
Once rare but now commercially available in New Zealand is the beautiful Asian H. obovata, notable for its round or oval chunky leaves splashed with white, and its bright-pink flowers that smell like chocolate.
With bright sunlight and good conditions, H. obovata grows beautifully, but without the ideal environment, the leaves can become misshapen. With several variegated versions out there, they definitely are a feature plant that stands out from the crowd. I wait for them to start to wrinkle before I water them – a great way to make sure you don’t accidentally overwater them and rot the roots, which is hard for the plant to recover from.
Similar to H. obovata is H. kerrii, which produces round, fleshy, heart-shaped leaves. Super common overseas, they’re harder to find in New Zealand. They are a perfect gift for the ladies in your lives. You can even plant a single leaf in soil and it will stay the same size and leaf for years.

Most of our houseplants originated overseas then were imported by NZ nurseries. We do have one claim to fame, though: we were the first to produce the variegated fishtail hoya. Huge deal, I know. This unusual, variegated form of H. polyneura starts as two dark-green leaves, edged in white, in the perfect shape of a mermaid’s tail. Pretty cool, right? Hard to find yet easy to care for, they tend to grow more slowly than other hoyas, and are the perfect introduction to rarer species and varieties.
Another unusual hoya, often mistaken for a Rhipsalis (mistletoe cactus) or the succulent string of needles (Ceropegia linearis), is H. linearis. These hoyas are beautiful hanging plants as they drape down shelves, and when they open, their white, lemon-scented buds are spectacular.

Often fast-growing vines, hoyas love to be potted with a pole or trellis for support, or even attached to a wall if you’re brave: their natural inclination is to climb towards sunlight. First, the plant will put out a long vine where tiny leaves appear later, growing from the peduncle (stalk).
Most hoyas are epiphytic in the wild, which means they grow on trees or rocks, so you can experiment with how to style and plant them. They don’t need to be potted in a traditional planter, so you could even mount them on wood to hang on a wall as living art.
In the wild, hoyas thrive in tropical environments, which means they do best in higher humidity. If you have a bright bathroom, that’s a great spot for them. Be sure to keep them away from a heat pump or fire. Because they flower, hoyas have different nutrient requirements from most other houseplants. Remember to feed them with a fertiliser that includes nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
They tend to bloom once they’re fairly well established, especially if they’re well sited with bright, indirect light. Hoyas can be propagated a few different ways, but taking a cutting with a node and submerging in water for a few weeks is an easy way to produce new babies.

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