Root Awakening

PHOTO: E. TAN

Mistletoe Fig a versatile plant

What is this plant (above) and its characteristics? Does it need a lot of water and sunlight?

E. Tan

The plant is commonly known as the mistletoe fig and is botanically known as Ficus deltoidea.

It is a native plant of Singapore and is best grown in soil that is well drained and kept moist at all times.

In an apartment, it grows best if it gets four to six hours of direct sunlight.

Under good light, the leaves take on a yellowish tinge, which makes them look like gold coins on a plant.

The plant was sold as a Chinese New Year festive plant years back in Singapore.

It is highly versatile. Due to the appearance of the fruit, which make the plant look like a mistletoe, it can also be used as a Christmas display plant.


Lemon plant infested with soft scales


PHOTO: PHYLLIS LOW

My lemon plant has been bearing flowers and fruit. Occasionally, butterflies will lay eggs on the leaves. I have carefully and promptly removed the caterpillars to prevent them from eating my plant. Recently, I noticed brown round bugs (above) growing quite rapidly on the branches and leaves, causing white spots to appear on the leaves and leaving a sticky residue on them too. What are these bugs and how can I get rid of them?

Phyllis Low

Your lemon plant appears to be infested with soft scales. They secrete a sugar-laden liquid called honeydew. When it coats the leaves, it leaves a sticky residue and may lead to sooty mould, which appears as a black coat that covers the leaves, reducing the ability of the plant to carry out photosynthesis.

These pests can be removed using a soft toothbrush.

For more serious infestations, you can apply a dilute solution of neem oil or summer oil weekly to kill adult insects and to keep the pest population in check. The oils cover and suffocate the insects.

As these pesticides work via contact, you have to ensure that you cover all surfaces of the plant when you are spraying the pesticide.

Repeated applications are often needed to manage the pest population.

Also, ensure that you are growing your plant under direct sunlight - the lemon plant is a sun-loving plant and the lack of sunlight can lead to pests and diseases.


Vine's pink fruits are not edible


PHOTO: STEPHANIE LEE

I planted this climber (above) a few months ago. It has started to bear fruit which are pink and about the size of cherries. What is the name of this plant? Are the fruit poisonous?

Stephanie Lee

There have been numerous inquiries about the identity of this plant. The vine is botanically known as Cayratia mollissima and it does not have a common English name yet.

Although it belongs to the grape family (Vitaceae) and its fruitlook like grapes, the attractive pink fruit are inedible.

They have been found to contain numerous minute calcium oxalate crystals which can penetrate the soft tissues of the mouth, causing intense pain.


Turkey berry's fruit often used in food


PHOTO: RICHARD NEO

This plant (above) grew in my garden and is now about 1.6m tall. It has a slim trunk and branches and needs support to keep it upright. It flowers readily and has blooms with small white petals and yellow stigma, and its fruit look like small green peas. What is the plant's name and are the fruit edible?

Richard Neo

The shrub appears to be Solanum torvum, which is commonly known as devil's fig, prickly nightshade, wild eggplant, turkey berry and pea eggplant.

This plant produces fruit that are eaten by birds and the seeds are dispersed through bird droppings.

The fruit is a small round berry, which is harvested for food during the immature stage, when it is firm and green. It is commonly added to Thai green curry and is documented to have traditional medicinal uses.


Bird's-eye chilli tree dried up


PHOTO: LIM SZE MIN

I placed this bird's-eye chilli tree (above) along the corridor of my flat, but it did not survive. What happened?

Lim Sze Min

The plant looks totally dried up.

The chilli plant is one which needs regular watering.

Under sunny conditions where it grows best, it needs to be watered at least once a day.

Ensure the roots are kept moist at all times. The plant should never be allowed to dry out totally.

If you are growing it in a high-rise apartment, avoid an area that is too windy.

Constant winds can dry out the plant - moving air will take away moisture faster than the roots can uptake it from the soil.

As with all edible plants, the chilli plant is a sun-loving one and needs at least four hours of direct sunlight to thrive.

• Answers by Dr Wilson Wong, an NParks-certified practising horticulturist and park manager. He is the founder of Green Culture Singapore and an adjunct assistant professor (Food Science & Technology) at the National University of Singapore.

• Have a gardening query? E-mail it with clear, high-resolution pictures of at least 1MB, if any, and your full name to stlife@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2019, with the headline 'Root Awakening'. Print Edition | Subscribe