A few days ago, Elizabeth Licata at Garden Rant posted a list of her top ten houseplants, rating them by "killability," "beauty," and "maintenance." I think killability and maintenance should really be the same thing: a properly-maintained plant, regardless of its requirements, ought to be pretty hard to kill. (It's just that some plants have completely unreasonable ideas about what "properly maintained" should involve.) But whatever. I went ahead and used that anyway, though I've renamed maintenance as "anxiety," since Licata used how much anxiety the plant causes as her test of what maintenance rating to give.
But whatever. Anyway. So here are my choices for top ten houseplants, using the same criteria she did, on 0-10 scales.1 The numbers for beauty and anxiety were quick and dirty subjective values, and would not necessarily come out the same were I do do this again, but if I did it again, you'd probably see the same twenty plants showing up repeatedly, in varying combinations. I've included the ten runners-up at the end of the list, as honorable mentions.
10. Aglaonema cvv. (Chinese evergreen).
I'm not surprised Aglaonema made it on the top ten, but I would have expected them to place a little higher, since I consider them pretty much the perfect houseplant.
9. Schlumbergera truncata cvv. (Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus)
This was the first surprise to show up on the list: I have one, but it's tiny and asymmetrical and kind of goofy-looking, and not a plant I think about very much. I don't disagree with my numbers, though, so I guess it deserves to be here.
8. Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant, airplane plant, mala madre).
I know there are people who have trouble with these, but . . . well . . . but they shouldn't. They're really not that complicated.
7. Saxifraga stolonifera (strawberry begonia)
Not something I would have thought to put on the list if I were coming up with it off the top of my head, and in fact not something I even particularly cared for before starting the present job, but they've grown on me. They've also grown on everything else.
6. Chlorophytum x 'Fire Flash' (Fire Flash, Green Orange, Mandarin plant)
These are a little messy sometimes (if only the leaves didn't go so dramatically black when they die!), but I've never met a plant that was so indifferent to care, pests, etc. And although I kind of take it for granted now, that's a really pretty orange.
5. Aloe aristata hybrid (no common name as far as I know)
Another surprise. Not that I don't love mine, not that it hasn't been, like, the easiest plant ever, but I would never have thought of it for a top ten list, and it's weird that it showed up here.
4. Sansevieria trifasciata cvv. (snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue)
Difficulty: 8.5-7.6, depending on cultivar
Beauty: 5.5-7.0, depending on cultivar
A surprising number of customers don't like these; people seem to either love them or hate them. A big, full 'Laurentii' is a gorgeous plant, though. And 'Black Gold' kicks ass all over the place.
3. Haworthia attenuata (or possibly H. fasciata: see comments) (zebra plant)
It's true that I've never had any trouble with these, and when they're happy, they do look very good. But #3, Mr. S? Seriously?
I have no explanation.
2. Philodendron hederaceum cvv. (heart-leaf philodendron)
Difficulty: 8.8-9.7, depending on cultivar
Beauty: 7.0-8.0, depending on cultivar
Okay, now this is more like it. I'm always surprised when I see a list of easy-care houseplants that includes pothos (Epipremnum aureum) and not Philodendron hederaceum, because pothos gives me considerably more difficulty.
A lot of people can't tell the two apart, either, which makes me think that the omission of Philodendron might be because people think they've included it already. It's the much better plant, in any case, and the all-yellow version ('Aureum,' or 'Lemon-Lime') is really very attractive, with reddish new growth, bright yellow mid-aged growth, and green older leaves. I also like 'Brasil,' which is both green and yellow, and micans, which is reddish, with a velvety appearance.
Even my mother can grow Philodendron hederaceum.2 So you really couldn't ask for a more tolerant plant.
1. Dracaena deremensis group ('Warneckei,' 'Limelight,'3 'Lemon-Lime,' 'Goldstar,' 'Art,' 'Janet Craig,'
Difficulty: 7.9-9.0, depending on cultivar
Beauty: 7.0-8.0, depending on cultivar
Anxiety: 9.0-10.0, depending on cultivar
God help you if you don't like strappy-leaved plants, but if you do, there's something somewhere in the deremensis species for you. They're robust, undemanding, come in a variety of colors, patterns, and sizes, and are just all-around solid members of the houseplant community.
Amazingly, Licata and I overlap on only two and a half plants: Schlumbergera (though she calls it something else5) and Sansevieria are the full overlaps, and Dracaena is the partial one (she mentions every kind of Dracaena except the deremensis group, but they're probably close enough to count). I think a lot of this is because she's biased toward flowering plants more than I am. I evaluated flowering plants too, and I did give them points for beauty -- you'll notice that the plants in this list don't actually have particularly high beauty scores -- but none of them are conspicuously easy, for all the drama of the flowers. The three highest-rating plants primarily grown for their flowers were Schlumbergera, which did just barely sneak into a spot on the list, Anthurium andraeanum, and Vriesea splendens.
11. Yucca guatemalensis (7.5)
12. Zamioculcas zamiifolia (7.5)
13. Ardisia elliptica (7.4)
14. Alworthia 'Black Gem' (7.4)
15. Strelitzia nicolai (7.4)
16. Anthurium andraeanum (7.4)
17. Echinocactus grusonii (7.4)
18. Ficus microcarpa (7.3)
19. Ficus maclellandii (7.3)
20. Synadenium grantii (7.3)
So . . . what's your top ten list look like?
Photo credits: All mine, except the Schlumbergera picture.
1 In order to make the average work out properly, and make higher-ranking plants get higher numbers, I had to flip the PATSP difficulty rating around. So the number for "difficulty" here is just ten minus the PATSP number.
2 The plant thing skipped a generation. Grandma always had lots, though mostly her stuff was outdoors. Mom has frequently tried, but she's not consistent enough with tropicals and just flat-out doesn't like succulents (Mother! You're embarrassing me in front of the other garden bloggers!), so there are usually only a few at any given moment, and none of the few are usually doing all that well. But: I've given her a Philodendron hederaceum and a Saxifraga stolonifera, and she reports that both of them are currently doing okay.
5 "Schlumbergia." It's actually Schlumbergera.