Thursday, February 11, 2010

List: Houseplants With Finely-Divided, "Fluffy" Foliage

This list is another request from Joseph Tychonevich at Greensparrow Gardens, and I'm not sure if he was meaning anything fluffy-looking (in which case Soleirolia soleirolii, baby tears, would count) or anything with pinnate/bipinnate/tripinnate foliage, in which case Zamia spp., cardboard palms, would count). So I've tried to restrict myself to stuff that qualifies either way, stuff that both looks fluffy and soft (doesn't mean it actually is soft, by the way) and has finely-divided foliage.

In practice, this seems to mean mostly ferns and palms, but I found a couple other options too. It's a tough category. Additional suggestions are welcome.

Araucaria heterophylla. (Norfolk Island pine)

Asparagus plumosus (shown) and other Asparagus spp. (asparagus fern)

Chamaedorea elegans. (parlor palm)

Davallia tyermanii (shown) and other Davallia spp. (rabbits-foot fern)

Pogonantherum paniceum. (house bamboo)

Polypodium formosanum 'Cristatum.' (ET fern)

Polyscias fruticosa var. elegans. (parsley aralia)

Radermachera sinica. (China doll)

Schefflera (Dizygotheca) elegantissima. (false aralia)

Selaginella kraussiana. (club moss)

I like the look of a lot of these, but have had bad experiences with quite a few of them, too, and even the ones I haven't had bad experiences with tend to be difficult plants for most people. So I can recommend Araucaria heterophylla, which is pretty agreeable if you give it decently bright light and are consistent about watering; Davallia spp., which are a bit more challenging than most plants but are pretty reasonable, as ferns go; and Polyscias fruticosa var. elegans, which, like the regular P. fruticosa, is not quite as fearsome as its reputation would suggest.

I anti-recommend Pogonantherum paniceum, because my own plant needed so much water, so often, that I could only keep it going for four and a half months, and it didn't look so hot by the end of about two. I also discourage people from Chamaedorea elegans whenever I get the chance: I know there are people out there who can grow them and find them easy, but I am not one of those people, nor is WCW. In my experience, C. elegans either get spider mites, then black tips, and die, or they get black tips, then spider mites, then die. Unless they're in a greenhouse. Where they just get spider mites. Finally, I'd suggest the reader not try Selaginella kraussiana without the aid of a terrarium. I haven't tried the plant at all, personally, with or without, but they have pretty extreme moisture needs.

Not pictured:

Adiantum spp. (maidenhair ferns)
Chamaedorea cataractum (cat palm)
Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (butterfly palm)
Didymochlaena trunculata (mahogany fern)
Howea forsteriana (kentia palm)
Nephrolepis exaltata cvv., in particular the cv. 'Fluffy Ruffles' (Boston fern)
Pellaea rotundifolia (button fern)
Philodendron bipinnatifidum (tree philodendron, selloum philodendron) (should this count?)
Polyscias fruticosa (ming aralia)
Schefflera arboricola (umbrella plant, umbrella tree) (should this count?)
Scyphularia pycnocarpa (black caterpillar fern, Davallia pentaphylla)
Selaginella erythropus (red club moss)


Joseph said...

Thank you again! I was thinking in terms of design, so anything fluffy looking was what I was imagining -- fluffy stuff to contrast to big leaves.
Any experience/comments on the asparagus? They'd be a great counter point to big glossy leaves, but they are SO fluffy I'm imagining them turning all brown and crispy at the slightest provocation.

mr_subjunctive said...

Asparagus are not my favorite plants, though that's mainly for the thorns: culturally, they're only a problem if you let them get too dry. Granted, if you let them get too dry, then they're a really big problem, but they're not so bad so long as you don't do that. The thorns are obnoxious no matter how much water you do or don't give them.

Jean Campbell said...

Asparagus fern was one of my mother's favs -- she called it 'lace fern.' It's fairly tough.

Liza said...

I love aralias. Every time I see an asparagus fern, I always want it to be soft and fluffy and not sharp and painful.

Diane said...

Can Artemisia be grown indoors? That's my favorite fluffy plant but it's mainly for outdoors, at least here in 5b.

My asparagus fern has no thorns. I guess I should just be happy about it and not wonder why.

Joseph said...

They have thorns??? Oh my. Now I totally HAVE to get one! I love plants that bite. And how cool that they look soft and fuffy, but are actually mean! I will get one and name it after that rabbit in Monty Python.

Joseph said...

Oooh... I just read your post ( on the subject of asparagus spp. and the more you hate on them, the more I want them! I shall hereby fill my house with evil asparagus!

mr_subjunctive said...


I like aralias too. They're pretty well-behaved, for having such a difficult reputation.


I'd be surprised if you could grow Artemisia indoors, but of course I've never tried it. There's another perennial that we had at the garden center that looks very much like Polyscias fruticosa, except it doesn't have the woody stem, or doesn't have as much of a woody stem. I forget what it's called. (I want to say its botanical name also begins with an "A," though.)


Well, glad I could bring you two together. I hope you're very happy.

I should say that on a day-to-day kind of basis, as a houseplant, Asparagus really hasn't caused me many problems. It was more of a problem at work, because I sometimes had to divide them, or repot them, and so there's a lot of handling of the stems involved with that. I can't really do much if I'm wearing gloves -- I need the tactile feedback too much, in order to know what I'm doing -- so I didn't have much choice but to get stuck all the time. But it's not that big of a deal when you're not actively working with them.

Unknown said...

I have a thing for fluffy plants, although most of those listed that I have tried I have had bad experiences with, they seem to need a lot of water. Several succulent, winter growing Pelargoniums, although small growing, might fit into this category, P.hystrix and P.triste spring to mind, the later is one of my favourite plants.

James David said...

Love your asparagus fern, I was not successful with them.
Wonder if you would count Fluffy Ruffle Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata)
and also the maiden hair fern (Adiantum capillis-veneris)

Both of them are happily fuffing in my garden.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this list! Had a really specific aesthetic in mind and your suggestions were exactly what I was looking for :)