Wednesday, June 30, 2010

List: Houseplants With Large, Broad Leaves

This is a particularly fun category for me to contemplate, because I really like plants with big honking leaves. Always have. So for this list, I went around the house and measured the biggest leaves on some of my plants, to see how everything measured up. Because it was fun.1

Some explanations and disclaimers:

The plants listed with photos below are plants I personally own, along with the measurements of the largest leaves from each. The photos are old ones, some of which were taken a long time before I measured the plants this week, and consequently may or may not show leaves the size I'm talking about.

Some of the plants in the "not pictured" list can produce considerably larger leaves than the ones with photos. Some of the plants that have photos are capable of much larger leaves than my personal plants have given me: they're not under ideal tropical conditions like they would prefer, and it stunts them a bit.

Anthurium "hookeri"2 (27 x 9.5 in / 69 x 24 cm) This is more of a cry for help than anything else; I suspect the large leaves are the plant's way of telling me that it would like more light than it's receiving. However, a big leaf is a big leaf, and this definitely counts. The biggest leaf on this plant is the second largest leaf in the house (measured as leaf length times leaf width).

Anthurium andraeanum cvv. (some cvv.) (10.5 x 6 in / 27 x 15.5 cm) I've seen larger on greenhouse-grown (or Florida-grown) plants, but this is still pretty good, for plants that have been indoors for a long time. Look for plants with heart-shaped leaves and flowers; they tend to be larger than the varieties with more elliptical or lens-shaped leaves.

Asplundia 'Jungle Drum' (21 x 12 in / 53 x 30 cm) This plant gets third place at the moment, for biggest leaves in the house, though each new leaf seems to be larger than the one before, so I think it may have the ability to get first place eventually. I've seen few photos of a mature Asplundia, so I'm not sure what this is capable of.

Cordyline fruticosa (18.5 x 4.5 in / 47 x 11.5 cm) The plant in the photo has had some tough times since. It's had spider mites pretty bad (it seems to have them all the time), and then this spring it started to drop a lot of leaves for no obvious reason. I've moved it outside, and it seems to be getting better, but the new leaves are still not coming in quite as big as they used to. Most varieties will produce very large leaves, though a few will not.

Dieffenbachia cvv. (16.5 x 8.5 in / 42 x 22 cm) The photo is of 'Tropic Rain,' though in the house at the moment, 'Tropic Snow' is actually the Dieffenbachia with the largest leaf -- it's only half a centimeter longer than 'Tropic Rain,' but it's 4.5 cm wider. Both big, though.

Ficus lyrata (10.5 x 7 in / 26.5 x 17.5 cm) Ten and a half inches long is not really even close to the full big-leaf potential of Ficus lyrata, but it's the best mine is doing at the moment. Compared to, like, a Peperomia or something, that's still plenty huge.

Monstera deliciosa (12 x 9.5 in / 31 x 24 cm) My plain green Monstera has never really lived up to its potential, which I don't entirely understand, but 'Cheesecake' is pretty impressive already, and this isn't even close to the maximum possible leaf size. (For an idea about the maximum possible size, see this post at Life Among the Leaves.)

Philodendron 'Spicy Dog' (15.5 x 9.5 in / 40 x 24 cm) It remains to be seen how well 'Spicy Dog' is going to work indoors -- some Philodendrons like me a lot, and some don't -- but it's certainly got big leaves. And so far, it's behaving quite well, so I'm hopeful that there will be bigger leaves than this eventually.

Spathiphyllum cvv. (some cvv.) (20.5 x 8.5 in / 52 x 21 cm) This is probably quite a ways short of the plant's potential. We got a Spathiphyllum in at work once that was a good five feet tall. The leaves had to have been at least 30 inches (76 cm) long. I took a picture, but it didn't turn out well.

Strelitzia nicolai (20.5 x 13 in / 52 x 33 cm) In the house right now, Strelitzia nicolai has the single largest leaf, and 20.5 inches is actually nowhere near the plant's potential. If you want a plant with big leaves, this is your guy right here.

Honorable mentions:
Some compound leaves may still be very large, even if the individual leaflets never get huge. If my Schefflera actinophylla's leaves were solid, instead of divided into leaflets, it would actually beat Strelitzia nicolai in total leaf area. Tetrastigma voinierianum would also be competitive under those circumstances.

I also left out Philodendron bipinnatifidum, Radermachera sinica, Nephrolepis exaltata, Polyscias fruticosa, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, and palms (like Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, or Chamaedorea cataractum), because although the leaves on all of these can become very large, they're also divided.3 Therefore, they look and function more like a large number of small, narrow leaves than they do like single large, broad leaves, even if they are, botanically speaking, single leaves with a lot of surface area. I'm looking at this list more from an interior-decorating angle than a botanical, what-technically-qualifies-as-a-leaf one, because I'm assuming that anybody searching for a list like this on-line is going to be more interested in the look than the botany.

Selenicereus chrysocardium is capable of producing very large stem segments, big enough that, again, were they actual leaves, and solid, my Selenicereus would outrank every plant on the above list in leaf area except for Strelitzia nicolai. However, they're not actual leaves, and they're not solid, so Selenicereus doesn't make the list.

Now, recommendations. The three plants from the above list that I think give the best balance between having huge leaves and easy care would be Spathiphyllum, Asplundia, and Strelitzia. Strelitzia does need good, bright light to do well, though. Asplundia tend to be sold as small plants (I've seen them in 4" and 6" pots here), and take some time to develop the truly huge leaves I'm talking about, but mine has only been in my care for three years, and even though it was tiny when I got it, it's a monster now. So it's not that long of a wait, really. Not all Spathiphyllum varieties are capable of getting to be large; the varieties 'Mauna Loa' and 'Sensation' are the two most common huge varieties. I don't know which I have, but I believe the five-foot one I talked about earlier was 'Sensation.'

For the anti-recommend, I'll go with Anthurium "hookeri." Not that hard to keep alive, but the huge leaves tear easily, and it just looks funny, having the new leaves come in huge like that, when the older leaves are darker, thicker, tougher, and smaller. If I really loved it and wanted it to be happy, I'd let it summer outside. Though it'd just burn. And then the wind would rip the leaves to pieces. So maybe it's more loving to keep it inside. I don't even know anymore.

Not pictured:

Aglaonema cvv.: the leaves tend not to be as big as some on the list, but they'll produce them even in fairly crappy conditions. 'Emerald Bay,' 'Brilliant,' 'Gold Dust,' and 'Silverado' are all potentially quite large.
Alocasia 'Frydek:' it's not easy to grow Alocasias indoors, but 'Frydek' has good-sized leaves when it's happy.
Alocasia amazonica 'Polly:' same as above.
Alocasia melo: I don't know for sure if this one even can be grown indoors, but the leaves are wicked cool.
Anthurium crystallinum 'Mehani:' dry air and/or soil will cause tears and gaps in developing leaves. Doable, but somewhat difficult.
Some Begonia species produce large leaves, though difficulty varies a lot from one variety to the next.
Calathea ornata, roseo-picta, rotundifolia, etc.: Calatheas are demanding, but they're gorgeous plants, with large, oval leaves.
Chamaedorea metallica: As for Aglaonema, the leaves are not huge huge, but they're bigger than average, and the plants are easy to grow.
Codiaeum variegatum: Leaf size varies a lot with the cultivar and the conditions in which it's being grown, but there are some varieties out there with respectably large leaves. Also not the easiest plant for indoors.
Colocasia cvv.: As with Alocasia, they're not easy, though certain Colocasia are capable of monstrous leaves.
Epipremnum aureum: I debated whether to add this species. They're capable of growing very large, Monstera-like leaves, if in warm, humid conditions and given something to climb. This is fairly difficult to pull off in the home, though, and plants being grown indoors year-round, even if they have large, split leaves when purchased, will usually revert to small, juvenile leaves inside. This is not to say it can't be done, just that you should probably not buy one with the idea that it's going to give you big huge split leaves eventually.
Eucharis grandiflora: I'm not sure what I think about these as indoor plants -- my plant and I have gone through good and bad spells -- but the leaves can get large in good conditions, and people can grow them indoors quite successfully. (See e.g. this post at Our Little Acre.)
Ficus elastica: A pretty obvious, but solid, option. Plants will grow larger leaves if they're not getting as much light as they'd like.
Homalomena 'Perma Press:' These plants get enormous, but the leaves stay in proportion to the rest of the plant, at least. I have a small one that's currently having a growth spurt, which has been fairly unproblematic as long as I didn't let it dry out.
Homalomena 'Selby:' Similar in size and shape to some of the medium-sized Dieffenbachias. They're terrifying if allowed to get too dry, which makes them not a good plant to grow if you're prone to panic,4 but if you can keep up with the watering, it might be okay.
Musa spp. (and Ensete spp.): Ornamental bananas are hard indoors -- they don't handle dry soil or air well, and they're (in my experience) very prone to spider mites too. They're also one of the few plants that can compete with Colocasia and Strelitzia on leaf size.
Phalaenopsis cvv.: As with Epipremnum, Phalaenopsis can sometimes have very large leaves when you first buy them, but a plant being grown indoors, unless your whole life is going to revolve around it or you have a perfect outdoor spot for it during the summer, is not likely to get huge. Not that huge is really the point with Phalaenopsis.
Philodendron 'Autumn,' 'Moonlight,' 'Prince of Orange:' Leaf size in Philodendrons has a lot to do with conditions. They're easy to keep alive, but if you want big leaves, you need to provide warm, humid conditions and a lot of light.
Philodendron 'Congo Green,' 'Congo Red:' as for 'Autumn.' 'Congo Green' strongly resembles a young Strelitzia nicolai but doesn't get anywhere near as big when mature.
Philodendron 'Florida Beauty:' I've never had one of these, but want one. I would guess that the situation is basically the same as for 'Autumn.'
Philodendron 'Imperial Green,' 'Imperial Red:' as for 'Autumn,' but, like, a lot more so.
Philodendron erubescens 'Red Emerald:' as for 'Autumn.'
Philodendron gloriosum: The leaves on my plant have been fairly decently-sized the whole time I've had it, though if I went back and looked at the pictures again, I would probably find that the leaves are smaller than they used to be. Still, it's not as drastic of a difference as for some of the other Philodendron species on the list. It's also more susceptible to spider mites, and has sort of an annoying growth habit.5
Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Kong' series ('Kong Mosaic,' 'Kong Rose,' etc.): I've pretty much given up on trying to keep coleus of any kind going indoors, but it can be done if you really, really want to.
Strelitzia reginae never grows leaves as big as S. nicolai, but they're still substantial.

I'm sure I've left things out, so hit me with any suggestions that come to mind.


1 (I have very low standards for "fun.")
2 I call it Anthurium "hookeri" because it was sold to me as A. hookeri, but almost certainly isn't: "hookeri" is a common name for Anthurium hybrids of unknown origin. Since it's the only name I have for the plant, I still use it, but "hookeri" is most likely wrong, and it's not a cultivar name either, therefore double quote marks.
3 Philodendron 'Spicy Dog,' which I suspect of being a cultivar of P. bipinnatifidum, is allowed on the list because its leaves aren't pinnate like bipinnatifidum's are.
4 And possibly not a great plant even if you aren't -- I've never seen an old 'Selby,' and I have to wonder why that is.
5 It looks like it would be a climber, but Philodendron gloriosum is actually a crawler. It doesn't produce enough leaves to be good in a hanging basket, and it's hard to repot. The thick, inflexible stems basically hit the edge of the pot and make a right angle straight downward, which means that if you want to repot one, you pretty much have to cut all the stems back in order to do it. I've been waiting for the courage to do this to my plant for a good year or more now.


Liza said...

Gawd, I bet your house is gorgeous.

persephone said...

I bet your house needs to be ginormous to host all your plants! You need a glass roof. Hell with the house! Time to move into a conservatory! :)

paivi said...

Your M. deliciosa "cheesecake" is gorgeous. I had no idea such a cultivar even existed, but now my life won't be complete until I find one.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed that my alocasia amazonica is flowering. Is this rare for this type of plant?

mr_subjunctive said...


It's not very common on plants that are indoors, as far as I'm aware. I saw it occasionally at the garden center where I worked. Outdoor plants would be even more inclined to flower than plants in a greenhouse.

Anonymous said...

Great post -

I need a broad leaf plant for my bedroom to help detox the air... I'm in southern California and my house gets great south, west, and northern light. but the windows in my bedroom are intentionally blacked out for sleeping at night so it's a little dark during the day, too. But not entirely.

Any suggestions for a good plant that would thrive in a lot less light?


mr_subjunctive said...


I would not recommend any living plant for the bedroom. I don't know exactly how dark you're talking about, but I once tried a plant in similar circumstances (night job, day-sleeper, blackout windows) and it did not work even though there was technically enough light to read by in there during the day. said...

I've stumbled upon your blog while searching "large-leaf houseplants because in a week I'm moving to a home in Arizona with lots of windows and I envision plants everywhere - particularly those with large leaves. Well your blog certainly has great information and some good pictures but in addition your writing is intelligent and humorous and a joy to read. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Hi. I've had an Anthurium "hookeri" for over 25 years and it seems something is literally eating the plant. I'd like to salvage it though it ma be too late. I wonder if I can send a photo of the plant in its current debilitated state to you for advice. Thanks for your time.

mr_subjunctive said...

chip thomas:

Sure. I make no promises about my advice being useful, but I'll look at it if you e-mail a picture.