Friday, April 15, 2011

List: The Best Houseplants You're (Probably) Not Growing

This list isn't intended to be taken very seriously. It's subjective, and even where it's not, we're only talking about my personal experience, over a pretty limited amount of time;1 the plant might be completely different for you. Having said that, these are the plants that:

1) have performed well for me for a long time,
2) aren't already common in stores (at least not the stores I visit),
3) typically do well indoors for other people too, as far as I know, and
4) have that special something that makes me want to recommend them to everybody.

This is slightly self-interested, as a few of these are plants I will have available for trade or sale at some point,2 but it's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem. I have them to sell because I like the plant, and in a lot of cases I like the plant because it's easy to reproduce for selling. The main point of the list is not to promote plants because I'll have them for sale, I swear, it's to say nice things about plants that have been making me happy lately. Because there are a lot of plants that don't.3 (Including some of the plants I want to sell or trade away.)

Agave desmettiana. Fairly rapid growth, as indoor Agaves go, interesting color (on the variegated variety), and so far it doesn't seem especially needy or buggy. If you have full sun and can water thoroughly and regularly, you can grow this.

Eucharis grandiflora. Beautifully fragrant (if short-lived) white daffodil-like flowers up to three times a year, large, glossy green leaves the rest of the time, cold-tolerant, and I've never had problems with bugs. Needs some light (filtered sun or bright indirect), and don't overwater. May go dormant if too dry or dark.

Gasteraloe x beguinii. (Aloe aristata x Gasteria batesiana). Nice form and color, tolerates fairly low light for a succulent, resilient as hell, offsets are easy to root, never a bug problem. Probably won't flower indoors, but it's my favorite foliage Aloe/Gasteria/Haworthia, easily. Give it at least some sun indoors, or else bright artificial light, and don't overwater.

Hatiora salicornioides. Only minor bug problems so far (spider mites, surprisingly), and the flowers aren't the glamour bombs that Eucharis's are, but the form is interesting, and it's easy to grow with full sun to bright indirect light. Fertilizer seems to be more important than I expected: some of mine have only started putting out new growth since I started using the Miracle Gro.

Hoya lacunosa. Easily brought into bloom (it basically just takes lots of light + fertilizer), and can be more or less continuously in bloom year-round. Neither the flowers nor the leaves are much to look at, but it's fairly non-demanding, and the scent is nice.

Pachypodium lamerei. Less easy than most of the other plants on the list -- it's obviously a pain to repot, and it's inclined to winter spider mite infestations and/or dormancy, plus they'll rot if you get them cold and wet at the same time. But they're still fairly easy to grow, and they're tough enough that I've never actually seen one rot from being too wet: I've only heard about it.

Selenicereus chrysocardium. You're probably never going to see the large, overwrought flowers, but with stems like these, who needs flowers? It's fast, it's huge, it's easy to grow (you need only regular watering and a sensible amount of light), I've never had pest problems, and it's just so weird.

Synadenium grantii. I praise Synadenium pretty much every chance I get, but it's difficult to articulate why I like it as much as I do. I like the textures, both visual (red-speckled green, or plum with specks of green) and tactile; I like that they grow fast and can be endlessly duplicated. I love that I've never had a pest problem on a Synadenium. Just a good, vigorous plant for someone with bright indirect light or brighter. They will occasionally drop lower leaves, for reasons I've never been able to figure out but suspect is water-related.

Vriesea splendens. I've always loved the way these look, but it took me a long time to decide to buy one, because all the books warn about them being fussy and difficult. They're not. I've had no pest problems, they seem perfectly happy under artificial light, bright indirect light, or filtered sun, and recently one has even decided to rebloom for me. Occasionally I let them get too dry, and then leaves curl and yellow, but that's been about it for problems.

Zingiber malaysianum. The leaves are pleasantly (if lightly) scented, glossy, and beautiful with light shining through them. It insists on being kept warm (above 50F/10C) and moist, more so than almost any other plant I own (I deal with this by watering every time the watering cycle gets around to it, and if I start finding that it's dry by the time I'm ready to water it, I move it up into a larger pot.), and I suspect that it's probably prone to mites, though I haven't experienced this personally. But I am so pleased with it.

Honorable mentions:
  • Aechmea fasciata -- in the trade for a long time, but I rarely see any for sale that aren't already in bloom, and I don't know why. They're perfectly nice foliage plants, and if you buy one already in bloom then it's just going to die on you. (Granted, that can take more than two years, as it did with mine.)
  • Araucaria bidwillii -- I know why this isn't sold more in the trade. They're kinda ugly, and even the fuller-looking larger specimens are sharp. I love mine anyway.
  • Epiphyllum oxypetalum -- The flowers are pretty, but I'm not sure they're actually worth growing the plant for, since they only last for an evening. I like the plant enough that I'm willing to grow it for the unusual, awkward stems, though.
  • Euphorbia trigona -- One of my oldest and best-behaved plants, not counting a minor pest problem when I first got it,4 plus I like the shape.
  • Haworthia limifolia var. limifolia -- I started out liking other Haworthias more, but this one's grown on me. The color (metallic gray or gray-green, depending on culture) is neat, the texture is pleasant, and it may be the only Haworthia species I've had that's never given me trouble.
  • Pandanus veitchii -- Of course. Minor pest problems (caterpillars or crickets or something, when I had mine outside last summer), painful to move around, and the tips burn if the plant is in the path of a heat vent, but mostly a piece of cake to grow.
  • Polyscias scutellaria -- Polyscias in general have been nice to me, though they do have their moods. P. scutellaria is my favorite of the genus because it's been the most responsive to my care so far (bigger leaves, more leaves), but I also like the look of it.
  • Senecio rowleyanus -- We went through some rough times at first, mostly because I wasn't watering enough, but we've reached an agreement since then, and it's grown a lot in the last year. Haven't seen flowers yet on my personal plant, but I look forward to the day: they smell like Big Red chewing gum.
What plant(s) you don't see for sale very often would you add to the list?


1 The plants on the list have all been in my care for at least 22 months; the most recent addition (Zingiber malaysianum) was purchased in June 2009, and the oldest (Gasteraloe x beguinii) is from November 2006.
2 (I've been having trouble getting suitable photos of the plants in question, among other things. Too bright, too dark, always desaturated: it's frustrating. There's also the issue that some of the plants I had hoped to sell are not looking as good now as I had hoped they would, and it's probably too late to whip them into shape, which is demotivating. I spent the bulk of Wednesday taking pictures, and that set is the set I'm going to use, whether they're good or not. I'm currently planning the official unveiling for April 18, but that may be optimistic, given the number of photos I have to sort through.)
3 [shaking fist at sky:] RADERMACHERA!!!!!!!!!! (Actually, I got rid of the Radermachera a couple weeks ago. I'm still angry, though.)
4 It was either whitefly or scale; it happened long enough ago that I don't have any pictures, and don't remember that well. I assumed they were whiteflies, because they flew, but my memory tells me they looked more like immature scale. They went away, whatever they were.


Anonymous said...

Philodendron erubescens: One of the easiest of houseplants, tolerates neglect, not given to pest or disease problems, will survive with very little light. The glossy foliage is beautiful and I especially like the red coloration of the stems and petioles and leaf sheaths. Too much shade and the new leaves will be small. It's a fast-growing climber, can easily be cut back and the cuttings rooted in water.

Billbergia nutans and hybrids: Nice foliage though nothing special, flowers are very beautiful and reliable though short-lived. Highly tolerant of neglect, fast-growing when happy, no pest or disease problems. Makes lots of pups. Don't over-fertilize.


Pat said...

I was going to suggest Portulacaria afra but I see it was a disappointment for you. I use a high PK fertiliser with micronutrients for all my succulents.

Reading one of the foornotes in a link I see you get itching from handling Ficus benjamina. Itching and blisters while pruning or harvesting figs (Ficus carica) are well-known in Andalucia and workers usually wear protection.

CelticRose said...

After reading Pat's comment, I went back and reread your opinion of Portulacaria afra. I'm surprised that it grows slowly for you. Mine grows so fast that it seems like I'm constantly pruning it so that it will continue to fit in my window. Maybe it's a fertilizer problem again? I use Schultz's cactus and succulent fertilizer each time I water.

It does drop leaves when it gets too dry, but I've never had a problem with it rotting. I don't mind a few dropped leaves because they grow back so quickly.

@Pat: here in Arizona they sell P. afra as a garden plant, so it's readily available. There was even a variegated version available a year or so ago.

Ivynettle said...

The Pandanus is the only one on that list, and I love it.

The only plant I can think of I'd add is Begonia corallina - the only kind of Begonia I've never had any problems at all with *glares at B. serratipetala* and I really like the way it looks, too. I like plants that get big. And it's easy to propagate.
*goes back to glaring at the sad little B. serratipetala*... throw it out, or give it a last chance...?

Pat said...

CelticRose, here in rainy Manchester (UK) they are quite uncommon. I spent years looking for one, partly because I read that they are edible and tasty. When I finally found one I realised that the plant my landlady has in the conservatory (and had inherited from her parents) was the variegated version and not a variegated jade plant. Doh.

Tigerdawn said...

I love my viresea splendens.

Hoya lacunosa 'Royal Flush' has the same easy care characteristics as the original, but pretty mottled leaves.

Steve Asbell said...

I love your lists! I grow a lot of these, but they're mostly balcony plants for me. I would recommend any of the rhipsalis personally, but you probably already guessed that I'd pick those. I totally agree on the Vriesea, Hatiora and Epiphyllum by the way!

Sentient Meat said...

Love it! I grow 6 of the main list already. Always nice to see some of my old genus friends: Pachypodium, Aloe, Agave, Haworthia. Here are a few more.

Aloe fleurentiniorum. Pictures don't do justice to the dense, matte texture of this foliage plant, a surface unlike any other aloe. Full to partial sun. I got mine from Institute for Aloe Studies.

Pachypodium saundersii compactum and P bispinosum. I nominate anything from this genus besides the useful but oversold P lamerei AKA "Madagascar Palm". On that note, however, Pachypodium lamerei var ramosum is interesting. It's less common, attractive, and may actually be a different species.

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Wow, love the Zingiber malaysianum. I didn't know about that one. Must. Have.

Tom said...

I love just about everything on your list. I'm happy that someone else sees the joy of Synadenium, they're so easy it's almost obnoxious.

I'd add Elettaria cardamomum or the cardamom plant. It's another ginger and it's so so so easy! It sits in my east window, gets watered when the leaves curl and that's about it. I fertilize it once in a while when I remember. The leaves are wonderfully fragrant too!

Lee said...

It's so sad that it's near impossible to get Zingiber malaysianum or Selenicereus chrysocardium in Korea. On the other hand, it's not so difficult to find Hatiora salicornioides or Pachypodium geayi here due to succulent fad going on now.

I think I would add Proiphys amboinensis to that list. It grew quite well and produced two flower stalkes for me last year. and they seem to be somewhat cold hardier than Eucharis grandiflora; we had such a nasty winter last year and while Proiphys amboinensis survived, Eucharis grandiflora became a mushy pile.

Lorrie said...

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) has deep green leathery leaves. New leaves are a bright golden-green and compliment the purplish stems. It's a delight to toss a leaf in a pot of split pea soup, or press some leaves in a dictionary and tuck them in with letters to friends. I've never had a problem with this tree. It grows in the bay window (nobody has noticed the joke) of a drafty old house. It started as a tiny tree I bought at a nursery three years ago, and it's now 75 cm (about 29 inches) tall.
Dwarf (or Rose) Easter Cactus (Rhipsalidopsis rosea) is so adorable it's hard to resist hugging and I'm so NOT a kittens-in-baskets sort of person. I've had mine for nine years, and started countless new plants from it. It has small pale pink simple flowers with egg-yolk-yellow stamens, and they close at night. Each flower lasts several days and has a delicate rose-like scent. I tried counting the blooms once and lost track at eighty, and it lived in a 4-inch pot at the time.
I'm also inclined to at least mention "Hardy Hill" rosemary which I traded for a quarter at a season close-out sale last July. It looked deadish, but revived brilliantly, and a tangle of roots now protrude from the drainage hole. It spent the winter indoors (I'm in Canada ... in zone 4 ... it's still snowing ... ) and flourished, and has even bloomed several times. Just crushing the leggy growth that needs pinching and inhaling that aroma before heading out to shovel the driveway for the third time the same day, is a fine tonic.
Sorry for warbling on endlessly. I ought to have said much earlier that I quite enjoyed this post and have noted a few new plants I should very much like to find someday.
Thank-you, Mr. Subjunctive.