Whatever your interior design style or horticultural bent there’s an indoor plant to brighten your home. We’ve rounded up 10 of our favourites
For its second comeback the kentia has thrown off its ’60s and ’70s connotations of Queen Victoria and the Empire. Now we’re loving it for its tropical elegance. And it hails from the Pacific Islands, no less, being endemic to Lord Howe Island, a dot in the Pacific between here and Australia. Relatively slow-growing, throwing up one frond a year, it seldom reaches more than 3.5 metres in captivity. Full sun tends to burn its leaves so give it bright but indirect light, and treat it right by giving it a shower in the rain now and then.
Fun fact: Kentia is for William Kent, 18th-century English landscape architect who started the “natural” style of gardening.
2. For animal lovers
Anyone partial to the soft and furry might find themselves drawn to another Pacific Islander. Fiji’s epiphytic rabbit’s foot fern (Davallia fejeensis) has lush bright green, filmy, ferny foliage emerging from the cutest rhizomes ever. These silvery-fawn furry rhizomes wrap themselves around and around the pot, just begging for a stroke. However, arachnophobes may detect a closer resemblance to tarantula legs. Easily grown if kept moist, it’s best kept out of direct sunlight in a warm spot with no major temperature fluctuations.
You may also like: The foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus) with its arching plumes. Actually a perennial, tuberous roots make this South African drought-tolerant – ideal for the inattentive or indolent pot plant owner.
3. On the rise
Quick, sell the monstera and cash in on possibly the hottest, hippest house plant, Pilea peperomioides, aka Chinese money plant. While becoming more common in dwellings around the world, this native to southern China is rare in the wild. It most likely earned its name for its ability to reproduce frequently, from babies which sprout around the base of the parent plant. Like nasturtiums, the stalk is attached near the centre of the leaf, allowing them to hang most prettily. Small and bright green, these plants exude freshness and simplicity. A collection of them in matching pots is the epitome of cool especially in minimalist or Scandi-style interiors. Apparently, they’re easy to grow.
Disclaimer: Mine began dying, leaf by leaf, within 24 hours of bringing it home. One leaf remained before I finally found somewhere to its liking – in the pale early morning sun.
4. Symmetry in motion
There is something inordinately satisfying about the perfect symmetry, neatness and nattiness of succulents and cacti. Not all are, of course, but as a group they tend to be restrained and neat.
A considered collection of small ones in a pot or pots makes a perfect dinner table arrangement, and offers an opportunity to observe their beauty up close. Green, rather than grey, blue or purple do best indoors, unless in a very sunny spot. Very hardy, succulents in pots are more like to die from overwatering, than anything else.
5. Fiddly fig
Being dramatic and imperial doesn’t always equate to a drama queen, but unfortunately it is often the case with the fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata). There is every reason why this magnificent plant with its uber-sized ultra-glossy leaves has become one of the hottest house plants of the 2020s, but it does have an annoying tendency to sulk when its situation changes. It will take time to settle down. If you’re in for the long haul, put it in a big pot, remembering it is a tree with tree-like aspirations. In its natural habitat, in the wilds of western Africa, it will grow to 15 metres tall but fear not, it seldom grows more than three metres indoors – and it can be easily pruned into submission. It does best in bright filtered light.
Treat it right: Polish its large, violin-shaped leaves now and then with a damp cloth.
Alocasia, coleus, calathea, maranta, dieffenbachia, caladium, sonerila – these are those plants with the fabulously patterned and coloured leaves (and fabulously difficult to pronounce and remember names) that fill Instagram pages. The leaves that outshine their flowers a million times make you believe God was a painter, so beautiful, intricate and stunning they are. Be they spotted, speckled, splattered, stippled or dappled, daubed or striped, splashed, rimmed, veined the beauty is in the exquisite detail.
7. Purple gain
Oxalis, the very name sends a chill through a gardener’s heart. But that same survivalist attitude it exhibits outside means it’s a house plant that can cope with a little neglect – or too much attention. Purple shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) has triangular leaves that resemble a host of pretty purple moths. A brimming pot of it brings a moody passion to a darker room, and eye-popping zing to light and white spaces. To maximise the purple, give them loads of sun.
Bonus: For those who like plant action, its leaves fold up at night and on cloudy days.
It would be mean-spirited and untrue to say that the only reason Aspidistra elatior has had such enduring popularity as a pot plant is because it is all but impossible to kill. That said, its popular names of cast-iron plant and bar-room plant do indicate just how tough this native of Japan and Taiwan is. Get, if you can, a variegated one, the cream patterning on the green leaves is fabulous – and on every one the splashes and stripes and markings are different. The worst thing you can do to an aspidistra is give it sunlight… drought, draughts, deep shade it will cope with, but like a vampire it hates the sun. Not too much water either.
Arguably even tougher, is – mother-in-laws tongue (Sanseveria trifaciata).
Beautiful, elegant orchids are very much a house plant whose reputation bears little relation to the facts. Most of the more than 25,000 species are not hard to grow given the right conditions, which are essentially bright, indirect light and out of warm, dry draughts, such as heat pump air. Being epiphytes, orchids need a special potting mix – not soil, and they like tight spaces that replicate their often-precarious position on trees. Once the flower spike appears up the feeding regime and it should bloom away quite happily for months.
10. Monstera madness
“House plant sells for $27,100” shrieked the New Zealand headlines last June. All around the world social media rumours blossomed and the asking price for monsteras shot up. However, the plant in question, commonly called a mini monstera, was actually a Rhaphidophora tetrasperma. Similar in appearance to Monstera deliciosa, it is, in fact, a different species. As well, it was a rare white and variegated example, which like variegated monsteras, always fetch higher prices than plain green ones. Both these natives of tropical zones and their distinctive large, holey leaves, like bright but indirect light and regular watering to keep them healthy.
Words by: Mary Lovell-Smith.