My love for tropical house plants began a long time ago as a teenager in high school. I took two years of horticulture, which fortunately included lots of “hands on” learning in a greenhouse as well as the classroom. I was hooked for life! I worked in a garden center’s greenhouse caring for their tropical house plants for a while, then became a Tropical Plant Care Technician for about ten years. We need to keep in mind that tropical house plants were never intended to live in a house! That is not their natural environment and although they will not take care of themselves, some plants require very little maintenance.
Now with that being said, it is well worth the effort to keep even a few live plants in your home to benefit the interior air quality. Plants give off life sustaining oxygen while taking in carbon dioxide and other pollutants. It would serve us well to remember that without plants and trees on earth we wouldn’t have oxygen and without oxygen, well; you get the picture! Tropical plants grown in our homes are similar to little air purifiers. Silk greenery can’t do that! I admit I do have a few artificial tropical plants, but only for difficult to reach places or for those areas that plants would not be able to survive. Tropical plants are also aesthetically pleasing and become part of good design for our homes, no matter how contemporary or traditional our interiors may be.
I am going to list five of the easiest tropical plants to grow in our interiors. There are several tropical house plants that are probably just as well known but did not make my list because they are extremely susceptible to spider mites and other pests. These include most of the popular palms and ivy. I can grow almost anything in my home, but unless I can have the humidity of a greenhouse inside, I just had to eliminate these species. Spider mites will attack these plants voraciously when they are stressed from lack of humidity. I do have incredibly dry air in my home in the winter due to heating with natural gas and cannot keep these plants healthy enough to survive the winter. I have never had an ivy of any type live more than a few months in my home before succumbing to these tiny little insects. The plants I chose for the list are based on their ability to survive in our home under less than ideal circumstances. Some of these tropical plants even manage to thrive under the adverse condition of our home environment. One of these such plants is number one on my list!
1. Pothos (Epipremnun aureum) This hardy trailing vine is sometimes listed as Golden Pothos due to the yellow variegation in their heart-shaped leaves. It is readily mistaken for the common trailing philodendron. Pothos green color is much lighter than philodendrons and not as finicky. Pothos are extremely easy to propagate. These trailing beauties can be placed in low light conditions and do not have to be near a window at all. The variegation in their leaves will be more noticeable with adequate sunlight but they can easily grow under an ordinary table lamp. As with all house plants the more sunlight they receive the more water they will need. Pothos are forgiving if you forget to water regularly, but if you forget too many times you will notice substantial yellowing and loss of leaves. You will find that the more you trim the plant the bushier it will become. The stems you remove from the plant can be readily rooted in water and you will soon have many more pothos. Sometimes I find pothos can be so forgiving of our neglect that they survive for years in water! Yes, I did indeed say years. They are an amazing little plant!
2. Silver Queen (Aglaonema species) There are several varieties of the Aglaonema species and the Silver Queen is the most common. This plant has elongated oval leaves in a gorgeous silver with dark green markings and will light up the darkest corner of your room! They are so tolerant of neglect it becomes all too easy to do so, but please don’t let these beauties die. It is unusual for a tropical plant with so much variegation in their color to thrive in very low light conditions, but they are so forgiving. If you give them a little natural light even from a northern window, they will send up little blooms which at first resemble an unfurling new leaf. These blooms are best cut off as they will just take much needed nutrients and energy from the Silver Queen and are just not worth the show. As with all house plants, an occasional leaf cleaning is recommended. They are also very forgiving with their water requirement. Let the soil dry out slightly between watering.
3. Dracaena Marginata ( Dracaena species ) The Dracaena species of plants are so diverse and all are easy to grow but I will highlight one of my favorites. The graceful and airy Dracaena Marginata plant can be purchased as a small starter plant in a 4-inch pot or already in specimen form 7 feet tall if you wish. They are such a remarkable species of plants and extremely hardy. The common Dracaena Marginata is a very slender stemmed cousin of the very popular Draecena Massangeana commonly known as Corn Plant. The Massangeana is not as forgiving as the Marginata if it is given too much water, therefore it didn’t make my list. The Dracaena Marginata gets its name from the thin margins of red or pink that edge its green long thin leaves. Sometime the Marginata does not have enough trunks when purchased and eventually as the plant grows you will have very long bare stems and not enough graceful foliage. The plant can easily be rejuvenated by cutting the stems back to a few inches above the soil. The stem will then reward you by branching out with several new shoots. This is a beautiful plant that can live for a very long time. It is best to not let the Marginata get overly dried out too many times, as its leaves will sometimes droop permanently. Let the top two or three inches of soil become dry to the touch and then water.
4. Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) This very common little beauty is under appreciated for its ease of care. This plant thrives in low light and actually must be kept out of any hot sun. It’s delicate leaves will sunburn. The Spathiphyllum’s main requirement is water and it will readily let you know when it is thirsty! This plant is great for those indoor gardeners who have a tendency to over water. The leaves will wilt so horribly when it becomes dry that it is sometimes thought to be dead. It will magically spring back to life when hydrated thoroughly. The Spathiphyllum does come in several varieties from tiny dwarfs with 2-3 inch leaves to large plants with leaves a magnificent 2-3 feet! They are available at most local florists and are unfortunately almost always associated as a popular funeral plant. Another endearing quality of the Peace Lily is the white flower-like bract, which is not actually the bloom, but is called a spathe. It makes this plant stand out in a crowd and is worth the extra watering. The soil is best kept evenly moist but never keep any plant soggy and sitting in water for long periods as this can cause root rot.
5. Sansevieria (Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) I am listing this tough plant because it is the ultimate drought survivor because of the long sword-like succulent leaves. If you can find one of these in a large 12-14 inch container, I recommend buying it and paying the price. They are slow growers but with occasional watering (when the soil is extremely dry) and a bright room they will be with you for a long time. I have a large Sansevieria with bright yellow stripes that will bloom once every year. The blooms are nondescript and very sticky but the aroma is heavenly! It is one of the most fragrant blooms I have experienced and though the blooms are short lived, they are not quickly forgotten!
If you get the opportunity to grow any of these hardy house plants, I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Although the list is short, they will give you a wide variety of sizes, shapes and textures. These plants only need a little tender loving care and will reward you with a healthier and more beautiful home!