By Donnetta Wilhelm, Colorado Master Gardener
“Take two cacti and call me in the morning,” says the Ohio State University Wexler Medical Center website. Medical science has shown that indoor plants in the home create a healthier environment, improve mood, lower stress and anxiety, aid in a sense of purpose and responsibility, and improve mindfulness which prevents anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Houseplants can also enhance a living space, adding texture, majesty, and grace. Larger plants can provide a flair that a piece of furniture would never be able to accomplish.
Most houseplants are usually tropical or semi-tropical which began with European aristocracy importing plants from the tropic locales around the world. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, houseplants were found primarily in the homes of the most affluent of society. By the 19th century Victorian era, houseplants were no longer seen as a symbol of social status and were commonly found in middle class homes.
Today, stroll through any big box store or local garden center and you will find multitudes of great indoor plants to help create a healthier home environment that provides a little bit of sophistication and style. The spider plant, pothos, snake plant, corn plant, peace lily, philodendron and dumb cane are all found in abundance, all beautiful and classy, and all easy to care for.
For the new year, consider bringing in a little aristocracy to your indoor plant collection by going beyond the obvious common houseplant and trying something a little more unusual and special.
Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) is in the African violet family, and the blooms look like lovely tubes of bright red lipstick. This is a great plant to hang, as the vines gracefully drape out of the planter. It prefers a lower-light location and doesn’t require watering until the top inch of soil feels dry.
Frizzle Sizzle is not only fun to say, but fun to grow. Albuca spiralis is in the asparagus family and looks like a bulb-succulent. Springtime yellow flowers smell like vanilla, and the more light this plant receives, the curlier it gets. Frizzle Sizzle does go dormant in the summer and turns slightly brownish but is an enchanting plant that will draw attention.
Who doesn’t like butterflies? The Butterfly Plant (Christia obcordate) is in the legume family and grows triangular leaves with stripes – just like the graceful butterfly. It will burn in direct sun, so it’s better suited for a shaded window or on a bookcase. This plant likes it on the wetter side, so keep it moist by placing it on a shallow dish filled with pebbles and water. This plant brings elegance to any room.
Nothing says dignity like Wine Cup. Crassula umbella is in the stonecrop family of plants and looks like a unique drinking vessel with a rim. Small, red flowers grow from the center, giving it a distinctive look. This is a low maintenance and easy to grow plant for bright, indirect light. It prefers cactus potting mix and occasional watering when the soil is completely dry.
False Shamrock beautifies any room with its sophisticated splash of color. Oxalis triangularis is part of the wood sorrel family and likes direct sunlight. This low-maintenance plant has deep red-purplish leaves with small flowers. This is an alluring plant in a window and requires water when the surface of the soil is dry. Another charming feature is this plant closes its leaves at night and opens during the day.
Is there anything more graceful and distinguished than a dolphin? String Of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus) is in the aster family, and this plant likes it either in or near a window. The plant retains water because of its succulent leaves which look like small swimming dolphins. Because it retains water, less frequent watering is required, and it also likes to be grown in cactus soil mix.
Houseplants are wonderful additions to the home for both health and aesthetic reasons. Whether you grow the striking spider plant, or the rare Thai Constellation Monstera, it is important to know light requirements, proper growing conditions, and water requirements. It is also important to research all houseplants, especially if you have small children or pets, as some houseplants may be poisonous if eaten.
Finding less-than-common houseplants might take a little time, but local independent garden centers will order what you want (if their suppliers carry it), or you may have to venture into the world of online plant shops that specialize in unusual tropical foliage plants or consider trading locally with fellow plant lovers.