#TBT: Top ten houseplants, according to me

From a local orchid show

It’s houseplant time, at least in the northerly zones. So it seems like a good time to repeat this post from November 2008. I think I pretty much agree with this list, except maybe the sansevieria and the spathiphyllum, both of which I’ve gotten sick of. And I think I’d be tempted to move seasonal bulbs to #1. (I don’t know why I had African violets at #1. Maybe the order wasn’t in terms of preference—I do not remember.—Elizabeth

This was requested in a comment to my recent Behind closed doors post, so I am obliging. But don’t expect any big surprises, or even much originality. There’s something about indoor gardening that breeds impatience. Even the most conscientious of us would rather not be bothered by too much fussing over our interior plants, no matter how long they have served well and faithfully.

Here’s the key to my simple numerical rankings:

Killability: 1 (You may as well compost this now)-5 (You could maybe kill this with boiling acid) Beauty: 1 (At least it’s a plant)-5 (Your friends will be very impressed); and Maintenance: 1 (Constant anxiety)-5 (What plant? Is there a plant there?) And here is my list—plebian, but reliable:

10. Orchids: Phalaenopsis. Of all the orchids, this is the easiest. Water once every 1-2 weeks, keep it where it gets some sun, and it will rebloom for you. Just don’t overwater it. I have seen these thrive and rebloom in office situations. Killability: 3 (can easily be overwatered) Beauty: 5 Maintenance: 4

‘Erlicheer’ tazettas

9. Seasonal bulbs: narcissus, hippeastrum (paperwhites, amaryllis) These are easy and fun, and can be composted after bloom. A holiday tradition. Killability: 5 (they’re bulbs; the bulb will sustain them) Beauty: 4-5 (the hippeastrum in particular are gorgeous when in bloom) Maintenance: 4

8. Cactus: includes a huge group of plants Given some sun and a lot of neglect, these plants will hang around for decades. Killability: 5 Beauty: 3 Maintenance: 5

7. Sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue) These are the stand-bys of office spaces. They have a certain amount of variegated drama. Low light. Killability: 5 Beauty: 3 Maintenance: 5

6. Spathiphyllum (peace lily) These have white or pink oval blooms and leathery foliage. Low light. Killability: 5 Beauty: 3 (they’re often not in bloom) Maintenance: 2 (they tend to need a lot of water) To be honest, I could have placed a variegated philodendron in this ranking just as easily.

5. Dracaena (corn plant, dragon plant, lucky bamboo) This a very large tropical family, with tough thick or thin leaves and usually segmented stems or trunks. There are a lot of fun plants in this family. The corn plant in bloom is pretty amazing. Low light. Killability: 5 Beauty: 3-4 (variegation can help here) Maintenance: 5

4. Pothos (devil’s ivy)
For such a common plant, this is surprisingly lush and attractive, especially when trained (must be attached to a support) as a tall climber. Low light.
Killability: 5
Beauty: 4
Maintenance: 5

3. Schlumbergia (Christmas cactus)
I have had one of these for 30 years. If kept in a dark room at night, it will give you pink or red orchid-like blooms a couple times a year. It is easy to start from cuttings and can grow to rather alarming bush-like proportions.
Killability: 5 (I’ve never known one to die, ever)
Beauty 2 (not in bloom)-5 (in bloom)
Maintenance: 5


2. Cyclamen
I have had my pink cyclamen for 10 years. It is incredibly root-bound, despite a couple repottings, but explodes with blooms once a year. When not in bloom, the large variegated leaves are attractive.
Killability: 3-5 (these seem to decide to live or die, regardless of treatment)
Beauty: 4 (not in bloom)-5 (in bloom) Maintenance: 3 (needs a lot of water)


1. Saintpaulia (African violet)
How I love my homely little African violets. They bloom all year-round, especially since I baby them with special pots where the water is soaked in through the bottom. They’re small, but the furry leaves and velvety blooms are well worth their minimal upkeep. These can live virtually forever.
Killability: 5 (can even be brought back from near-dead)
Beauty: 4
Maintenance: 4 (they want to be left alone, but do need light)

So what do you think? What would your disagreements, variations, substitutions be here?

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on November 17, 2016 at 9:32 am, in the category Garden Rant turns 10.

One Comments

  • anne 24 / 12 / 2015

    At least 4 of the plants on your list (4-7) are on a list I recently saw of plants that detoxify the spaces they are in. So they are “working plants” too!

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