Top ten houseplants, according to me



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 20 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? Some other bloggers have posted about their favorite indoor plants, including Carol/May Dreams Gardens. I expect to add more links here as the day goes on, and expect our blogging about indoor gardening to continue when the December Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day rolls around.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m just the opposite. When I can’t garden outside because of winter, I tend smother my houseplants with care. I love pruning them, repotting them, moving them around, and even watering them.

  2. That’s a pretty good list, but I would put Clivia on it. It is a 5 on all counts. It’s an easy foliage plant, but also has a striking bloom and you can not kill it. I’d list it instead of the Dracaena. Those always look too fake and half alive for me.

    Now, must resist the urge to get some more African violets… mine were living virtually forever until the mealybugs moved in…

  3. Carol, I’ve never tried Clivia, but now I will on your rec. In return, I think you should try AVs again. They were not the ones who brought the bugs in, were they?

  4. I would add the good ol’ Chinese Evergreen. Some really exceptionally pretty variegated ones are catching my eye and I’ll undoubtedly have to get one. A great office plant, and practically indestructible. CE plants look great in a very pretty pot in a harmonizing color. They do need a bit of dressing up but what a reliable plant.

  5. I love cyclamen.

    Some of my other faves not mentioned here are:

    Jade ~ easy and beautiful

    Angel-wing begonia ~ easy, beautiful, gorgeous flowers, simple to propagate, and what a lovely name…really lots of begonias are wonderful houseplants, but I’m partial to angel-wing.

    Aloe ~ useful, easy, a good thing to have around the house

    Red shamrock ~ easy, beautiful, delicate, and a pretty bloom

  6. Eliz., I do intend to start getting AV’s again, now that I’ve gotten rid of the mealybugs. Sadly, I think the first mealybugs did hitchhike in on an AV, but I take full responsibility because I was buying one from a place that I shouldn’t have bought plants from… (big box store)… Let that be a lesson to all. Thoroughly inspect any new houseplants before buying them to make sure there aren’t diseased or insect infested, just like you would any plant.

  7. I actually really like Arabian, or sambac Jasmine. It’s not a traditional houseplant, but I don’t know why. It’s one of those ‘throw water on it every week or so and it will do fine’ type things. And it smells wonderful. It does like to be in a window.

  8. PO, I have 2 jasmines, but they are awfully susceptible to spider mites and they often are hesitant to bloom inside. I do best with mine outside in the summer. My vining jasmine explodes with blooms from early May to late July.

  9. Elizabeth, what a helpful list! If it doesn’t bloom or I can’t eat it, I don’t do it–but maybe I’ll give that orchid a try.

    I don’t have houseplants per se, but rather potted plants that move indoors in the winter. In this group, I have to put in a good word for my calla, Zantedeschia aethiopica, which is tough beyond belief and simply stunning in bloom.

  10. I kill african violets. Consistently. They hate me! I don’t know why. No matter how much water they get, they droop and stop blooming. Any thoughts? I also find that any time I try to grow herbs or potted ivy in my garden window or bathrooms that I get spider mites…ugh. Insecticidal soap is proving only somewhat effective.

  11. You guys must have great light! My place is so dark – well, all of Portland, OR is dark now. In a north facing greenhouse window I have a hoya that is happy and blooms twice a year. They can get way too long and viney so I trained it on a topiary ring that is about 10″ in diameter & water it about 2x a month.
    Favorite fertilizer is Eleanor’s VF-11. A. violets love it!

  12. A violets don’t want a lot of water and they do better watered from the bottom. I have them in a porous clay container that is sunk in a matching bowl. The water soaks in through the clay container. Sounds to me like you are overwatering, which is death for any houseplant except waterhogs like peace lily.

    Spider mites like a dry atmosphere, which is what central heating gives you. They’re a fact of life, but can be eradicated with persistent spraying.

  13. Hi there!
    I agree with your list completely, except you must add the jade plant. As long as you have a sunny spot for it (west or south facing a must), it is pretty much zero maintenance. The only way to kill it is to overwater. Plus, my 8-year-old plant started blooming last year and this year is putting on quite a show. The flowers are very dainty but plentiful so that plant is bursting with blooms.

  14. I’ve managed to kill a lucky bamboo, african violet, aloe vera…

    Houseplants hate me. I can put something in the ground outside and ignore it completely and it’ll grow well. Inside dead in a week with great care.

  15. Aeschynanthus radicans
    Hoya lacunosa
    Ceropegia woodii
    Eucharis amazonica
    Kaempferia galanga

    Except for the ceropegia, these will all bloom in house-style light from windows (that is, terrible).

    Also second the angel wing (cane) begonia and the Clivia. I’ve had my Clivia for 15 years, and its offset bloomed last summer too.

    I water my plants once every 7-10 days and never fuss over them. Prune them once a year and occasionally repot.

    Forced bulbs actually need a lot more attention than houseplants, IMO, especially if you are really “forcing” them to bloom (not including hippeastrum and paperwhites).

    I also find that most calla lilies do better with a rest period. I put mine outdoors and then turf them out of their pots when the foliage goes yellow in late September.

  16. Janice,
    What? Jade plants have flowers???!!! I have had mine for five years and it is a lovely thing, but I have never seen a flower. Please tell me more! I also have an aloe and a Christmas cactus which is an offshoot from one that I almost killed. (I don’t do very well with houseplants) but that pale Minnesota winter sun is a killer unless you have a southern window.
    (which I don’t)

  17. Love this column and most of these plants. Am I missing the spider plant, though? I’ve had two since 1991. Not only are they still healthy and happy, but I regularly give babies away to novice gardeners and use the babies as outdoor annuals in my hanging pots along with geraniums. As I mostly container garden outside due to the size of my yard, my indoor garden in the winter also has jasmine, rosemary, aloe, and lemongrass along with the orchids. Not only are these easy in a sunny window, but it helps jump start the outdoor garden in the spring.

  18. I had to smile about the spider plant – yes, they are tough and pretty (and I’ve read great at removing indoor pollutants), but they do make a mess. I think their killability rating should be about an 11. 🙂

    I second the Clivia – my neighbor gave me one of her babies, and it doubled in size over the summer on my screened porch and has grown even more since I brought it in. The foliage is beautiful, and it seems to not mind being forgotten.

  19. Well, I’ve managed to kill 7 of these, and that’s probably only because I’ve never tried the other three! The orchid died because of too much water, he cactus died with the Sanservia when it went outside for the summer and was forgotten about until freeze-up,the Spathiphyllum died from lack of water, the Draceana died from too much water, the cyclamen and African violet both got intense infestation with aphids, and the Christmas cactus dropped all its leaves one day and never returned. Also on my death list are Spider Plants, Aloe, Shefflera, and Hoya. On the plus side, I have a 6 by 6 foot philodendron growing extraoridnarly well, a small army of citrus I planted from seed, several hundred pregnant onions, a healthy Jade plant a mysterious plant with a sort of bulbous base, speckled leaves, and flowers that bloom pretty much all year. Also, my second attempt at an orchid is going splendidly, the aloe is not only growing well, but flowering, and my new spider plant has about a million babies.

  20. Love your list. I discovered quite by accident that Christmas cactus doesn’t need the dark room to bloom; just to be left outside till temperatures are in the 50’s or so at night; then they will bloom fine. I have never put mine in the dark and they are blooming now – earlier and earlier each year. Soon they will be Halloween cacti.

  21. A great list of easy-to-find, hard-to-kill plants! What I find fascinating about folks’ comments is the difference in attitude toward houseplants. For some they’re part of indoor decor: buy ’em, water ’em, throw ’em out when they stop blooming. For others, they’re green mysteries; you try and take care of them, but somehow they just don’t do well for you. Still others (myself included) treat them like pampered pets; feeding them, giving them showers in the sink, daily grooming, etc.

    My take on houseplants is scented is almost always better, so here’s my top ten scented houseplants, mostly cribbed from an old GardenWeb post of mine:

    1. Jasminum sambac “Maid of Orleans” — OK, it’s almost overdone, but it’s easy to find, pretty easy to grow if you can give it warm, moist conditions, blooms year-round and smells great.

    2. Osmanthus fragrans — Needs good moisture, but blooms for me at least half the year, and wow, what fragrance!

    3. Citrofortunella mitis — Pretty easy to find in garden centers, takes lots of prunin’ and keeps on bloomin.’

    4. Rondelettia splendens — almost unknown, only fragrant after 10 pm, but possibly my all time fave for night fragrance.

    5. Murreya paniculata/exotica — Very tough once it gets established, blooms year round, can be pruned to any shape.

    6. Hoya lacunosa — I thought this one was totally easy, until I repotted it. I still think it’s a great plant with great scent, it just needs some TLC (continuous moisture).

    7. Pelargoniums, particularly rose-scented — Yeah, they’re not the greatest looking plants, but they root in water, grow almost anywhere, and give you a shot of rose scent (or lemon, or nutmeg, or mint, or . . .) any time without those pesky thorns.

    8. Brunfelsia ‘Isola’ — a b. nitida hybrid from Logee’s; it stays compact, blooms in flushes of terrific white/lavender turning to yellow flowers, and has an intoxicating night scent.

    9. Trachelospermum jasminoides var. Mandianum — this one’s changed names several times, used to be t. asiaticum, but it’s got a fabulous scent, very tough, and it even has red fall foliage if left out until nights get cold! A very poetic looking vine when well pruned.

    10. Wrightia religiosa — almost unknown until recently, sulks if it gets much below 60, so it’s hard to pull through the winter, but great dangling blossoms, excellent wafting fragrance, and can be pruned like crazy — used a lot for bonsai in SouthEast Asia.

    Plus one to grow on:

    11. Plumeria (dwarf cultivars) — even these get big quickly, they need lots of sun and water when growing in the warm months, but there are few more spectacular, tropical -looking plants when they’re flowering, and the scent is fantastic.

    ‘Scuse me while I go sniff!


  22. I am bowing to you in awe of your ability to grow cyclamen! I’ve tried several times. I absolutely LOVE them and I’ve killed plenty. But I’ll agree with pretty much all the rest of them. I’d add a couple, but I’ll not mention them here. I’ll do a post with my own list in a day or two. Of course, I’ll have to walk around and look at the 175+ houseplants around here and make a final assessment, but I could probably come up with my list in about five minutes, just by memory.

    This will be fun!

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