House Plants | Plant Biology | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Agriculture, Life and Physical Sciences

Various house plants

Abuse-Proof House Plants

Of course, any number of plants found in the Plant Biology Greenhouse could be cultivated in your house given the right growing conditions.  But that is exactly the issue - do you have the right growing conditions for the particular plant?  The most common problems encountered with cultivating plants indoors are 1) insufficient light, 2) dry air, and 3) improper watering. To be a successful indoor gardener, it doesn't hurt to look up the growing conditions that are optimal for your plant(s).  And be observant, such as watching how many days it takes for a pot to go from wet to dry (the finger test is good!).  So, for those who think they have a brown instead of a green thumb, the list of plants below is meant for you!  With just a little attention to their needs, these plants will thrive in most indoor environments.

1.  Araceae.  The arum family includes some of the most resilient plants known to man!  The native habitat where they grow is the tropical forest understory, so they are adapted to low light conditions.  Here are some real survivors:

  • Epipremnum pinnatum cv aureum (previously Scindapsus aureus).  The Golden Pothos can root in water and probably grow in just water for months at a time!  Given some potting soil and a reasonable amount of care, it will grow very long vines with attractive variegated leaves.  I have seen them in office conditions, with just fluorescent lighting, grow to over 30 feet in length!
  • Philodendron spp. These were some of the first houseplants to made commercially available.  Many species exist.  The ones with the dark green leaves survive best under low light conditions.
  • Anthurium ssp. This is a large genus with hundreds of species and many hybrids and cultivated varieties.  Culture is similar to Philodendrons.
  • Dieffenbachia spp.  Several species of Dumbcane are cultivated, such as D. amoena (Giant Dumbcane) and D. picta (Spotted Dumbcane).  All have large, variegated leaves and thick, cane-like stems (hence their common names).  

2.  Ruscaceae.  The houseplant members of this family used to be classified in Liliaceae, but the lily family was "split" into numerous smaller ones to better reflect relationships.  

  • Sansevieria spp. The most commonly seen species is Sansevieria trifasciata which goes by several curious common names, Mother-in-law-tongue, Snake Plant, or Lucky Plant.  The first two names describe the overall appearance (I guess!?) and the last is appropriate given its cultural requirements.  This flowering plant is probably the most abuse-proof species on the planet!  You could literally put it in your closet for two weeks, never water it, and when you took it out, it would still be alive - and may not look too different from the day it went into solitary confinement!
  • Dracaena spp. (Dragon Tree).  The common species seen are D. deremenis 'Warneckei' (Striped Dracaena), D. fragrans var. massangeana (Cornstalk or Corn Plant), D. marginata (Madagascar Dragon Tree).  Many of these come in variegated and non-variegated varieties.  One type, D. marginata 'Tricolor', is called Rainbow Tree because it has beautiful green, pink and yellow stripes on the leaves.

3.  Succulents.  Because these plants are adapted to xeric conditions, they do very well with little watering.  This is good for those who tend to forget about plants in the window sill.  In fact, some of these plants will do worse if watered too much as opposed to too little.  Under Special Topics is a separate category for Cacti and Succulents.  Note the main three families we are considering here are Cactaceae, Euphorbiaceae, and Crassulaceae.

4.  Spider Plants.  The genus Chlorophytum, specifically C. comosum and its variegated variety, are very often seen as hanging baskets in homes and businesses.  These plants are prolific, forming new plantlets at the tips of pendant stolons. This is why you should never have to pay money for this plant - somebody will have one with "babies" that you can get for free. This genus used to be classified in Liliaceae, but is now placed in Agavaceae along with Agave.

5.  Commelinaceae.  Many members of this family are easy to grow indoors.  These plants are for the enthusiast who may tend towards overwatering the plants, for indeed these plants don't mind!  Here are some commonly seen members of this family: