House plants are right up there in the style stakes because they add colour and texture to any room. One luxurious indoor fern, in a cachepot, will add a restful touch to a seating area throughout the year. Or you can go for colour and brighten up a drab winter’s day with a showy hippeastrum. It’s entirely up to you, because there’s plenty of choice.
Indoor plants are known to release oxygen into the atmosphere, and a Clean Air Study by NASA also found that certain plants remove toxins from the environment. The key thing is to pick the right plant for the right place, so your plant thrives, and to put it in a pot that shows off its best feature – be it foliage or flower. Here are some favourites.
Flowering house plants clockwise from top left: Kaffir lily, Cape primrose, Madagascar jasmine and pansy orchid
Flowering house plants
The Cape primrose (Streptocarpus)
Streptocarpus enjoys dappled light and moderate warmth because these plants are originally from high wooded areas of South Africa. A north or east-facing spot in a room is ideal. Cut off the fading flowers and trim any fading foliage but do take care with watering because this plant hates claggy compost. Blue-flowered forms are strongest, but Dibleys Nurseries have a full range of stunners. dibleys.com, 01978 790677
Pansy orchid (Miltonia)
These fragrant orchids from South America, named for their pansy-shaped flowers in spring, need diffused light and a warm position to do well. The foliage must stay cool at all times, so it isn’t as easy as the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis). It’s far more fragrant though.
Kaffir lily (Clivia)
Grown for its handsome dark-green strappy foliage and bright orange flowers early in the year, the kaffir lily is easy to keep alive as long as it has an early winter break in November and December. Reduce the watering to the minimum and move your pot to somewhere cooler if it’s in a warm room. When it’s watered again flowers will appear. Feed and water in summer, but avoid midday summer sun, and allow it to become almost pot bound before you divide it.
Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda)
An evergreen climber with high-gloss foliage and extremely fragrant flowers in spring and summer. You can contain it in a pot, or train it up a bright but not sunny conservatory wall. The long shoots can be cut back after flowering and, on hot summer days, it will enjoy a mist spray. It needs bright light and even temperatures to thrive, so a cool conservatory generally won’t do.
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Tropical-looking house plants clockwise from top left: Mother-in-law’s tongue,Prayer plant, Elephant's ear and Madagascar dragon tree
Good foliage house plants
Prayer plant (Maranta)
Prayer plants are tropical plants native to Central and South America and the West Indies, they have neatly marked, red-veined oval foliage usually with a splash of lime. They need bright light, not hot sun, and they prefer moist air, so either give it a daily spray with rainwater, or stand your plant on a tray of pebbles. Avoid splashing that lovely foliage though.
Elephant’s ear (Alocasia × amazonica)
Perhaps not the easiest to care for, because this is a rainforest plant found from Borneo to Queensland, but the pale almost-white ribs bubble up on dark-green foliage that’s terrifically handsome. Reddish undersides on the leaves tell you it’s a shade lover. Feed in summer and spray with rainwater.
Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria)
A sharp and spiky succulent from central Africa and a close relative of the spiny agave, this has upright foliage that’s often variegated. It’s one of the best at purifying the air and some forms are very neatly margined in gold. Place this indestructible plant carefully and take care when you wipe the foliage.
Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena)
This handsome group of easy house plants is really good at filtering toxins emitted from furnishings, detergents and paints into the air, including formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene, according to NASA’s survey. Forms vary, but most are architectural plants with narrow foliage on a taller stem. If it gets too tall and spindly, reduce the stem in spring and it will regenerate.
Tropical-looking house plants clockwise from top left: Maidenhair fern, Hens and chicks, English ivy and air plant
Easy house plants
English ivy (Hedera helix)
English ivy is very good at purifying the air, according to NASA’s Clean Air Study, because it removes faecal particles and helps combat mould. Fibrex Nurseries (fibrex.co.uk) have a great range of trailers and small-leaved mound formers. Easy, but golden leaved forms need more light to stay bright.
Maidenhair fern (Adiantum raddianum ‘Fragrantissimum')
A maidenhair fern is wonderful in the kitchen or bathroom, because this Victorian favourite has dark stems and lacy, bright green foliage that arranges itself in tiers. It’s delicate and graceful, but needs filtered light and some moisture at the root. Should the fronds frazzle, cut them back and more should appear. Easy, tough and adaptable.
Air plant (Tillandsia)
Air plants have a touch of the Harry Potters, because they don’t root in soil. Native to Mexico and South America, their spidery rosettes produce exotic flowers when happy. They can be suspended in light glass containers, or put in terrariums, or jars. They must be tilted downwards, to shed water, and they also need airy conditions, bright light, warmth and rainwater. They will die after flowering, but produce offsets.
Hens and chicks (Echeveria)
These sculptural succulents don’t generally have spiky edges and their plump, water-filled leaves come in many colours from frosted silver to rose-pink. They need good light in order to develop tighter rosettes, although they can scorch in strong sunlight. They also tolerate cooler conditions, but when the temperature falls ease off on the watering. Easily propagated from individual leaves.
How to keep house plants alive
Choose healthy plants from a good supplier. They should also have a wide range of cachepots to choose from.
Give them a bright position otherwise they’ll become leggy and pale.
Go easy on the watering, especially in winter, because most house plants are killed off by kindness, and plants wilt when overwatered. Keep the root ball moist, not soggy. Always remove the plant from the cachepot after watering and tip any excess water out. A finger in the compost is the acid test.
Spray atomisers are useful in hot weather, but use rainwater because tap water tends to leave white stains.
Feed regularly with a plant food in the growing season.
Central heating that’s right for you suits most house plants. If you have a cold room, go for cold-tolerant plants.
Watch out for vine weevil: the tell-tale signs are notches in the foliage and wilt.