Foliage Houseplants
The Reliable Favorites

by: Kristina Slater

A Brief History of House Plants
Design Ideas with House Plants
Favorite Foliage Houseplants tour
Plants For Your Home

Plants add life and color to a home environment.  They can be a part of a particular home decor or a lesson in responsibility for children. Houseplants can be conversation pieces when guests come over or objects of personal pleasure and achievement.  Plants in the house have stayed in fashion for decades, and because of this popularity there are many people who enjoy collecting and taking care of houseplants.
Since the home is not a natural environment to grow plants, many people have trouble growing houseplants, especially in the northeast. This tour will make you aware of some of the better houseplants and how to take care of them in an artificial environment.
Because of their great diversity and overwhelming numbers, this tour only focuses on the most popular foliage houseplants today.  If you have questions about other houseplants please consult the sources listed below.

A Brief History of House Plants

 As far back as the time of the great pharaohs and the pyramids, the people of Ancient Egypt decorated their homes with plants.  Displaying plants in containers was popular in Egyptian art.  The Greeks and the Romans built their homes around a central atrium of containerized plants.  And even though these plants were out in the open elements, this atrium was considered apart of the home.  This was the fashion of such civilized societies.
 During the age of European discovery, the explorers who went to the New World found many new tropical treasures, many of which did not survive Europe's climate, so they were brought indoors.  For centuries curious explorers and botanists, called plant hunters, searched the tropics for new and exciting plants to bring back to Europe.  Since there was no suitable climate for these new treasures, plant houses needed to be constructed.  The first of these was called an orangerie, like the one built at Versailles in France that housed the citrus and palms of KING LOUIS XIV over the winter.  Later conservatories and greenhouses like we know them today were developed.
 During the Victorian Age, exotic plants become extremely popular, but the transport of them was very difficult because of the lack of warmth, rooting media, and care on the ship ride home.  On their long journeys, plants would become diseased or damaged and die until 1833, when Dr. Nathaniel Ward developed a glass case to transport the plants.  These Wardian Cases were self sufficient on long journeys and became a fad in Europe for transporting exotic plants.  Today we call these cases terrariums.  Also during this Victorian age, transition was in the air and technology changed the lives of the people.  There was less free time in men's lives and the role of women changed in the home.  Besides just taking care of the home, women chose horticulture as a hobby to become more active.  This was at first just outdoor gardening, but there was a shift to gardening indoors in poor weather and the use of houseplants that we know today came into existence.  This hobby took off and became extremely popular with both men and women and soon almost everyone had houseplants, especially in the cities.
 Before the 1940's the home environment was not suitable for tropical and subtropical plants, the popular foliage plants of today.  After this time though, more precise control of indoor temperatures in both summer and winter greatly improved and there was no longer a need for conservatories and greenhouses to keep these plants over the winter.

Design Ideas with House Plants

When designing a garden outdoors you are working in a setting that is more natural to the plant.  This is not true when you are designing with houseplants.  The domestic situation is highly artificial, so where you place the plant in the home depends on their specific cultural requirements.  Many times artificial lighting is required.  But also size, shape, texture, and color of the plant must complement your homes decor.  When indoors, the room size, furniture, and windows are all in human proportions.  When designing with houseplants you must keep the design in this proportion unlike the role of outdoor plants.  It is easy to put too many large plants, or large groupings of plants in small areas.  Plants are not the dominant feature in the home. They are meant to compliment the furniture and the existing design.
 By using the specific cultural requirements of the individual plants, the information below, and other literature, one should be able to decorate their home or office with their own personnel taste in plants.

  • Living Rooms
  • Kitchens and Bathrooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Halls and Stairwells
  • Open Plant Windows
  • Terrariums
  • Garden Rooms
  • Balconies and patios



    --Display Supports

  • Tables
  • Hanging Containers
  • Wall Containers and Brackets
  • Other Vertical Supports and Containers
  • Pots, Troughs, and Tubs
  • Shelving


    Bonar, Ann.  The Complete Guide to Conservatory Plants.  London: Tiger Books International,   1992.

    Elbert, Virginie F. & George A..  Foliage Plants For Decorating Indoors.  Portland, Oregon:    Timber Press, 1989.

    Hessayon, Dr. D.G.  The House Plant Expert.  Great Britain: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., 1996.

    Jantra, Ingrid and Ursula Kruger.  The House Plant Encyclopedia.  Buffalo, New York: Firefly   Books, 1997.

    Martin, Tovah.  Once Upon a Windowsill.  Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1988.

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    Favorite Foliage Houseplants

    Select either Begin the Tour or click on one of the letters below to see plants whose names begin with that letter
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    Begin the Tour

    Aloe sp.

    Water-- Minimal, during active growth, less in the winter
    Light-- Feed rarely
    Temperature-- Room temperature, at least 40-50 F
    Propagation--Division of rootstock
    Description: A stemless, rosette forming succulent plant, with a low growing habit.  Amongst the favorite species in this large group are A. aristata, A. variegata, A. humilis, and the medicinal A. vera, used to heal burns.

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    Asparagus Fern
    Asparagus densiflorus 'Sprengeri'

    Water-- Moderate, the root ball should not be dry in the summer
    Light--Bright location, although not in full sun
    Fertilizer-- Feed every two weeks during active growth
    Temperature--Warm, 50-85F in the summer
    Propagation-- By division in spring or summer or by seeds
    Description-- A shrubby plant with fine textured "needle-like" leaves.  A good hanging plant with long trailing stems.  With it's delicate foliage it can set off flowering houseplants in displays.

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    Aglaonema commutatum

    Water-- Keep moist at all times
    Light-- Bright indirect light for variegated varieties, green varieties need less light
    Fertilizer-- Feed every two weeks during the growing season
    Temperature-- Keep at room temperature, never below 65F
    Propagation-- By division or tip cuttings with bottom heat
    Description-- A species that may a little more difficult to take care of, but these plants have beautifully marked foliage.  Fruits are poisonous.  Many different varieties and species that can be good table plants or in mall container planters.

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    Cast-Iron Plant
    Aspidistra elatior

    *Water-- Moist, but make sure that it is not over watered, tolerant of dry
    *Light--Bright light to shade, no direct sunlight
    *Fertilizer--Once a month with a weak solution
    *Temperature--Prefers an outdoor location in the summer, 55-70F. Minimum winter      temperature just above freezing.
    *Propagation--By division of the rhizomes in the spring
    *Description--A very easy choice to care for, but it doesn't grow fast.  It can tolerate a great deal of neglect this is how it got its common name. The plant has large shiny, dark green, leathery leaves.  A wonderful floor or table plant for beginners.

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    Spider Plant
    Chlorophytum comosum

    Water-- Must always be kept moist, less water in a cooler room
    Light-- Moderate to partial shade
    Fertilizer-- Heavy feeding- once a week during active growth
    Temperature-- Room temperature all year
    Propagation-- Planting offsets (plantlets) that arise from elongated shoots
    Description-- A very popular hanging plant with long grass-like leaves. Flowers are white and star-shaped and bloom all year long.  In a large container, spider plants will produce so many offsets from yellow shoots, that you will never have to buy another plant.  The roots are tuberous and sometimes present a problem when repotting.  C. comosum  'Variegatum' is very popular.

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    Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum

    Water-- Moderate water, and humid conditions
    Light-- Bright light, but no direct sun
    Fertilizer-- Moderate feeding, once a week in the summer
    Temperature-- Keep 60-65F in the winter, warm in the summer
    Propagation-- Tip cuttings or air layering
    Description-- The leaves which are leathery, vary in shape and color.  Stems contain latex, which can cause skin irritations.  Very colorful!!

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    Ti Plant
    Cordyline terminalis

    Water-- Moderate, evenly moist without over watering
    Light-- Bright, no direct sunlight
    Fertilizer-- Once a week during active growth
    Temperature-- Not under 64F during the growing season, can tolerate 35-50F in the winter
    Propagation-- Stem cuttings
    Description-- Very similar to Draceana in that the foliage is sword shaped and in a whorled rosette.  There are many different cultivars that add bright colors to any room.  Good table or floor plants or in cool garden rooms.

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    Dragon Tree
    Dracaena sp.

    Water-- Moderate, sparingly in the winter
    Light-- Bright light, but no direct sunlight. Variegated varieties need more light than green varieties
    Fertilizer-- Feed once a week during active growth
    Temperature-- 64- 85F in the summer and a minimum of 50F in the winter
    Propagation-- Tip or stem cuttings; from seed or suckers
    Description-- A large genus with many well-known species; D. draco, D. deremensis, D. fragrans, and D. marginata.  The many colorful cultivars can be used as desk or floor plants.

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    Epipremnum aureum

    Water-- Regularly during active growth, sparingly in the winter
    Light-- Bright light to shade
    Fertilizer-- Feed every two weeks during active growth
    Temperature-- Warm, at least 68F
    Propagation-- Tip or stem cuttings
    Description-- A spreading or climbing plant used often in hanging baskets.  The two most popular cultivars, E. aureum 'Aureum' and E. aureum 'Marble Queen,' offer either gold or white variegation respectively.

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    Ficus sp.

    Water-- Moderately, don't let the rootball dry out in the summer.  Reduce watering in the winter.    Mist to keep the leaves humid.
    Light-- Very bright, but no direct sunlight
    Fertilizer-- Feed every two weeks during active growth
    Temperature-- Keep warm and humid in the summer, and above 59F in the winter
    Propagation-- Tip cuttings or air layering
    Description-- There are many popular species in this large genus; F. elastica, the Rubber Tree;      F. benjamina, the Weeping Fig; F. lyrata, the Fiddlehead Fig; and F. pumila, the Creeping Fig.  All species have nice, shiny foliage and are capable of becoming large plants for floor use only.  F. pumila is used as a hanging basket or ground cover in planters.

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    Nerve Plant
    Fittonia verschaffeltii

    Water-- Water moderately with lukewarm water, mist occasionally
    Light-- Bright to shade, no direct sunlight
    Fertilizer-- Half diluted fertilizer every two weeks
    Temperature-- Room temperature all year round and humid, minimum 60F.
    Propagation-- By cuttings, or take rooted portions of creeping stems.
    Description-- A low growing, spreading plant with beautiful leaves with prominent rose-pink veins.  There are varieties such as, F. verschaffeltii  var. argyroneura , with white veins.  There is also a dwarf version of this plant.  Best used in a humid environment such as a terrarium.

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    English Ivy
    Hedera helix

    Water-- Regularly, mist when warm; less water in the winter
    Light-- Bright to shade; less bright light in summer
    Fertilizer-- Feed once a week during active growth
    Temperature-- Cooler in the summer, not above 70F, and around 50F in the winter.
    Propagation-- Tip or stem cuttings with aerial roots
    Description-- A climbing plant with many cultivars of different leaf shapes and variegations.  Because of its habit, English Ivy is used as a hanging basket or trained onto a topiary wire frame.

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    Prayer Plant
    Maranta leuconeura

    Water-- Use room temperature water frequently, never dry out, mist leaves regularly
    Light--Bright to partial shade, no direct light in the winter
    Fertilizer-- Half diluted plant food every two weeks during active growth
    Temperature-- Warm and humid, minimum 55F
    Propagation-- By division
    Description-- A bushy plant with large attractive foliage with beautiful markings.  There are two varieties that offer different leaf patterns.  Leaves come together in a vertical position at night as if praying.  Has a slightly creeping habit, best used as a table plant or in a garden room.

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    Peperomia sp.

    Water-- Moderate, keep foliage humid in summer by spraying, do not over water
    Light-- Moderate to partial shade
    Fertilizer-- Feed every two weeks during active growth
    Temperature-- 55-64F in the winter, room temperature in the summer
    Propagation--Tip, stem, or leaf cuttings, and division

    Description-- This easy to care for group of houseplants has many different species of all sizes, colors, and textures to choose from.  Most species have slightly succulent foliage.  Peperomias, because of their variety, can also have many uses, from table plants, hanging baskets, to ground covers in terrariums.  Some popular species include P. obtusifolia, Round-leaf Peperomia; P. caperata, Ripple -leaf Peperomia; P. scandens, Cupid Peperomia; P. argyreia, Watermelon Peperomia; and P. orba.

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    Philodendron sp.

    Water-- Keep moist, but do not drown; wipe leaves off with moist cloth regularly
    Light-- Moderate to partial shade
    Fertilizer-- Young plants feed once a week during active growth, older plants every two weeks
    Temperature-- Room temperature all year
    Propagation-- Tip or stem cuttings, air layering, seed.
    Description-- A species that has so much variety that the uses range from hanging baskets, to office-desk plants, floor plants, and conservatory specimens.  It grows extremely fast if given proper conditions.  Some species even climb if given a support such as a moss totem pole.  The most well known species is the climber P. scandens with heart-shaped leaves.  Other species include P. X 'Red Princess', P. selloum, and P. squamiferum.

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    Swedish Ivy
    Plectranthus australis

    Water-- During active growth, water moderately, keep dry in the winter
    Light-- Bright and sunny
    Fertilizer-- Feed every other week during active growth
    Temperature-- Keep outside in the summer and not under 59F in the winter
    Propagation-- Tip cuttings
    Description-- A popular hanging basket plant, if kept in a humid environment.  Prune young plants to keep them full and bushy.  Swedish Ivy will flower late fall to winter.  The variegated species, P. madagascariensis 'Mintleaf'  is very popular.   This plant is often used as an annual in containers outside in the summer because it trails very nicely.

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    Snake Plant
    Sansevieria trifasciata

    Water-- Very little, only when bone dry.  Too much water can kill.
    Light-- Bright light, but tolerable of less light
    Fertilizer-- Give cactus food once a month
    Temperature-- Warm all year, not under 59F in winter
    Propagation-- By division of offsets, leaf cuttings.  Cuttings from yellow varieties will convert back to green form.
    Description-- This fleshy plant is very hardy of all conditions, except cold and wet, with many different varieties.  Some have sword-like foliage, while others have shorter leaves in basal rosettes.  Repot every spring into a container one size larger than the current size.  These plants are known to break their containers because they grow so fast.  Snake plants are ideal for floor or table plants in harsh conditions.

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    Peace Lily
    Spathiphyllum sp.

    Water-- Moderate, spray foliage occasionally
    Light-- Light to partial shade; more in winter
    Fertilizer-- Feed every week during active growth
    Temperature-- Keep warm and humid
    Propagation-- By division when repotting; plants best if left undisturbed for awhile
    Description-- A plant that has shiny foliage with a tropical arum flower (spadix) and white or yellow spathe.  The flower and spathe last a long time and make the plant quite attractive.  A beautiful house plant for the table or floor.  Different species are different size groups. S. 'Mauna Loa' is a common larger version, which remains in flower almost all year.

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    Wandering Jew, 
    Inch Plant
    Tradescantia sp.

    Water-- Keep moist all year
    Light-- Light to bright, variegated varieties need more light
    Fertilizer-- Feed every two weeks during active growth
    Temperature-- Warm, room temperature
    Propagation-- Tip cuttings
    Description-- An easy houseplant most seen in hanging baskets.  Prune to maintain bushiness and reduce scraggly stems.  There are several species, T. albiflora, T. blossfeldiana, T. fluminensis, T. zebrina, and cultivars that offer many different choices in foliage and flower color.  The flowers of some varieties can be showy but small.

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