Photo by Melody

Twelve Interesting and Unusual House Plants

By Larry Rettig (LarryRNovember 15, 2011

For those of us who garden in temperate zones here in the U.S., the growing season is quickly coming to a close. I find that my attention has already turned from outdoor garden plants to those I will be growing indoors. As I consider what I want to grow on my windowsills this winter, Iíd like to share with you some of the plants that Iíve found interesting and relatively easy to grow.

Gardening picture

I’ve put these houseplants into table form below, so that you can find information about each one at a glance.


The idea of growing plants indoors goes back in history at least as far as ancient Egypt, where archeologists have discovered artwork depicting houseplants in urns and troughs. The ancient Greeks and Romans often had atriums in their homes.  Roman Emperor Tiberius liked his vegetables.  So much so, that he had to have an Armenian Cucumber (photo at left) every day, even when they were not in season. His gardeners planted the cucumbers in wheeled carts.  They were wheeled indoors at night when the temperature was too cold for them and back outside during the daytime. 

(Click to enlarge)



 Mature Size



 Pilea involucrata
(Friendship Plant)
 Central and South America  Up to 12 inches

 Regular potting soil
 Moderate to bright light; no direct sunlight 
 Keep soil evenly moist
 Place pot on a tray of wet pebbles
 Average to warm room temperature


 Cuttings will root easily in potting soil

 Clivia miniata
 (Kaffir Lily)
 South Africa Up to 18 inches Regular potting soil
 Keep soil evenly moist
Provide a cool, dry rest for 6-8 weeks in fall to initiate blooming
 May move plant outside to accomplish this, but bring in before first frost
 Bring back inside and keep relatively cool until midwinter
 Then increase watering and
provide normal room temperature
 Will bloom in March or April
 By division

Of special
interest to children (Rub the leaves to release the scent)
 Pelargonium spp. (Scented-leaf geraniums come in
many different fragrances,
including lime, lemon, pine, and chocolate)
 South Africa Up to 18 inches

 Regular potting soil
 Bright light to full sun
 Allow surface of soil to dry between waterings
 Average room temperature

 By stem cuttings in coarse sand or potting soil

Of special
interest to children (Tiny plantlets grow along the edges of the leaves and easily fall off, rooting where they drop)
 Kalanchoe daigremontiana
(Mother of Thousands)
 Madagascar Up to 30 inches

 Use a sandy medium, such as cactus potting mix
 Grows best in bright light; will take some direct morning sun
 Average room temperature
 Likes dry soil; water only when very dry

 Plantlets from leaf edges

Of special
interest to children (When touched,
leaflets fold up and leaf stem collapses)
 Mimosa pudica
(Sensitive Plant)
 Central- and South America  Up to 24 inches

Regular potting soil
 Bright light
 Keep soil evenly moist
 Average room temperature

 By seed
 (Sow in early spring
 Soak seed in water overnight
 Barely cover seeds with regular potting mix
 Keep medium moist and warm
 Seeds germinate in about a week)
 Image Zantedeschia rehmannii
(Pink Calla Lily)
 South Africa Up to 16 inches Regular potting soil
 Bright light
 Keep soil evenly moist
 Average room temperature
 By bulblets
 Image Aechmea fasciata
(Urn Plant)
 Brazil Up to 20

 Orchid potting mix
 Bright light, some direct sun OK
 Keep plant's "urn" filled with water at all times and change it weekly;
  Keep soil lightly moist
 Average room temperature

 Blooms once after about three years, then dies
  Allow plant to die back naturally
 Plant will then produce two or three "pups" (sprouts) 
 Remove when they are about five months old and plant in their own containers
 Image Cyperus papyrus
(Egyptian Paper Plant; used to make paper in ancient Egypt)
 Egypt/Africa Dwarf form up to 24 inches Regular potting mix
 Full sunlight to low light
 Keep soil wet at all times
 Can be grown with roots in standing water
 Average room temperature
 Divide plant in spring
 Image Acalypha pendula
(Dwarf Chenille Plant)
 Java/New Guinea  Up to 12 inches

 Regular potting mix
 Bright indirect light
Keep soil evenly moist
 Average room temperature

 By stem cuttings in coarse sand or potting soil
 Image Isolepis cernua
(Fiber Optic Grass)
 Southern Europe/Northern Africa Up to 12 inches

 Regular potting soil
 Bright light to full sun
 Keep soil wet at all times
 Average to warm room temperature

 Divide plant in spring
 Image Kalanchoe tomentosa
(Pussy Ears)
 Madagascar Up to 12 inches

 Cactus potting mix
 Bright light to full sun
 Water thoroughly, but allow top to dry out between waterings
 Average room temperature


 By leaf cuttings in coarse sand or potting soil in spring or early summer

 Image Strobilanthes dyerianus
(Persian Shield)
Myanmar  Up to 24 inches

 Regular potting soil
 Bright indirect light
 Water thoroughly; allow soil to dry out between waterings, but do not allow it to dry out completely
 Normal room temperature

 By stem cuttings in water or in coarse sand in spring

 Note:  When potting house plants with fresh potting soil, no fertilizer is generally needed during the first year.  Thereafter, timed release fertilizer is a good choice.  Be sure to follow label directions.

Photos are courtesy of and used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

  About Larry Rettig  
Larry RettigAn enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.

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