50 Houseplants That Don’t Mind Dry Air

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Most houseplants just don’t do well in desert-dry air! Source: pexels.com

Dry air is a major problem for houseplants in the winter… and indeed, any indoor plant (seedlings, cuttings, etc.). When the atmospheric humidity is less than 40%, certainly common enough in many homes, plants try hard to compensate by transpiring more heavily, that is, by releasing water to the air through their stomata (breathing pores). The drier the air, the more they transpire, and that can lead to their tissues losing water more rapidly than their roots can replace it. This can result in all sorts of symptoms of stress: wilting, flower buds turning brown, leaves curling under, brown leaf tips, even the death of the plant.

And if that weren’t enough, leaves stressed by dry air are also more subject to pest damage (red spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, etc.)

Some Plants Can Cope

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Plants with thick, waxy leaves cope better with dry air than those with thin ones. Source: davisla.wordpress.com.

That said, many plants, especially those native to arid climates or ones where they are exposed to long periods of drought, have developed ways of compensating for dry air. Cacti and succulents are usually very resistant to dry air and so are some epiphytic plants, like hoyas.

Some plants resist dry air by producing leaves with fewer stomata than normal, thus reducing water loss. Many have abandoned leaves altogether and breathe through their green stems (many cacti, for example). Others keep their stomata closed during the day, when the sun is hottest and water loss is greatest, breathing only a night. (This is called Crassulacean acid metabolism or CAM.) In other words, they essentially hold their breath 12 hours a day! Also, plants resistant to dry air often have extra-thick leaves or leaves coated with wax, powder or hair, all of which reduce evaporation.

Plants That Don’t Mind Dry Air

What follows are a few houseplants that don’t really mind it if the air in your home is on the dry side. Not that they will suffer if you increase the humidity to levels more acceptable to plants in general (most plants prefer a relative humidity of 50% or above) and that indeed is good for your health too, but if improving the atmospheric humidity something you just can’t do, at least these plants will pull through without a complaint!

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Aeonium arboreum ‘Atropurpureum’: one example of a plant that tolerates dry air. Source, Bernard Dupont, Wikimedia Commons

  1. Aeonium spp. (tree houseleek)
  2. Agave spp. (century plant)
  3. Aglaonema spp. (Chinese evergreen)
  4. Aloe spp. (aloe)
  5. Ananas comosus (pineapple plant)
  6. Aspidistra elatior (cast iron plant)
  7. Beaucarnea recurvata (ponytail palm)
  8. Cephalocereus senilis (old man cactus)
  9. Cereus peruvianus (Peruvian apple cactus)
  10. Ceropegia woodii (rosary vine)
  11. Clivia miniata (clivia)
  12. Crassula ovata (jade plant)
  13. Crassula spp. (crassula)
  14. Cryptanthus spp. (earth star)

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    The thick leaves of the dieffenbachia can generally cope quite well with drier air, but you can see just a bit of damage at the tip of this one. Source: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons

  15. Dieffenbachia spp. (dumbcane)
  16. Echeveria spp. (echeveria)
  17. Echinocactus grusonii (golden ball cactus)
  18. Epipremnum aureum (pothos, devil’s ivy)
  19. × Epicactus (orchid cactus)
  20. Euphorbia lactea (candelabra spurge)
  21. Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns)
  22. Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil cactus)
  23. Ficus elastica (rubber tree)
  24. Ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig)
  25. Gasteria spp. (ox tongue)
  26. Gymnocalycium mihanovichii friedrichii ‘Hibotan’ (red ball cactus)
  27. Haworthia spp. (zebra plant)
  28. Hippeastrum cvs (amaryllis)
  29. Hoya carnosa (wax plant)
  30. Kalanchoe (kalanchoe, panda plant)
  31. Ledebouria socialis (silver squill)

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    Few plants tolerate dry air as well as living stones (Lithops). Source: Dysmorodrepanis, Wikimedia Commons

  32. Lithops spp. (living stone)
  33. Mammillaria spp. (pincushion cactus)
  34. Opuntia spp. (bunny ears)
  35. Pachypodium lamerei (Madagascar palm)
  36. Pelargonium graveolens (rose-scented geranium)
  37. Pelargonium × hortorum (zonal pelargonium, zonal geranium)
  38. Peperomia obtusifolia, P. clusiifolia (baby rubber plant)
  39. Philodendron hederaceum oxycardium (heartleaf philodendron)
  40. Rhipsalis spp. (mistletoe cactus)
  41. Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant)
  42. Schlumbergera (Christmas cactus)
  43. Sedum spp. (sedum, donkey’s tail)

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    The nearly round leaves of Senecio rowleyanus are designed to reduce evapotranspiration. Source: Forest & Kim Starr, flickr

  44. Senecio rowleyanus (string-of-pearls)
  45. Senecio serpens (blue chalksticks)
  46. Stapelia spp. (carrion flower)
  47. Streltizia reginae (bird of paradise)
  48. Syngonium spp. (arrowhead vine)
  49. Yucca elephantipes (spineless yucca)
  50. Zamioculcas zamiifolia (zeezee plant)20171227A pexels.com

Grow Your Own Pineapple

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Yes, you can grow a pineapple in your living room!

I’ve grown quite a few pineapple plants (Ananas comosus) over the years, both from store-bought fruit and ornamental types I bought as plants. I find them easy to grow and, yes, I’ve always gotten fruit… eventually.

If you’ve ever wondered how to grow your own pineapple, here’s the technique:

At the Supermarket

You’ll want a healthy fruit with no sign of rot or damaged leaves. Since you’ll be eating the fruit (at least I hope you will!), look for the ripest one you can find. Sniff the bottom end: if it smells sweet, it’s ripe enough.

You won’t be able to buy a totally ripe pineapple outside of the tropics, because when they reach perfect ripeness, they don’t ship well, nor do they mature to any significant degree after the harvest. The only way to really taste a pineapple at its best is to eat one in a country that produces them.

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There was a time when pineapples had nasty spines on their leaves, but modern varieties are generally spineless.

I also suggest you buy a spineless variety, as they are less likely to attack you. At any rate, most grocery stores today only carry spineless varieties. I’m sure that younger readers won’t get this reference, but us old folk remember when preparing a pineapple, with its leaves edged in nasty hooked spines, was a blood sport.

When You Get Home

To start your new pineapple plant from a fruit, you’ll be harvesting its crown, that is, the rosette of spiky foliage at its top. This is actually a baby plant. In the wild, when an animal carries the fruit off it eat it, it rejects the spiny crown and knocks it to the ground where it takes root and starts a new plant. You just have to do basically the same thing at home.

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Just twist the crown free.

You don’t need to rent a tapir to start your new pineapple plant, though. Just grab the fruit in one hand, the crown in the other and just twist: the crown will detach easily.

Some people prefer to free the crown by cutting off the top of the fruit. In this case, you’ll have to spend a bit of time removing any fruit bits that cling to it.

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With the bottom of the stem free of leaves, you’ll see the beginnings of the plant’s future roots.

Next remove a few rows of the small leaves found at the base of the crown, thus revealing about an inch (2,5 cm) of bare stem. You’ll will notice small bumps on the exposed stem: these are actually roots just waiting to be planted!

Are You a Wateree or a Soilee?

There are two different schools of thought on what to do next. Some people like to start their pineapple plants in water, others directly in potting soil. And both methods work. The advantage starting one in soil is that you save a step. The disadvantage is that you won’t see the roots grow… and that can be kinda cool.

If you’re a wateree, place the crown upright in a drinking glass, a medium-necked bottle or some other container that can support the crown. And you’ll want it to be transparent: after all, you’re doing this expressly to watch the roots grow.

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Find a transparent recipient that will hold the crown above the water, letting just the stem base dangle into it.

Pour enough water into the container so the base of the crown is immersed, but not the leaves. When you see the roots starting to lengthen, don’t wait too long: pot the crown up in your favorite growing mix. An inch or so (2,5 cm) is a safe length, but long roots too adapted to an aquatic lifestyle often rot when you move your baby pineapple plant into a pot.

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Starting the plant directly in a pot of soil saves you a step.

If you’re a soilee, fill a 4- to 6-inch (10-15 cm) with moistened potting soil (any potting soil for indoor plants will do: pineapples aren’t picky about their soil type) up to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the top. There is no need to place a drainage layer of gravel or pot shards in the bottom of the pot. Push the stem into the potting mix up to the base of the lowest leaves and tamp down lightly so the crown remains sturdily upright.

In both cases (wateree and soilee culture), finish up by placing the plant near a sunny window at room temperature.

It can take from 1 to 3 months for the crown to realize its new status as a separate plant and start to produce roots. Until that happens, the leaves won’t grow much either. When the plant is well-rooted, though, its new leaves will lengthen considerably, reaching up to 3 feet (1 m), essentially quadrupling the size of the plant. At this point, your pineapple is no longer a baby, but a well-established plant!

Continued Care

You’ll discover the pineapple is a tough plant that requires little in the way of care.

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At one year old, your pineapple plant will have at least doubled in size.

Continue to give it as much sunlight as you can. After all, on pineapple farms pineapples grow in the full blazing tropical sun. Pineapples will grow in moderate light, but won’t bear fruit there. If possible, put your plant outside for the summer, acclimating it gradually to outdoor conditions over a week or so it won’t burn, then put it in full sun. The more sun it gets, the sooner you’ll be eating home-grown pineapple!

The pineapple is on the succulent side of the plant divide: it likes to dry out between waterings. Just follow the Golden Rule of Watering: allow the growing mix to dry out, then water deeply, enough to moisten the entire root ball. How can you tell when to water? Sink your index finger into its growing mix. If it feels moist, don’t water yet. If it feels dry, go right ahead and pour away.

Dry indoor winter air may bother many houseplants, but the tough-as-nails pineapple is immune to it. Still, if you do increase the atmospheric humidity for your other plants’ sake, it won’t be bothered either.

The pineapple is not a greedy plant and won’t need much fertilizer. Any commercial fertilizer will do. Some gardeners prefer to add a pinch of fertilizer to the watering can each time they water, others dilute a soluble fertilizer to 1/8th of its recommended dose and apply it once a month, while others still prefer to apply a granular slow-release fertilizer in spring, always at 1/8th of the recommended dose. Don’t “feed” your pineapple in winter, as it pretty much stops growing at that season.

As your plant increases in size, repot into a larger container. Usually a final pot 8- to 10- inch (20-25 cm) in diameter will suffice.

Bring On The Fruit!

In the tropics, it takes about 18 months for a flower stem to start to emerge from the center of the pineapple’s rosette of leaves and about another 6 months for it to bloom and the fruit to ripen. Under home conditions, it can take 4 or 5 years! Just be patient, continue to provide your best care and you will succeed.

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Pineapple fruit just starting to form: the purple tubes are flowers.

The flowers are purple and tubular, lasting only one day each. There is no need to pollinate them: pineapple fruits are “parthenocarpic”, that is, they develop without fecundation.

In general, the fruit produced on your home-grown pineapple will be a little smaller than a commercial pineapple, but just as delicious!

I suggest you harvest it with a machete while wearing a big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt: that just seems so much more authentic!

Giving a Reluctant Plant a Nudge

So, your pineapple is big, healthy-looking, about 4 or 5 years old and yet it still hasn’t bloomed? It’s type to apply a bit of pressure. Commercial growers do this all the time, spraying their fields with various gases to stimulate an earlier and more uniform harvest.

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The apple-in-a-bag treatment can stimulate your pineapple to flower.

At home, just use the apple-in-a-bag method. Put a ripe, in fact, even overripe apple in a clear plastic bag with your pineapple plant. Seal the bag and place it somewhere out of the sun (a sealed bag sitting in the sun will overheat and cook your plant). After one week, remove the bag and return the plant to its usual spot.

With a little luck, a flower stem will appear after a month or two, provoked by the toxic ethylene gas the apple gave off.

After the Harvest

A pineapple only flowers once, then dies (it is monocarpic). Before dying, however, it will produce several pups (babies, called ratoons by pineapple farmers) at its base that you can pot up individually. When you remove them, the mother plant tends to send up even more pups. Then more again when you remove those as well. By the third time, she’s pretty much done in and will quietly fade away. In addition, you also root the fruit’s crown.

Of course, potting up all those pups may be overdoing it. You’re not trying to turn your living room into a pineapple farm after all. Given the size of a mature pineapple plant, most people are satisfied growing one specimen at a time.

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Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

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How to Grow your own Pineapple Indoors

Growing a pineapple (Ananas comosus) outdoors is simple enough if you live in the tropics, but indoors it’s a bit more tricky and you’ll need a lot of patience. Here’s how:

The easiest way is, of course, to simply buy a potted pineapple plant in a nursery. They often offer variegated or miniature varieties as indoor ornamentals. The real challenge (and pleasure) of growing a pineapple, though, is to start your own from scratch. To do so, buy a fresh pineapple at the grocery store. You still get to eat the fruit: it’s its crown – the tuft of leaves at the top of the fruit –  that you’ll need to produce a new plant. To harvest it, just take the fruit in one hand, slightly twist the crown with the other and it will detach quite neatly. Now remove a few rows of the small leaves at the base of the crown. By doing so, you’ll reveal a short section of stem… with roots already starting to form! Simply place the crown on a pot of moist potting soil, covering just  the base of the crown with mix. In just a few weeks, new leaves will emerge from the center of the crown, a sign that it is rooted. The crown is therefore no longer a crown, it’s a growing pineapple plant!

Note that you will see other blogs recommending you root the crown in water, then transplant it to soil later. That’s possible, but why bother? Water is not conducive to good growth and all it does is slow the plant down as it struggles to survive in a foreign environment. Instead, start the plant directly in soil, which is where it prefers to grow. My rule is: start aquatic plants in water, start terrestrial plants in soil!

Your pineapple plant will need a lot of sun (as much as you can give it, although it will grow – very slowly – in partial shade), normal indoor temperatures and a thorough watering when the potting mix is dry to the touch. You can fertilize it with a soluble fertilizer (any fertilizer: it’s not picky) during the spring and summer months, but it is not a very needy plant when it comes to feeding. Indoors, its growth is slow but continuous. It will love to spend its summer outdoors as long you acclimatize it gradually to outdoor conditions at the beginning of the season.

In a tropical country, pineapples flower in as little as 18 months (but 20-24 months is more typical). Indoors, it usually takes more time: 3 years or more. It’s the lack of light that delays maturation: it is difficult to give a plant the equivalent of full tropical sun outside of the tropics. If you just let it grow, it will bloom and produce fruit without any action on your part, but that can take up to 10 years.

However, you can encourage earlier flowering with the “apple in a bag” trick. When you judge your plant is physically mature, place it in a large plastic bag with a rotten apple. Remove the bag and apple after 24 hours. A very ripe apple gives off ethylene, a gas toxic to plants. The plant will respond to this toxic intrusion by trying to reproduce… and therefore will send up a flower stalk from its center a few weeks later. Soon you’ll have a growing pineapple fruit covered with rows of tiny purplish flowers. You have to calculate about 3 more months before the fruit is fully ripe. And yes, it will be perfectly edible!

You have to accept the fact that your pineapple plant will die after producing fruit. That’s the normal cycle of bromeliads, the plant family the pineapple belongs to. They bloom, produce seeds, then die. But as your fruit ripens, your plant will also produce a few “pups” (offsets), sometimes at the base of the plant, sometimes under the fruit … and what’s more, you can also start a new plant from the crown of your fruit. So, O.K., you will lose the mother plant, but at least she produces a host of babies before she goes! Pot them up in their turn and you’ll soon be well on the way to having your own indoor pineapple plantation!