15 Easy Houseplants for Beginners

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Start with easy houseplants before you move on to the more complicated ones. Source: Darlene Taylor, YouTube

Why do novice gardeners always seem to start with the most complicated houseplants? Gardenias, bonsais, carnivorous plants, living stones and, in fact, flowering plants in general (hibiscus, azaleas, etc.) are the ones even the most experienced gardeners often struggle to grow. Ideally, if you’re a beginning gardener, you’d start with easy plants, ones that can put up with both a bit of neglect and overly enthusiastic care.

Once you’ve successfully kept a few easy plants alive and in reasonably good shape for a year or so, consider your thumb to be getting green. Then you’ll be ready to move on to more difficult varieties.

The following 15 plants are about as close to unkillable as any plant could be and will succeed in almost all indoor conditions. In particular, they’ll tolerate low light and irregular waterings, always the leading causes of houseplant death, and will also put up with dry air, another major problem in many homes.

  1. Aspidistra or Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
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Aspidistra (Aspidistra elatior). Source: www.palmaverde.nl

This old-fashioned houseplant is back on the market. It gets the common name from its cast-iron constitution. Or maybe it’s slow growth is what gives the impression it’s made of cast iron. In fact, though, it does grow, only very slowly. An aspidistra looks rather like a giant clump of lily of the valley, but without the flowers. Its dark green leathery leaves are sometimes spotted or striped yellow or white. It’s very tolerant of low light and in fact, doesn’t much appreciate full sun.

  1. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
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Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

This is an upright-growing plant with short, thick stems and fleshy lanceolate leaves, often marked with silver and sometimes, in newer cultivars, with pink or red instead. Its growth is extremely slow … but it tolerates all but the darkest corners! It may even bloom one day and produce attractive red berries … but that can take years! It’s best to consider it as being a foliage plant.

  1. Dieffenbachia or Dumbcane (Dieffenbachia)
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Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia). Source: www.homedepot.com

This is a strongly upright growing plant erect with a thick “trunk” and huge broad leaves usually spotted with white. When it reaches the ceiling (and it will over time), just cut off the top and reroot it as a cutting. A new stalk will also appear from the base of the mother plant. The name dumbcane refers to the fact that it’s toxic sap can render the chewer temporarily incapable of speech, but don’t ever chew on this plant, even as a joke: it’s poisonous! This is an old-time favorite, often found in dark churches and office hallways where it has apparently been growing since forever.

  1. Dracaena or Dragon Tree (Dracaena spp.)
20180126E Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana' www.homedepot.com

Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

There are several species of Dracaena, but the easiest to cultivate is the so-called corn plant (D. fragans), the one with a thick, woody trunk and large, arching, lanceolate leaves, sometimes with a yellowish band in the center. It does indeed look like a corn plant! D. deremensis, often just called dracaena, is similar and indeed, is now considered simply a variety of D. fragrans (yes, change your plant label!). Just as easy to grow as the original D. fragrans, it has narrower, darker green leaves, sometimes striped white or yellow.

  1. Dwarf Schefflera or Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola, syn. Heptapleurum arboricola)
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Dwarf Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola). Source: http://www.plantandpot.nz

Much easier to grow than the other commonly grown schefflera, the one with larger leaves (S. actinophylla), the only truly dwarf thing about the dwarf schefflera is its leaves, as it can become quite a sizable indoor tree over time. It has dark green palmately compound leaves, definitely a bit umbrella like. In some cultivars, they are variegated with white, cream or yellow markings. Its branches tend to arch out at awkward angles: don’t hesitate to prune them back to stimulate denser, more attractive growth. A classic plant for banks and malls because of its indifference to neglect.

  1. False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, syn. O. regnellii)
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False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis). Source: hop.harros-pflanzenwelt.de

No, it’s not a true shamrock (Trifolium), but it does bear three leaflets, each triangular in form. They can be green or purple, often with a silver or pink mark. Oddly, they close up at night. This is probably the easiest houseplant to bloom and indeed, flowers quite readily and pretty much all year, with pink or white flowers. It’s very easy to grow and can go fully dormant if you neglect it long enough, then sprout anew from its underground rhizomes when you start to water again. That said, it’s certainly not maintenance-free, always needing a bit of grooming, as there always seem to be a few dried leaves or dead flowers to remove.

  1. Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata, syn. F. pandurata)
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Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

Probably the easiest of the many figs or ficuses sold as houseplants, it doesn’t drop its leaves when you move it like the more commonly grown weeping fig (Ficus benjamina). The large dark green leathery leaves are indeed fiddle-shaped, as the common name suggests. It becomes huge over time: don’t hesitate to cut it back when it goes too far.

  1. Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, formerly P. scandens, P. cordatum and P. oxycardium)
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Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). Source: http://www.amazon.com

This climbing aroid bears dark green heart-shaped leaves. Its shade tolerance is legendary: I know of plants over 50 years old that have not seen a single ray of direct sun since they were purchased! You can grow this plant up a trellis or moss stake or let it dangle attractively from a hanging basket. Note that this plant has gone through several botanical name changes over the years and is now Philodendron hederaceum. Let’s hope this name sticks!

  1. Hoya, Wax Plant or Porcelainflower (Hoya carnosa)
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Hoya (Hoya carnosa). Source: Yvan Leduc, Wikimedia Commons

The hoya is one of the few plants that blooms well even in the shade. On the other hand, the growth of this climbing plant is terribly slow: it can take 5 to 10 years before producing its first umbels of pink or white perfumed flowers, each with a darker crown in the center. In the meantime, fortunately, its foliage is attractive: thick and waxy, sometimes variegated or curiously twisted. It’s a climbing or hanging plant whose stems tend to get out of hand, so you may need to do a bit of pruning.

  1. Ponytail Palm or Elephant’s Foot (Beaucarnea recurvata)
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Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). Source: http://www.ikea.com

Succulent plant with a surprising tolerance of dark corners (most succulents require intense light). The trunk of this small tree is swollen at the base, like an elephant’s foot, while its long, narrow, often wavy leaves hang down like a pony tail, the source of its common names. It’s a tough, easy plant, but very slow growing.

  1. Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
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Pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’). Source: http://www.instagram.com

Very similar in appearance and habit to the heartleaf philodendron, but with leaves not as distinctly heart-shaped and always streaked or marbled yellow or white. Like the philodendron, you can grow it either as a climber or a trailer.

  1. Snake Plant or Mother-in-law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
20180126I Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii' www.homedepot.com

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

This succulent has long, leathery, lance-shaped, dark green leaves with gray mottling that rise from the soil in tight clumps. There are also both dwarf varieties (bird’s nest sansevierias) and cultivars with various kinds of leaf coloring, from entirely dark green to highly variegated. It’s one of the most shade-tolerant houseplants, although in fact it prefers intense sunlight.

  1. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
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Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’). Source: brightside.me

Always popular, with a rosette of thin, arching, ribbon-like leaves often streaked with creamy white. It’s usually surrounded by countless “babies” on trailing umbilical cords (actually, stolons) and is popular as a hanging basket plant. It will tolerate most indoor conditions, but will stop producing plantlets if it doesn’t receive at least medium light.

  1. Syngonium or Arrowhead Vine (Sygonium)
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Syngonium (Syngonium podophyllum). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

Another obvious philodendron relative, just as resistant to low light. Young plants produce a compact rosette of arrow-shaped leaves sometimes marbled or streaked with cream, pink or red, but the plant completely changes its habit over time, developing long climbing or trailing stems and deeply cut leaves. You can prune it back to keep it in its juvenile appearance.

  1. ZZ Plant or Aroid Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
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ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Source: http://www.homedepot.com

This is plant is an aroid (as plants in the philodendron family are called), but it’s a very unusual one and it certainly couldn’t look less like a philodendron! Instead, it bears pinnate fronds with shiny leaflets and a distinctly swollen petiole, making it look like a palm or cycad, but without a trunk. It’s perfectly at ease in the shadiest spots and very tolerant of neglect.

Easy Peasy Plant Care

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Caring for these 15 houseplants is pretty basic. Source: clipart-library.com

Obviously, each of these plants has its preferences when it comes to growing conditions, but all of them are tolerant of a wide range of environments, from full sun to deep shade (with, I hope, at least some light: after all, the plants receive all their energy from the sun)! They also make great office plants, able to grow far from the nearest window, living strictly on light coming from ceiling fixtures. All are perfectly fine with normal indoor temperatures and will tolerate dry indoor air in winter … but most would still prefer good atmospheric humidity if you can supply it.

As for watering, simply apply the golden rule of watering: water deeply, enough to moisten the entire root ball, then allow the soil to dry before watering again. Really, caring for them couldn’t be easier!

You don’t even need to fertilize these plants! At least, not if you’re growing them in low light. Under good lighting, you can simply apply an all-purpose fertilizer at a quarter of the manufacturer’s recommended does from April to October.

And there you go! 15 houseplants that you can place almost anywhere indoors and that will decorate your home for decades. Practice using these very basic, hard-to-kill plants to build up your indoor gardening skills before you start experimenting with more complicated houseplants, such as flowering plants, bonsais, living stones and others.

Have fun!20180126A Darlene Taylor, YouTube

The Mystery of the Shamrock


20170317AToday, March 17, is St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated wherever in the world the Irish have settled… that is to say just about everywhere. Like many North Americans, I have Irish ancestors… and I’m far from alone. About 10% of Americans and 15% of Canadians are of Irish origin.

That shamrock is the symbol of the Irish people is very well known and it’s also the official emblem of Ireland, but do you know where this tradition comes from?

Saint Patrick Plucked a Clover Leaf…

Saint Patrick during Boston’s traditional Saint-Patrick Day’s parade. Photo: Laura Siegert, Wikimedia Commons

Saint Patrick is an almost mythical historical figure. Although he probably really did exist, there are so many stories and legends about him that historians have had difficulty determining what really happened. Some even suggest there were two Patricks and that their stories have become intertwined!

Here’s a quick sketch of what might have been Saint Patrick’s life.

Born in Roman Britain around 385 AD, he was reportedly abducted by Irish pirates at the age of 16, then lived as a slave in Ireland for 6 years. It was during this period that he became a devout Christian.

Escaping from his captors, he returned to his family, studied and became a priest. In 432, Pope Celestine, learning he spoke Irish, sent him to Ireland to evangelize the hitherto-pagan Irish people, without much success at first. However, during an impromptu sermon at the Rock of Cashel, he bent over and plucked a leaf with three leaflets, explaining that it represented the Holy Trinity. That he should so readily find the Holy Trinity in a common weed impressed the pagan Irish and they began to convert to Christianity.

Patrick became the first bishop of Ireland and died on March 17, 461 (maybe!), and the trifoliate plant, which the Irish call shamrock (seamróg), became the very symbol of Ireland.

But Which Plant?

One of the potential shamrocks: lesser trefoil (Trifolium dubium). Photo: Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons

Therein lies the mystery. What leaf did Saint Patrick pick?

The word shamrock can mean any plant with 3 leaflets. Over the years, experts have suggested that the true Irish shamrock could be lesser trefoil (Trifolium dubium), white clover (T. repens), red clover (T. pratense) or alfalfa (Medicago lupulina), all of which are in the Fabaceae family, or even wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), from an entirely different family. All five are common in Ireland and it fact, throughout much of the northern hemisphere.

As for the Irish themselves, a survey conducted in 1988 showed that about 45% consider lesser trefoil (T. dubium) to be the true shamrock while one third prefer white clover (T. repens)… and all the others have their share of votes as well. So, no consensus there either.

Your Own Shamrock


White clover (Trifolium repens). Photo: Ranko, Wikimedia Commons

If you find clover plants with small green leaves on sale around St. Patrick’s Day, a tradition in many countries, the plant sold is inevitably white clover (T. repens), the same clover that grows in so many lawns. It’s easy enough to grow from seed in a florist’s greenhouse, but this cold-climate plant is usually short-lived when grown in a pot and is best planted outdoors if you want to see it thrive.


False shamrock (Oxalis triangularis)

There is also the false shamrock or purple shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, formerly O. regnellii), True enough, there is nothing truly Irish about this South American plant, but if you want to grow it and claim it as a shamrock, go for it. At least it does makes a good, long-lived houseplant.

It is said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. So wear the green… and show off your shamrock plant, whatever it is!20170317A

Grow Your Own Shamrock Indoors


20160317BIt is said that on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, everybody is Irish. Okay, but are you an Irish gardener? If so, why not grow an Irish shamrock in your home?

A Plant of Legend


White clover (Trifolium repens) is one of several plants sometimes touted as the “true Irish shamrock”.

The shamrock is a legendary plant with three leaflets. Saint Patrick is said to have used it to teach the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish back in the 7th century, converting them to Christianity. The problem is that nobody really knows which leaf he used: was it a clover, an alfalfa or an oxalis? The Irish name shamrock is of no help. It means, quite literally, “small three-leaved plant”, which could mean just about anything. I figure this gives the indoor gardener a certain freedom of choice, but since neither clover (Trifolium) nor alfalfa (Medicago) make good houseplants – and since both are solidly frozen outdoors in most regions on Saint Patrick’s Day – I suggest using the oxalis as a living symbol of your Irish heritage.

An Indoor Shamrock


The original false shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) had green leaves and white flowers, but more colorful varieties have taken over the houseplant market.

The false shamrock, also called purple shamrock or love plant (Oxalis triangularis, formerly O. regnellii) is probably the best species to use as a houseplant. It is adapted to subtropical conditions and thus easier to grow in the average heated home than more temperate oxalis species. Of course, since it hails from South America, it is certainly not the true Irish shamrock… but if you don’t tell anyone, I won’t either.

The distinguishing feature of this plant is that each of the three leaflets that make up its leaf is almost triangular. They are carried on long petioles, upright at first, but eventually arching or even drooping under typical indoor conditions, forming a dome as wide as it is tall. The leaflets have the curious habit of closing at night, folding one against the other.


Most modern cultivars have purple leaves and pink flowers.

The leaves of the false shamrock were originally plain green, but there are now many cultivars with purple foliage or with a silver or metallic pink mark on the leaflets. Similarly, the five-petaled flowers, which were white in the original species, are pink in the case of many cultivars.


Rhizome (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

False shamrock grows throughout the year indoors and is almost never without flowers. Out of sight under the soil are scaly rhizomes in which it stores energy for future use. So if you ever stop watering your oxalis, it won’t die but will simply go dormant and lose its leaves. It will then grow back from its underground rhizomes when you start to water it again. That’s because plant evolved to cope with occasional droughts in its natural environment.

This makes it the perfect plant for Snowbirds, as they can leave their oxalis totally on its own for six months without having to worry about having someone come in to water it, then it will grow back quickly when they get home and start to water it again. The rhizomes are also used for multiplication. Just dig up one or two, pot them up and you’ll quickly have a pot of true false Irish shamrock to share with friends and neighbors.

How to Grow False Shamrock

This is a very easy houseplant to care for.

Average home temperatures suit it perfectly (at less than 50°F/10°C or more than 90°F/32°C, however, it may go dormant) and it adapts to most light situations, from dim to bright. However, it prefers bright light during the winter. It also tolerates dry air, although it does better in a humid atmosphere. The only truly essential maintenance is watering: to keep growing, water it regularly, whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. You can add a diluted dose of the fertilizer of your choice between March and October… but even if you do never fertilize your oxalis, it will still grow very well.

In addition, false shamrock rarely suffers from insects or diseases. If you ever detect a problem, you can quickly solve it: chop the leaves to the ground to eliminate the pest and the plant will grow back quickly. After two weeks, your plant will be healthy again, new leaves will be growing and it will soon be in bloom!

So much for the good news. On the negative side, false shamrock is a messy plant, requiring frequent cleaning. The leaves and flowers are short-lived and if you don’t remove the faded ones every three or four days, they build up and diminish the plant’s attractiveness.

Surprising Facts

Curiously, false shamrock is grown as a vegetable in many South American countries. People consume the leaves and flowers, but especially the rhizomes, serving them either as a side dish or a condiment. All have a delightfully tangy taste, like sorrel or rhubarb. Don’t overdo it though, as all its parts contain oxalic acid which is toxic if consumed in large quantities. In South America, it is generally held that you should not eat oxalis more than three or four times a week.

If you have pets (dogs, cats, etc.) be forewarned that they don’t know that they should be consuming this plant in moderation and could become sick if they eat too much. Most pets don’t like the taste of false shamrock and will stop chewing after the first nibble. However, if your little friend is given to munching plant parts, you’d do best to keep your oxalis out of its reach.

You can also use this oxalis outdoors during the summer, in pots or planted in the garden, in sun or shade. The easiest thing to do is to cut the leaves to the ground before you plant it out. That way you won’t have to worry about slowly acclimating the plant to outdoor conditions like you would with most plants you’re transitioning to outdoor growing; the new leaves that grow in will automatically adapt to outdoor sun.

This oxalis is hardy from USDA zone 7 to 10. It therefore won’t be hardy in northern climates and will have to be brought back indoors in the fall. It warmer climes it can remain outdoors all year. Unlike many oxalis species, false shamrock is not invasive and will remain in its place unless you disturb the rhizomes. Rototilling, notably, could spread them far and wide.

20160317HBeannachtai na Feile Padraig! (“Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” in Gaelic.)