6 essential house plants for your indoor jungle

Illustrations by Lauren Hynd

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Ready to turn your whare into the indoor jungle of your dreams? We asked some garden guardians for advice on the best house plants you can get your grubby green fingers on.

1

Swiss Cheese Plant
Monstera Deliciosa

What’s in the name?
Native to the tropical forests of southern Mexico, Monstera deliciosa means “delicious monster” referring to the large size of the leaves and the sweet taste of the fruits when picked and prepared. Yes, they flower and fruit – it tastes like a mixture of jackfruit and pineapple and is nicknamed the “fruit salad plant” in some countries.

Where should I put it?
As a rule of thumb, imitate the jungle: indirect light, muggy, misty. Monstera thrive in a warm, well-lit position, however keep away from direct sunlight. The soil can be slightly damp, but not saturated.

What does it look like? Heart-shaped (cordate) leaves, with lots of holes. The Spanish and Portuguese names (costilla de Adán and costela-de-adão) refer to the rib cage of Adam, with the holes that form in the leaves (fenestration) looking like a thorax. In English, we’ve settled on the (less Biblical) Swiss cheese.

How should I care for it?
A light misting once a week will help create that ideal humid environment and keeps the leaves free from dust.

Tell me something I don’t know
Alongside creating that peaceful jungle vibe, they’re great air purifiers.

Recommended by Kellie Isaacs of Gellert’s

2

Fiddle Leaf Fig
Ficus Lyrata

What’s in the name?
The plant gets its name from the violin-shaped foliage that remind you of a fiddle. You may already be familiar with the name Ficus as there are a few about. It has around 1000 cousins: Benjamina, Ruby, Sophia, Bambino, etc.

Where should I put it?
When placed in bright, yet dappled light, and well away from drying heat pumps, heaters, and the glare of the sun, you should have a happy plant. When you water, water well. Thoroughly soak the soil, but don’t leave it to sit in water, this will guarantee leaf drop and a full blown sulk.

How should I care for it?
Although strong in stature they have a delicate nature (some even say emotional). You must resist the temptation to move it about your home. Even a trip from the garden centre to your lounge can result in a few well established leaves falling to the ground. Do not fret, if you have chosen its location well it will settle in and demand attention in no time.

The lyrata is not one for constant fertiliser and using it just a few times over the warmer months will do the trick. Only repot when the roots start showing at the bottom of the pot.

Tell me something I don’t know
Look away now if you don’t like horror stories. It started as an epiphyte, a plant that uses another plant as a host, securing its roots around the truck and at times subjecting it to slow strangulation. Fast forward to modern times where boundaries, formalities, and manners abound and it will behave with more decorum in a container.

Recommended by Katherine Beauchamp, owner of Palmers Miramar

3

Wild Banana
Strelitzia Nicolai

What’s in the name?
Strelitzia nicolai is commonly known as Wild Banana or Crane Plant. The Strelitzia nicolai is the larger, not so common, white flowering relative of Strelizia reginea – the orange flowering Bird of Paradise. Strelitzia was named for Charlotte Muecklenberg-Strelitz (1744–1818) who became wife of King George III of England.

Where should I put it?
Find a warm, bright spot indoors and the plant will be content. It will test your patience with flowering but when it does you will not miss it.

It’s perfect in a pot so go big and leave it to establish itself, feeding with a liquid fertiliser from Spring through to the end of Summer. Although they will live happily outdoors, they will shudder at a frost and dislike brisk wind.

What does it look like?
This plant is often grown for its foliage alone, which looks similar to a banana with wide grey/green paddle shaped leaves. The flowers are thought to look like a bird’s head and are in fact pollinated by birds, the horizontal flowers making a perfect landing strip! The colouring (white with a blueish/purple tongue) is fascinating.

What’s the best thing about this plant? 
It rests during the cooler months, so you can hold off on watering until the warmer days of Spring begin.

Who would this plant suit?
A slightly forgetful owner. They don’t mind drying out on the odd occasion but if you pay attention to its needs, you will have a long and happy relationship.

Recommended by Katherine Beauchamp, owner of Palmers Miramar

4

Aglaonema

What’s in the name?
The name Aglaonema is derived from the Greek words agláos (shining) and néma (thread). These plants grow wild in the subtropical rainforests of Asia, and are also known as Chinese Evergreens.

Where should I put it?
Aglaonema is very slow-growing, and makes for an excellent indoor plant due to their varied, attractive foliage. Keeping them a few feet away from a well lit window, where they can receive bright diffused light, is ideal.

How should I care for it?
Protecting it from cold temperatures is key: chill damage can set in as low as 15C. The plants are also easily damaged when over supplemented, so be cautious when feeding and watering.

What’s the best thing about this plant?
Aglaonema thrive easily in our homes and workplaces. Tolerant of low light conditions and sporadic care, they’re perfect plants for the beginner but remain equally attractive to experienced hands.

Tell me something I don’t know
The Aglaonema is a recurring theme in the hit film Léon: The Professional (1994). The eponymous hero (played by Jean Reno) treasures it, and at the end of the film Mathilda (Natalie Portman) gives the plant a fresh start. A very appropriate role for this tough guy!

Recommended by James Cameron of Twiglands in Johnsonville

5

Snake Plant
Dracaena Trifasciata

What’s in the name? 
The name drakaina is Ancient Greek for “female dragon”. The snake plant bit comes from them looking a little sssssnakey.

Where should I put it?
These plants can grow almost anywhere in the home that gets bright, indirect light. They can live in rooms with less light too, they’ll just grow more slowly.

What’s the best thing about this plant?
Snake plants are one of the best plants to have in the bedroom. They are mainly active at night. NASA tells us they are wonderful air purifiers and will provide fresh oxygen while you are sleeping.

This plant would suit
Neglectful parents. Snake plants are very sturdy, resilient and almost impossible to kill.

Tell me something I don’t know
The plant swaps carbon dioxide and oxygen using something called a “crassulacean acid metabolism process”. This allows them to withstand drought in their native West Africa. The pores on the plant’s leaves (stomata), used to exchange gases, only open at night to prevent water from escaping via evaporation in the hot sun. So, just remember, you didn’t “forget to water it for a month”, you were “testing its crassulacean drought response”.

If this plant were a person
D. trifasciata are commonly known as mother-in-law’s tongue. Black coral is a darker, moodier variety. So if it were a person, perhaps a gothic mother-in-law?

Recommended by James Cameron of Twiglands in Johnsonville

6

Spider Plant
Chlorophytum Comosum

What’s in the name?
The spider plant gets its name from its spidery shape, with long, thin leaves that resemble the legs of an arachnid.

Where should I plant it?
Spider plants are hardy, surviving in temperatures as low as 2C, but grow best between 18C and 32C. They’ll grow in most potting situations, but suspending them in the air is a great method via a hanging basket. This is because your spider plant creates “spiderlings”, the small plantlets that sprout at the bottom of the stems that start to dangle over the edges of the pot. You can clip these off and replant them in the main pot.

How should I care for it?
Spider plants like even moisture, not too damp or too wet. They can also burn in direct sunlight, creating brown spots at the tips of their leaves, also an effect of underwatering. The ideal situation would be keeping consistent with your watering routine and occasionally misting.

What’s the best thing about this plant?
They’re fast growing, require little maintenance, and can give you a nice aesthetic contrast to darker, leafier species of houseplant.

This plant would suit
Shared student houses, offices, anywhere that can benefit from a low maintenance plant that cleans the air with a lot of bang for its buck, visually speaking. And when it starts sprouting those little baby spider plants you can feel like a proud parent!

Tell me something I don’t know
The humble spider plant was named Capital Best House Plant 2020, and the leaves are edible and high in iron.

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