It’s probably a strange time for me to highlight exotic wonders from more tropical locations, but the truth is many of the houseplants that beautify our homes and filter impurities out of the air we breathe originate from tropical regions. They are easier to grow than you might think, so here’s 10 absolute stunners I recommend you grow at home.
Dendrobiums, or cane orchids (pictured above)
Cane orchids can be grown indoors or outdoors and may be the most suitable of all orchid species to a typical home garden environment. Dendrobium orchids originate in South East Asia, although we have some forms native to north eastern Australia. They prefer 70 per cent shade protection and like regular watering, but they enjoy a wet summer and a dry, low humidity winter, making them perfect for the southern states. These plants grow best in large pots in a position protected from strong winds.
Cordyline fruticosa, the ti tree or good luck plant
This Cordyline got its name because it was a source of starch for Polynesians who enjoyed it growing naturally across the islands. These days it’s considered one of the finest exotic foliage plants a person can grow and, if you live in areas above Sydney and Perth and don’t suffer from frosts, it will grow outdoors well. If you live south of this line, you can grow them in pots and place them outdoors in semi-shade during summer and then indoors during winter. This will deliver the best growth results. The foliage colours vary through shades of white, red and pink.
Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids
These are the trendiest of the popular forms of orchid right now, as they can be grown relatively easily from tissue culture. This makes mass production a bit easier for growers. The flowers are huge and it gets its common name because the two large petals look much like moth wings. They come in a range of colours and grow exceptionally well in brightly-lit spots indoors or out. They are almost indestructible. Moth orchids are best started out in a small pot, around 80-100mm wide, before increasing to larger sizes as the plant matures. When they finish flowering, cut the flower shoot off and another will emerge soon after and produce more stunning flowers.
The slipper orchid
The slipper orchid is a small, compact, free-flowering orchid great for small pots in shady positions and does exceptionally well indoors. If there was an ultimate bathroom plant, this would be it.
White butterfly ginger
Ginger plants have great potential indoors in brightly-lit positions. I’m a huge fan of the Hedychium coronarium, or white butterfly ginger, although in some parts of Australia it has potential to be a weed in the natural environment. Its pure white flowers are heavily fragrant, making it an ideal casual indoor pot plant, but also a brilliant option for patios and entertaining areas. The variegated form of this species is a cultivar known as ‘Dr Moy’ and makes a great foliage plant in its own right. This is not a long-term indoor plant, but a long-term shade area plant with short stays indoors when it’s in flower.
Another highly sought-after ginger-like plant is the blue ginger, a stunning pot plant when in flower and great indoors for a few weeks at a time. Dichorisandra thyrsiflora is actually a member of the wandering jew family and incredibly hardy and easy to grow in a semi-shade position in a pot.
Oncidiums, or dancing ladies
There are about 650 different forms of Oncidiums, but the tiny yellow flower produced in large sprays on flower spikes are without doubt the most popular. This is an orchid that needs a well-lit spot inside, in an atrium, under a laserlite roof or in a sheltered position and needs to be left there. It has tiny pseudo-bulbs and, if left to develop in a 30cm pot, will fill the pot over a few years and produce masses of flower spikes throughout the year. They originate from South America and bring a colour display unlike any other indoor flowering plant.
The shell ginger
Alpinia zerumbet, or shell ginger, is an Aboriginal bush tucker food source and makes a stunning large pot plant that can be grown indoors or out. The golden variegated form is the best from a feature point of view. They are very easy to grow and do well in full sun or part shade as a large garden plant or pot plant for indoors and outdoors. They make a wonderful foliage plant and last indoors for some weeks before requiring a breather back in a shady place.
Howea forsteriana, or kentia palm
If you were to choose just one large graceful indoor plant, the investment in a kentia palm is a wise one. This palm does well in a moist soil environment in some of the shadiest spots, yet will grow in full sun as well. This is the king when it comes to structure and grace indoors. It grows well in a large pot and will offer a good two to three years inside without a care. When they get too large you can transplant them into a shady spot in the garden and, as long as soil moisture is reasonably good, they will make a valuable addition.
Schefflera arboricola, or miniature umbrella
If it’s just foliage effects you are after with an almost indestructible presence indoors, look for the miniature umbrella, Schefflera arboricola. For even greater effect, seek out one of the variegated forms. This rainforest plant is tough and tolerates poor light, inconsistent watering and neglect exceptionally well. It loves being contained in a pot, but does well in an atrium environment as well. If you can’t grow this one, you need to visit the silk plant section of the florist.
Some of these plants can be grown outdoors in pots under shade in the warmer climates of Australia, where others need to be protected by bringing them indoors in cooler climates during the winter. They all need to be cared for properly by feeding every six months with a controlled-release plant food and twice-weekly watering. Self-watering pots are a good idea as they save both water and plants. The only exception is orchids – I’d select a beautiful glazed earthenware container for these gems.
About the Author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, local WA food program Our State on a Plate and the Destination WA travel series. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.