KalanchoeOkay, even the toughest plant is not indestructible, but with a few expert tips you can beat the odds. "You can kill anything," says Sharon Nejman, senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. That includes giving a potted friend too much sun (which can burn them) or too much H2O (which can drown them). "People have a tendency to overwater everything," says Nejman. "The roots can't handle the absorption and start to rot."
In many ways, plants are like people. "Roots need oxygen to breathe, just like we need oxygen to breathe," says Neil Mattson, an associate professor in the horticulture department at Cornell University. Like other plant experts, he recommends setting plants in gravel-filled saucers so they're not sitting in extra drainage water and built-up salt.
Like the pineapple, the bromeliad belongs to the bromeliaceae family. This plant "lasts a long time," says Nejman. "It produces pups or side shoots that will replace the original plant - just like a pineapple." Its favorite temperature is around 70 degrees, "which makes it home friendly," she says. Make sure to keep the plant away from cold drafts.
2. Cast-iron Plant
The sturdy cast-iron plant lives up to its name, surviving low light, poor-quality soil, spotty watering, and a wide range of temperatures. Aspidistra elatior is the scientific name; elatior is Latin for "taller," which is apropos thanks to foliage that grows up to two feet high. The dark-leaved stunner likes to be left alone, so don't be too attentive, warns Nejman.
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3. Jade Plant
Native to South Africa, jade plants are succulents that retain water in their round, green leaves. They're easygoing. Desert and succulent plants "go dormant" if they don't get enough water. "If they do get water, they start to rehydrate and grow," says Mattson. Be mindful of the shallow roots, which can rot easily or fall out of the pot.
4. Prayer Plant
At night, the leaves of the prayer plant, also called a calathea, fold up as if it's praying (hence, the name). It appreciates living in moist soil and yields "pretty foliage," says Nejman.
This succulent, water-retaining plant grows colorful, bell-shaped flowers. "It takes very little care," says Nejman. Kalanchoe welcomes dry climates and temperature swings. It's even fine with 45-degree winter weather, she adds.
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6. Ponytail Palm
Officially called the beaucarnea recurvate, the slow-growing ponytail palm likes basking in a sunny window. Don't over-water the Mexico native, because "its stems work off its reserves," says Nejman. Bonus: It's a bargain - Nejman snagged one at the grocery store for 50 cents.
7. Phalaenopsis Orchid
Native to tropical Asian countries like the Philippines, the phalaenopsis orchid likes low light. But think twice if you live in a dry climate, as the orchid has a better chance of thriving in humid areas. "Most orchids are pretty forgiving," says Nejman. "If they're lucky, I water them every week or week and a half." Another perk: Unlike most hard-to-kill houseplants, this one actually produces a gorgeous flower.
Hundreds of species of the large-leafed philodendron grow in the West Indies, Mexico, and Brazil. The plant likes low light. One caveat: "They like to be on the dry side," says Nejman. So don't water more than once a week.
9. Crown of thorns
A native to Madagascar, the succulent, water-retaining shrub doesn't like much water. Otherwise, it's not picky. Another plus: It produces lovely red blooms "year round," says Nejman. Two downsides, though: Its thorns and its sap, which can cause blisters and swelling.
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This leafy vine, which can grow a 10-foot trail indoors, survives low light and irregular watering. "Some people have fun trying to see how long they can get the vine to grow," says Doug Walker, director of the College of Biological Sciences Greenhouses at the University of California at Davis. Though not as tolerant of drought as other plants, it's otherwise not too picky.
11. ZZ Plant
The ZZ plant, officially named zamioculcas zamiifolia, is native to East Africa but thrives anywhere. Walker affectionately calls it "the king of the indestructible plants." The green tolerates the dangerous trifecta of plant-killers: drought, low light, and really low humidity, he says. A beautiful plant with dark green, shiny foliage, it grows to more than a foot tall, even indoors. "It doesn't need much water because it's got this succulent bulb the stem grows out of," adds Mattson.
-By Karen Springen
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