As the Monstera craze and the fiddle-leaf-fig boom finally cool off, many plant parents may be looking for the next addition to their collection. Luckily, there’s a whole kingdom of plant options to be explored. ‘While certain plants might have their time in the Instagram limelight, there are so many other plants that demand equal attention,’ says Sprout Home founder Tara Heibel. Not to mention that once a plant becomes an overnight sensation, the price tag instantly goes up. But ‘there are a lot of amazing plants that are beautiful, can be easy to care for, and won’t break the bank,’ says Erin Harding, author of How to Raise a Plant and Make It Love You Back. In that spirit, we asked 16 plant experts — including plant-shop owners, plant buyers, plant writers, and plant influencers — for their favorite underappreciated, underexposed, and underrated plants.
For the beginner plant parent
The Peperomia genus was recommended by many of our experts, with Ariel Ries, a plant specialist at Tula, calling it ‘a really great underappreciated group.’ According to Heibel, most varieties ‘can withstand some dry time and a wide range of light conditions’ and can bring ‘a little colour’ and ‘a quirky architecture’ to a drab office desk. Vanessa Chinga-Haven and Greg Beyer, plant buyers at the boutique Homecoming, especially like the Watermelon Peperomia because of its unique leaf pattern resembling a watermelon rind.
Three of our experts also pointed to the Peperomia obtusifolia member of the family. ‘Peperomia are underappreciated houseplants and perfect for small-space living because they are relatively diminutive plants,’ says Summer Rayne Oakes, author of the forthcoming book How to Make a Plant Love You and host of the YouTube series Plant One on Me. Heibel calls this little guy ‘a trusty and bright companion.’ Because they are semi-succulent, ‘they like to really dry out between waterings.’ Ries adds that they ‘love indirect bright light.’ For this reason, our experts say it is important to use a planter with a drainage hole and a well-draining potting soil. ‘Though the succulent-like leaves are the showy part of the Peperomia, it can also produce white stem flowers from spring to fall,’ says Ries.
This Schefflera arboricola, commonly known as the umbrella plant, is super-underrated and undemanding, say Chinga-Haven and Beyer. A versatile plant, it can grow quite tall and is the right size and shape to ‘fill a corner well.’ They advise keeping it in bright, indirect sunlight and watering weekly for best results.
‘Most people know about the snake plant, Sansevieria trifasciata, and how hard it is to kill. But it has weirder (yet just as low-maintenance) cousins,’ say Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit, authors of How to Window Box and founders of the Horticult. The spear plant is a little more special than the more common flat-leaf varieties. Both Darryl Cheng, author of The New Plant Parent, and Heibel recommend the Sansevieria cylindrica, or African spear plant, for its sculptural, cylindrical shape and low-maintenance care regimen. ‘These guys are succulents that can tolerate bright, filtered light, and because they are succulents, they can go through — and want — a pretty hefty dry time.’ Which makes them ideal for plant parents who go out of town a lot or might not have much direct sunlight in their homes, says Heibel.
‘The silver-dollar vine is an amazing succulent from Madagascar and has such a unique shape that we can’t help but find this plant fascinating,’ says Ries. It thrives in full sun but can handle some partial light, and it likes being under-watered, she adds, making it the perfect plant for anyone who has lots of windows, travels often, or is forgetful. And it’s a rarer find, which also adds to its appeal. ‘The colour of the circular leaves is this green-grey mint color that really stands out among the vibrant greens of most indoor plants.’
For the somewhat-experienced plant parent
The fun Stromanthe ‘Triostar’ is a go-to favorite of Ryan Lee, co-founder of Rooted NYC, because ‘it’s one of the plants that exhibit nyctinastic movement, which is a fancy way of saying their leaves dance up and down within a 24-hour cycle.’ Plus, the magenta, cream, and forest-green coloring is striking and, as Lee simply puts it, ‘friggin’ beautiful.’ The plant is pet-friendly, so its a good option for people with animals.
Similar to the Stromanthe ‘Triostar’ is the‘Calathea ornata, or pinstripe Calathea, a colourful member of the prayer-plant family (Marantaceae),’ says Erin Marino, director of brand marketing at the Sill. It is known for ‘both its unique colouring — leaves that are green on top with thin pink stripes and dark maroon underneath — and its unique leaf movements.’
Three of our experts recommend the Hoya, or wax plant. ‘They’re dangly, they’re often romantically variegated, and some of their species grow curled, crinkled leaves,’ say Gordon and Benoit. Oakes warns that because they are a fairly slow-growing plant, they do require a lot of time and patience. However, she says, ‘they make a great houseplant because they are relatively non-fussy and easy to propagate.’ Harding seconds that: ‘They have amazing character and are super-easy to care for.’ If that’s not enough to convince you that the Hoya is a worthy addition to your collection, Gordon and Benoit promise that ‘when they bloom, the flowers smell like chocolate.’
Aglaonema, otherwise known as Chinese evergreen, has been a common houseplant for centuries, says Oakes. ‘However, since that time, there have been quite a few introductions and different cultivated varieties that have come out on the market — many in different colour patterns, like camouflage, reds, whites, pinks, and a number of others,’ she explains. Plant influencer Jamie Song calls the tricolour varieties some of the ‘most-sought-after plants’ because ‘the leaves have a beautiful camouflage pattern, which is hard to believe exists in nature.’ Oakes especially recommends it ‘for those who can’t grow flowers in their home, because Aglaonema can really give a nice brightness of colour.’
‘I love my ponytail palm Beaucarnea recurvata. They add quirk and a sculptural sensibility to a space, and since they store water in their large trunks and enjoy being somewhat pot-bound, they are very low maintenance,’ says Justina Blakeney, founder and director of the Jungalow. Because ‘ponytail palm’ is a misnomer (it isn’t a palm at all and is actually more closely related to desert plants), it can thrive even under the care of the most forgetful plant parent. ‘I like to keep a smaller one on our dining table instead of flowers, and I have been shopping for a large one to put in our living room as a focal point,’ Blakeney says.
The Alocasia ‘Polly,’ while not as indestructible as the snake plant, is still a relatively easy-to-care-for addition to a collection. Plus ‘it has these striking arrowhead-shaped leaves that are green on top with thick white veins and maroon underneath,’ says Marino. Because of their unique shape, they are sometimes referred to as elephant ears, she adds. They do best in bright-to-medium indirect light with biweekly waterings. Song suggests its close relative Alocasia cuprea for the ‘stunning metallic sheen and hints of purple iridescence,’ he says. ‘Because of these unusual qualities, those in the know will want to acquire this plant.’
While the typical Monstera has invaded every Instagram feed, boutique shop, and apartment over the past year, there are still plenty of worthwhile variegated varieties very few people known about or have. Chinga-Haven and Beyer love this Swiss-cheese plant because, while it ‘is a vine version of the Monstera,’ it still has the ‘same easy care.’ And the negative space created by the holes gives it a super-interesting look.
The dragon plant has a distinctive slender stem that erupts into a fan of leaves at the top, giving it a modern sensibility. ‘It has a different leaf shape than the usual, comes in colour variations, and is very linear, so it’s great for small apartments,’ say Chinga-Haven and Beyer. It’s an effective way to have a more substantial vertical plant that has an outsize visual impact without getting in the way. While Dracaena marginata is toxic to animals, it is quite easy to care for. It requires only a weekly watering and bright, indirect sunlight.
‘This houseplant makes a big statement because it resembles an outstretched mass of giant green hands,’ say Gordon and Benoit. Plus, because the plant is still flying under the radar, you can find a good-size specimen for an affordable price (for now), which is why the pair suggest scoring one fast. ‘Its Philodendron genus got reassigned to Thaumatophyllum only last year, so you’ll probably still find it listed as a Philo. But don’t dare call it a Monstera,’ they warn.
For the advanced plant parent
‘While the bird-of-paradise often outshines banana plants (though, funny enough, are often mistaken for them), they can often grow unmanageably tall or etiolate in most households,’ says plant writer Jeannie Phan. ‘That’s why I love this dwarf variety of banana tree: It’s super-compact and small-space friendly while still giving off a tropical feel with its broad leaves,’ she explains. As an added bonus, the tree can actually fruit ‘if you’ve got a sunny outdoor space it can vacation to every summer.’ Even a small patio or patch of backyard will do.
Horticulturist Anders Røyneberg particularly loves the Calathea orbifolia ‘due to its unique texture and beautiful foliage’ and describes it as ‘a stunning eye-catcher.’ Calatheas are tropical plants that require low-to-medium light and ample humidity to keep them happy and healthy. Chinga-Haven and Beyer note that while ‘it is a bit more difficult to take care of with a humidifier or a spray, they should thrive.’ And according to Røyneberg, the extra effort is worth it: ‘I love it because it gives me this tropical feeling when I need it the most; in the cold and dark Norwegian winter.’
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