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Fantastic Flora: Houseplants You Need Right Now

By Rachel Kupfer | Photography by Jason Grubb and John Balinkie

Nestled into a corner, hanging in a window or residing on a mantle or shelf, the humble houseplant adds depth and texture to any space. The tried-and true ficus and spider plant remain popular choices, but taking a walk on the exotic side can infuse your interior with a touch of the unexpected.

We teamed up with Phoenix specialty plant shop founder Michael Lanier to assemble a short list of funky favorites you may be unfamiliar with. “These easy-care indoor plants will strike curiosity from most people who see them,” he says. “Distinctive leaf shapes and multicolored frond patterns transform them into real attention-grabbers.” Anything but ordinary, one thing is certain: These houseplants are no wallflowers.

UFO Hoya (Hoya obovata). Plant shop owner Michael Lanier praises the Hoya obovata’s waxy circular leaves. “There is something almost Jurassic-looking about this vine,” he says. “It grows so slowly that when it does sprout new leaves, you feel like celebrating.” Water only when leaves begin to droop.
African Mask Alocasia amazonica Also called an elephant ear, the African mask’s graphically patterned, glossy heart-shaped leaves impart an alluring aesthetic to modern spaces. Lanier notes the plant is poisonous if ingested, so keep away from children or pets.
Polish Calathea Calathea ‘Warscewiczii’ With profusions of broad, variegated leaves that range in color from dark to pale green with deep purple undersides, this stunner thrives in indirect light. “The leaves of the Warscewisczii variety have a velvety softness to them that people love to touch,” Lanier adds. General care is simple, consisting of weekly watering, monthly fertilizing and yearly repotting.
Mounted orchids Clinging to a branch as they would in nature, mounted orchids, such as bulbophyllum and dendrobium, thrive in bright, indirect light with a hint of humidity. Lanier recommends placing yours near a kitchen or bathroom window. “I think of these more as showpieces or living art than houseplants,” he says. Note that mounted orchids require more water than those in pots. Give them a good bath under the kitchen faucet twice weekly.
Calathea lancifolia Loved for its rippled leaves marked with deep green oval spots, Lanier observes that the rattlesnake plant will open and close throughout the day in response to ambient light, showing off its reddish-purple undersides during low-light periods. He recommends setting up a time-lapse camera to watch this houseplant “dance for the light.”
Blue Star Fern Phlebodium aureum “This is the eccentric uncle of the fern family,” Lanier says. In its natural setting, the plant attaches itself to trees and other forest flora in low-light conditions. Unlike other varieties of fern, the blue star tolerates warm, dry air but will appreciate an occasional light misting.
Wax plant (Hoya carnosa) “The Hoya carnosa is the antithesis of the boring house plant because you never know how it will grow,” observes Lanier. “Leaf shape varies and plant structure is unpredictable. That’s part of the fun.” Prized for its thick, shiny, leathery leaves, this plant is content in bright, indirect light.


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