Best exotic tropicals for low humidity indoors

Discussion in 'Indoor and Greenhouse Plants' started by Tom Hulse, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    Marysville, WA USA
    Many of us northern gardeners like to bring a taste of the tropics into our home to make the long gray winters more pleasant, but of course most of them don't like the very low humidity caused by the common forced air heating systems. I'm hoping many of you will post what tropicals (or any interesting/exotic plants) have done well for you in low humidity conditions.
    I'll get it started with a few of my favorites. Palms of course the first two usually mentioned are the parlor palm & Kentia palm (Kentia's are so tough). Although I actually grew a coconut palm indoors for about 7 years in a bowl of water! Anyone had long-term success with other palms? Anthurium andraeanum is in bloom for me 365 days a year. Orchids, I've had the best luck of course with Phalaenopsis, and Paphiopedilum. Smaller Cattleya hybrids are a close third. An beautiful, rarer, small orchid that I've found is amazingly low-humidity & drought tolerant is Restrepia. I have a forest of Anchomanes difformis on my desk, a real oddball Aroid with strangely shaped leaves, and a spotted trunk with spines. They only have a little trouble for a couple days a year as the new leaf tries to break the sheath.
    I've got more, but I hope you'all will chime in a bit with your favorites. :)
  2. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor 10 Years

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    Toronto, Ontario
    Also on the dry-tolerant side in orchids are: Pleurothallis (which are intriguing, tiny plants by orchid standards), some of Odontoglossum, and definitely Epidendrum. A mention should also be put in for species Cattleyas, which are native to drylands. I've got all three in my yard - granted that I live in an altitude desert, my outdoor conditions are very similar to indoor office ones. Tom, I'm really glad you mentioned Restrepia - they're so nifty, and it's a genus that's been largely ignored in cultivation for reasons I don't quite fathom.

    On the Aroid front, almost any of them can be adapted to dry conditions; I've got species Dieffenbachia, Philodendrons of various stripes, and Anthuriums growing. I've also got rather crazy numbers of specialty Zantedeschia and Calla cultivars, which are cast iron regardless of conditions and which produce really pretty inflorescences.

    If you've got time and patience, Bougainvillea can be either bonsai or full-size trained in pots. With careful trimming, these are trees rather than vines.

    For palms, indoors I've had great success, both in northern Canada and here in Ecuador, with Phoenix robelinni (Pygmy Date). Our family record in Canada was 40 years, and it's probably still going - it just couldn't make the trip with us so it went to a cousin.

    And in terms of other plants that not only survived the forced air, but also survive my desert conditions, I'd like to put in a kind word for Bananas, particularly Musa dasycarpa, Musa acuminata ssp. zebrina, and Musa 'Bordelon'. All of these plants are small enough to be kept indoors and weather low humidity with grace. The three I've mentioned are ornamentals; if you're interested in also having fruit eventually the best indoor cultivars I've come across are 'Dwarf Red' and 'Dwarf Cavendish' (the former produces tastier bananas than the latter). 'Super Dwarf Cavendish' is a desktop banana; I've never heard of one fruiting but they're quite unique looking, almost a bonsai-style banana plant.

    Staying in the Zingiberaceae, Canna, particularly the dwarf varieties, are also dry air-tolerant and excellent potted plants. The same can be said for Curcuma (Turmeric and its allies) and if you've got enough space, Alpinia (Galangals) and Zingiber (true Ginger) are also tolerant of dry conditions.

    If you've got a wall you want to cover with something very tropical looking, Solanum seaforthianum is lovely.
  3. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    WA USA (Z8)
    Zygocacti are compact and easy.
  4. mrsubjunctive

    mrsubjunctive Active Member

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    Iowa, United States
    The only palm I've got that qualifies is Chamaedorea metallica. It's not super-exciting, but I like it, and I'm not sure why people don't buy them when given the chance.

    Selenicereus chrysocardium is another good one. Huge, and weird-looking, but very forgiving of indoor conditions.

    Every Billbergia I've tried so far (nutans, 'Borracho,' 'Foster's Striate') has done well for me regardless of humidity.

    I'll join the praise for Anthurium hybrids, at least the ones grown for the flowers. (A. 'Mehani,' which I think is either a variety of A. clarinervum or A. crystallinum and I can never remember which, turns to crap for me every winter, then rebounds when it gets warmer out.)

    Eucharis grandiflora is great indoors, regardless of humidity. I've only gotten mine to flower once, to my chagrin, but I like it as a foliage plant well enough not to be too bothered by that.

    Philodendron mexicanum would be great if I weren't fighting thrips and scale on it. (I think it's just unlucky, not bug-prone, but it's hard to know for sure.)

    I expected more complaining about low humidity from Syngonium wendlandii than I've seen so far.

    Less unexpectedly, I have a few unusual(-ish) succulent plants that do well in whatever humidity they happen to get: Furcraea foetida 'Medio-Picta' is great (except when it gets scale). My Haemanthus albiflos is pretty recent, but looks like it's going to be agreeable. Leuchtenbergia principis has made me pretty consistently happy for a few years now.
  5. Dave-Florida

    Dave-Florida Active Member

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    Vero Beach, Fla., USA
    The lists look good. Bougainvillea notoriously likes dry, sunny conditions. The palm genus Chamaedorea has a number of great indoor species. I suspect a number of bromeliads would do well. The Billbergias mostly have erect leaves, so they don't occupy a lot of space. Some of the Tillandsia species can dry out quite a bit between soakings. We have a couple of native Epidendrum orchids, and they put up with long spells of dry (and sometimes cold) in our winters.

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