Exotic House Plants


Exotic house plants that eat bugs, purify the air, and are covered in polka dots–though not all three at once.



The words "exotic" and "domestic" are seldom used synonymously, and with good reason. Domestic routines would devolve into chaos if exposed to the idiosyncrasies, the strange and singular exceptions that define the exotic. If there is a meeting place between the two worlds, it can be found in exotic house plants. That strange phrase "exotic house plants" is most often used to describe plants native to another part of the world. There lies the key to this paradoxical term: what is domestic in one region seems wholly exotic to another.


Ming aralia


Native to India and Polynesia, Ming aralia is an evergreen perennial that makes an excellent indoor tree. The species Polyscias fruticosa in particular is prized for its luxuriant, hanging foliage.


Ming aralia's compound leaves are dark green, about four inches long, and highly variable. Ovate or lanceolate in form, the leaves are attached to zigzagging stems that give Ming aralia a complicated, ornamental appearance unusual even among exotic house plants.


These exotic house plants look tremendous when grown out to a height of seven or eight feet, or they can be kept trimmed for a less imposing ambience. Ming aralia grows slowly, but lives long and has few needs beyond moist soil and high lighting.


Polka dot plant


Native to Madagascar, polka dot plants look less like exotic house plants than home decorating accidents. Imagine a typical evergreen perennial, only with a bucket of pink paint spilled all over it. That's a polka dot plant.


Polka dot plants have gained favor as exotic house plants recently because of the work being done to create hybrids. Polka dot plant deserves the attention. It's easy to grow, reaching a maximum height of three feet. It enjoys rich, moist, well-drained soil and bright light.


A common complaint about these exotic house plants is that they become leggy as they age. Pinching longer shoots will promote bushiness and keep your polka dot plant looking happily splattered.


Peace lily


Sometimes exotic house plants are both beautiful and useful. Such is the case with Spathiphyllum, or peace lily. Peace lily is cherished not only for its snowy white blooms, but also for its usefulness as an air purifier. Peace lily actually cleans the air by removing vaporized solvents, making it a decorator's favorite in public places such as malls and corporate offices.


Peace lilies prefer filtered light, and are a bit unusual in that they can flower even with lower light levels. As with most exotic house plants, water with room temperature water that does not contain chlorine. Keep peace lily in a large pot, and be very sparing with fertilizer.


Cobra lily


Admit it. Ever since your first childhood viewing of Little Shop of Horrors you've wanted to own one: a plant that eats things. But carnivorous plants are a true gardening challenge. The reason carnivorous plants eat bugs is that their natural soil lacks the nutrients they need to live. Imitating their native conditions is essential to keeping them healthy.


The cobra lily is a little easier to maintain than most carnivorous exotic house plants. The humidity level needn't be quite so high, but cobra lily is accustomed to having cool water constantly running over its root system. Flush cobra lily every day with distilled water, and never let its roots dry out.


Cobra lily grows up to a height of four feet, and its large root system dictates it be kept in large pots. Keep cobra lily's root system cool, never fertilize, and plant it in living sphagnum moss, and you just might have success.


One last thing: you don't have to feed bugs to your cobra lily. But if you want to–and that seems to be the whole point of growing cobra lily–feed it freshly caught insects every six weeks.


--Joshua Avram

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