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Plants for Beginners

September 20, 1997|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS

Many houseplants sold in nurseries and home supply warehouses are easy to grow and likely to thrive with a minimum amount of care.

The following plants tend to do well in most situations, even with low light levels, low humidity and inconsistent watering and fertilizing. Give them a little care and they will really take off.

* Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii): One of the easier palms to grow, this produces clusters of slender canes that resemble bamboo. The foliage is delicate and dark green. It is more resistant to pests than other palms.

Requires ample water, except in winter, when it should be watered just enough to keep the root ball moist.

* Bird's nest fern (Asplenium nidus): The easiest fern to grow, this plant produces showy, apple-green fronds that grow up to 2 feet long and 8 inches wide.

The smooth, shiny fronds are undivided. Can be summered outdoors in a semi-shady spot.

* Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema crispum 'Silver Queen'): Hardy tropical grown for its graceful oblong leaves. When mature, it blooms with small greenish flowers that resemble callas.

One of the best plants for low-light situations. Can also get by on infrequent watering. Slow-growing and spreading, reaching no more than 24 inches high.

* Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior): Slow-growing plant with large dark-green foliage. Plant spreads and gets dense but generally grows no taller than 20 inches. Can take low light and infrequent watering.

* Draceana 'Janet Craig': Evergreen palm-like plant with long, blade-like, green foliage. Upright grower that can become tall, reaching 20 feet or more. Will tolerate abuse, including low light, low humidity and infrequent watering.

* Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia): This plant gets its nickname from the fact that the acrid sap in its leaves can burn the mouth and throat and may paralyze the vocal cords. Plant grows to 6 feet or taller with large, pointed, variegated leaves in a variety of color combinations. Likes filtered light; water when soil feels dry.

* Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis): This is the easiest orchid to grow. It has long sprays of butterfly-shaped flowers that are 3 to 6 inches wide and come in a variety of colors.

They are epiphylytic plants, growing on trees for support, but not nourishment. Although they shouldn't go completely dry, they can take dry conditions. They do well in filtered light or in a bright bathroom.

* Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): One of the few flowering plants that can bloom repeatedly indoors, it has erect, dark-green, oval leaves that taper to a point and white flowers that resemble calla lilies.

Keep soil evenly moist during spring, summer and fall and slightly drier during winter.

* Philodendron: Tough, durable vines and shrubs with leathery, usually glossy leaves, the shrub types can grow 6 to 8 feet high. Vining types grow indefinitely under the right conditions.

Will tolerate some abuse, including low light and low moisture.

* Pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum 'Aureum'): Vining plant with oval, leather leaves 2 to 4 inches long with bright green or yellow markings. Will tolerate low light and infrequent watering.

* Rubber tree (Ficus robusta): A favorite among Victorians, this plant remains popular today. Its common name comes from its thick, leather-like dark-green leaves that contain a rubber-like latex. In good conditions, it can reach 8 feet high.

Takes less light than many big indoor plants. Does not tolerate over-watering.

* Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata): Rigidly upright plant with thick patterned leaves that can reach 5 feet tall. Plant withstands neglect, including dry air, uneven temperatures and light and infrequent watering.

* Umbrella tree (Schefflera): With giant, shiny leaves, this plant can reach 6 to 12 feet indoors and much taller outside. Likes bright filtered light but will take lower light levels. Mist to deter pests.

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