What are the Most Common Exotic House Plants?

Anna Harrison

The African violet, bromeliad, zebra plant, elephant ear, and orchid are just a few of the plants that are commonly grown as indoor exotic house plants. These are plants that are native to Africa, Central, and South America and will not tolerate cold weather. In most climates, they must be grown inside. Fortunately, most are easy to grow and require little special care.

Elephant ear plants are exotic in the Americas, but are commonly grown as food crops in Asian countries.
Elephant ear plants are exotic in the Americas, but are commonly grown as food crops in Asian countries.

African violets are perhaps the most familiar exotic house plants, easily recognizable by their showy clusters of flowers and velvety oval leaves. Although the flowers look like violets, they are actually a member of the Gesneriaceae family. If spent flowers are removed, these plants will flower throughout the year. In nature, African violets grow in hot jungles and should be kept in a fairly humid environment. They are one of the easiest plants to propagate, and a cut leaf placed in soil will quickly root and grow into a new plant.

The bromeliad may be the most striking flowering house plant, with long or short spiky flowers in many different colors. The leaves are also colorful and may be green, gold, or dark red. Some species of bromeliad grow to 13 feet (4 m) tall, although they can be pruned into a tall house plant. Many varieties are shorter, however, and more suitable to an indoor environment. These plants are unusual in that they do not require soil to grow and actually grow on other plants.

Zebra plants are common exotic house plants grown for their large, glossy green leaves which are veined with thick white stripes. These plants produce bright yellow flower plumes in their centers, but these only last for a day or two. Zebra plants grow in rainforests and require humid air to thrive. They do best when slightly pot bound and should be planted in a container that is slightly too small.

Elephant ear plants are grown for their ornamental, heart shaped leaves, which can grow as much as 3 feet (1 m) in length. The plants themselves can reach up to 8 feet (2.4 m), although they tend to stay smaller when grown indoors. The elephant ear requires acidic soil and should be kept out of direct sunlight. Unlike most other exotic house plants, the elephant ear grows in wetlands and can tolerate waterlogged soil. This plant is not a good choice for those who frequently forget to water their plants because they will die if allowed to dry out.

For the more experienced gardener, or those looking for a challenge, the orchid may be worth a try. These finicky, high maintenance exotic house plants are worth all of the trouble, with stunning flowers that are beyond compare. There are thousands of different species in virtually all colors and sizes. Orchids require very high humidity and they need to be misted frequently. These plants also require a night temperature that is at least 10 degrees cooler than daytime to thrive.

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