Plant Information Fact Sheet No. 1


Many of our common houseplants are indigenous to the tropics. Well-loved plants such as Ficus benjamani (Weeping Fig) from India, Saintpaulia spp. (African Violets) from Africa and Philodendron spp. from South America are easily grown indoors.

Requirements for Success

All houseplants need proper light, moisture, temperature, humidity, nutrients and maintenance.

LIGHT: Many foliage plants grow favorably in subdued light, while certain flowering plants, cacti and succulents require full sun. Sources of light include natural sunlight and artificial illumination from incandescent or fluorescent fixtures.

MOISTURE: Plants are killed more often by the common mistake of overwatering than anything else.

In general, it is advisable to allow plants to dry out and then water thoroughly- enough to saturate the entire soil ball. Certain plants such as cacti prefer to be watered after longer intervals, while others like ferns, will need watering as soon as the soil begins to dry. The great majority of houseplants fall between these two extremes.

The best time of day to water is in the morning in keeping with the high rate of transpiration. To tell if a plant needs water touch the soil to feel if it is moist or dry. Water most plants from the top until the water comes out of the drainage hole into the saucer beneath. Sometimes plants will take up water in the saucer as well but never leave them sitting in water for more than one hour. Extremely pot bound plants are best watered by soaking. This is done by immersing the plant into a bucket of water so several inches of water are above the soil line. The immersed plant then drinks this water for about a half hour and can be removed to a stand to drain.

TEMPERATURE: Some houseplants like considerable warmth, others need cooler growing conditions. In winter, warm temperatures produced by heaters lower the relative humidity indoors and positions close to radiators and other sources of dry heat are particularly distressing to plants. Many houseplants grow better when the nights are cooler than the days as this imitates natural conditions. A good general rule is to keep the night temperatures 5 to 10 degrees below the day's. Always guard against cold and sudden drafts which can cause stress and damage. To prevent damage from cold on winter nights, close shades and blinds and protect the area between the glass and plants.

HUMIDITY: In winter with the excess dryness of heated indoor air, it is advisable to humidify. This is easily accomplished by creating a more humid microclimate by grouping plants together. Additional humidity can be achieved by frequently misting the foliage of most houseplants. A few hairy-leafed plants such as African Violets, gloxinias, and gynuras resent having their leaves wet. Another excellent method of adding moisture to the air is to stand plants on shallow trays filled with gravel or pebbles that are always kept wet and/or use a humidifier.

NUTRIENTS: The three main elements necessary for healthy plant growth are: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium which occur naturally in most soils. Nitrogen promotes green foliage and stem growth, phosphorus encourages flowering and root production and potassium contributes to overall strength and disease resistance. Fertilizers for flowering plants usually contain a higher percentage of phosphorus and potassium and less nitrogen. A fertilizer labeled 10-10-10 is 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphate, and 10% potash. When applying fertilizer remember less is more! Most foliage plants need less fertilizer than flowering plants. Feed foliage plants only during the growing season from March to September.

MAINTENANCE: Healthy plants require regular cleaning, pinching and checking for disease and insect pests. Inspect plants regularly for signs of infestation. Use a damp cloth or place plants in the shower as part of a regular cleaning routine which removes dust and dirt from the foliage and helps discourage disease and pests.. Fuzzy-leafed plants such as African Violets and gynura are best cleaned with a soft paint-brush. Trimming and pinching encourages plants to become bushier and healthier. Transplant when plants become potbound: if plants require enormous amounts of water and show roots coming out of the base they probably need repotting. The most adventitious time to transplant houseplants is in the early spring when they begin to show signs of new growth.

Houseplants of Tropical Origin
Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginLight Requirements
Abutilon x hybridumFlowering MapleChinaDirect
Aechmea fasciataUrn PlantTropical AmericaDirect
Aglaonema commutatumChinese EvergreenMalaysiaLow to Moderate
Aeschynanthus spp.Lipstick VineTropical AmericaBright
Aloe spp.AloeSouth AfricaBright Filtered
Araucaria heterophyllaNorfolk Island PineNorfolk IslandBright
Asparagus spp.Asparagus FernSouth AfricaBright
Aspidistra elatiorCast Iron PlantChinaLow to Moderate
Asplenium nidis avisBird's Nest FernTropical AsiaModerate
Begonia spp.Rex and Wax BegoniasTropical AmericaModerate to Bright
Caladium bicolorCaladiumBrazilBright Filtered
Caryota mitisFishtail PalmTropical AsiaBright Filtered
Chamaedorea elegansParlor PalmMexico/C. AmericaBright Filtered
Chlorophytum comosumSpider PlantSouth AfricaModerate
Cissus rhombifoliaGrape IvySouth AmericaBright
Dieffenbachia maculataDumb CaneTropical AmericaBright Filtered
Dracaena deremensisDracaenaAfricaBright Filtered
D. fragrans 'Massangeana'Corn PlantAfricaBright Filtered
Epipremnum aureum -
(syn. Scindapsus aureus)
PothosSolomon IslandsModerate
Ficus benjaminaWeeping FigIndiaBright Filtered
F. elasticaRubber TreeIndiaBright Filtered
Gardenia augustaGardeniaChinaBright Filtered
Gynura auranticaPurple PassionTropical AsiaBright Filtered
Haworthia spp.HaworthiaSouth AfricaModerate
Hedera canariensisCanary Islands IvyCanary IslandsBright Filtered
Hibiscus rosa-sinensisHibiscusTropical AsiaDirect
Howea forsterianaSentry PalmAustraliaModerate to Bright
Hoya carnosaWax PlantTropical AsiaDirect
Nephrolepsis exaltata 'Bostoniensis'Boston FernTropical AmericaBright
Pandanus veitchiiVeitch Screw PinePolynesiaDirect
Pelargonium hybridsGeraniumSouth AfricaBright Filtered
Phalaeonopsis hybridsMoth OrchidTropical AsiaBright Filtered
Philodendron scandensHeart Leaf PhilodendronTropical AmericaLow to Moderate
Saintpaulia velutinaAfrican VioletsSouth AfricaBright Filtered
Sansevieria trifasciataSnake PlantTropical Africa/AsiaBright Filtered
Schefflera actinophylla Australian Umbrella TreeAustraliaBright Filtered
Sedum morganianumBurro's TailMexicoDirect
Spathiphyllum wallisii 'Clevelandii'Peace LilyTropical AmericaLow to Moderate

New York Botanical Garden Plant Information Service
Phone: (718) 817-8681
Telephone Hours 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday - Friday.
Fax: (718) 817-8956