I want a plant for a specific spot in my house
May 8, 2021 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I have a (mostly) west-facing window in my living room. It gets direct sunlight in the afternoon, which scorches "bright but indirect light" plants I've tried. However, it also seems to not get enough sunlight for plants that want bright, direct light. I want a big plant in this spot but is there one that will work?

I've already killed a palm and the boston fern that's currently sitting there will have to be moved. It's a big, empty spot in my living room and I love plants, so that's what I want to put there, but ... help!

Another complication is that it gets less light in the winter. So I think I need a plant that is tolerant of a variety of lighting conditions. Any ideas? I've got a snake plant that was doing okay a couple feet from the window, but it's not big/bushy like I want.

Also: must be mostly non-toxic to nomming cats. My cat does not nom on plants much but I don't want to risk him suddenly deciding he wants the death salad.
posted by Kutsuwamushi to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you watering enough? Make sure your plants have a large enough pot that the soil doesn't dry out immediately, and stay aware of the moisture level in the soil.

Palms die for a number of reasons, but I haven't heard "too much light" as one of them -- but I don't know everything about every palm.

The most difficult to kill plant I know is pothos. If you give it tons of water, it will grow tons of leaves and vines. If you give it very little water, it will still grow. Hang it up so it can trail down impressively, and learn why it it sometimes called "devil's ivy" by those who wish it wouldn't take over it's native jungle spaces.

I put some in a paludarium where the roots basically sit in water (filtered, moving water, so it doesn't get stagnant/rotty/gross), and it's an even more robust gorgeous-leaved plant than I knew it could become. Bonus: Evan the frog loves sitting on those big, strong leaves.

Oh, and "golden pothos" is part of a three-plant regimen developed specifically for cleaning and oxygenating air in closed spaces (the others are a specific type of palm and, I think, mother-in-law's tongue/snake plant).
posted by amtho at 12:25 PM on May 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have several pothos already and don't particularly want to move it to this spot. I'm looking for something big and bushy. I also can't easily hang a plant from my ceilings, which I would have to do to keep it out of reach of the cat. (Pothos are toxic.)

You can assume I've read the standard care advice for all my plants, including watering directions, and so on.

I think my palm probably died because it didn't get enough light, although I can't be 100% sure. It wasn't because I was under-watering it; I never let the soil dry out completely. It could be that I over-watered it, even though I was quite careful to check moisture levels. It required very, very infrequent watering to keep the soil moist, like it was not taking up much water in the first place.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:53 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: Yuccas are generally hard to kill in any circumstances, and are tolerant of almost any light conditions. Just make sure you get an actual yucca, not a dracaena (which prefer a lot of shade). Technically they're toxic to cats, but if you get a bigger one the leaves will be out of cat range, and either way they're dry and sharp enough I've never had a cat nibble them. Technically they prefer things on the drier side, but the only side effect of more frequent watering I've noticed is faster growth.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:38 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: We have west-facing windows in our living room, and the plant that's done the best in that section of the house has been a big burgundy ficus/rubber plant. It started quite small and at this point it's probably 5 feet. Not sure about feline toxicity, we have a cat but she's not the chomping type (not plants at least; fingers are another matter).
posted by saladin at 1:39 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: Perhaps a Strelitzia nicolai, commonly known as a giant/white bird of paradise. I have some living in containers indoors as well as several planted in the ground outside in full sun and they do fine either way other than the outdoors ones are 30' tall and flowering while the indoor container ones max out at about 12' and have not flowered. Feed with blood meal to get big growth. They live a good long time, the youngest of mine is 25 years old.

The seeds/fruit are toxic to cats and dogs, but again, the indoor ones rarely flower and if it did, I advise cutting it the bloom off before it opens because their flowers drool copious amounts of sticky tar-like nectar everywhere.
posted by jamaro at 1:51 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: Probably preaching to the choir here but - If you can move your plant closer just a foot or two to the window in winter and further away from it in summer, that can help moderate the light intensity. A small supplemental light source may also help in the winter. A sheer curtain can also be helpful for moderating light in the summer and cutting drafts in the winter.

If your plant is near a heater or ac, that could also be pretty challenging for a plant, especially if it needs good humidity. Pay attention to the humidity requirements for your plant and use a pebble tray and misting if needed.

Given your description of the spot and what you’re looking for, I’d recommend -

* Variegated pineapple (Ananas comosus var. variegates) - gets about 2x3 feet high x wide
* Flaming sword (2.5 x 1.5)
* rose of China (hibiscus rosa-sinensis) (3 x 6 feet)
* yellow sage (lantana camara) 3x3
* pomegranate (punica granatum) 6x6
* ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) 6x3

There are a fair number of succulents that I think would also work, but I’ve been trying to suggest things that aren’t toxic if your cat chows down on them and I’m not sure about things like euphorbia tirucalli or trigona.
posted by congen at 3:33 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: Have you thought of adding sheer curtains?

Calatheas are pet-friendly and an Orbifolia can grow big and bushy.

Without the cat-stipulation, I would have recommended a tetrasperma as being ideal.
posted by dobbs at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: A cast iron plant will grow wide but doesn’t grow tall, and requires very little care.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:27 PM on May 8, 2021

Best answer: Re: the palm, it matters tremendously which palm you had: if you had a majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis), it was never going to do well because they are just not. indoor. plants. despite a decade or so of retailers trying to make them happen. If it was a parlor palm (Chamedorea elegans), I don't know: everybody says they're easy, but they've never liked me and I don't know what the problem is. (I also don't like them well enough to try to find out.)

congen's recommendation for moving plants toward and away from the window as the light changes outside is a good one, as is dobbs' suggestion for sheer curtains. Both of those only apply if the problem actually is light intensity, which I'm skeptical about: it's not unusual for a plant to scorch within a couple weeks of being in overly-strong light (plants sold as houseplants are usually grown fast and hard in bright light by wholesalers and then brought into conditions that are closer to the light levels they'll experience indoors for a few weeks prior to shipping, so sometimes throwing them into a very bright spot can be too much), but most plants adapt to the stronger light and don't continue to scorch. Some pests can cause marks that look like sun-scorching (spider mites, thrips, bacterial leaf spot); also cold damage, salt buildup, dry air, and mechanical damage can all sometimes cause markings that resemble sunburn to one degree or another. Your space may be unusual in some way you haven't specified, and I'm going to assume for the purposes of recommendation that you're right about what it is, but "too much light" is very rarely the problem with indoor plants.

You should be aware (if you aren't already) that snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) are mildly toxic to cats. I know someone who lost cat to Sansevieria, though the cat in question was already fairly old and unwell. If your cat has shared space with your plant for a long time without chewing on it, this may not be worth worrying about, but be advised that it's a possibility.

Specific long list of recommendations (tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions, nontoxic to cats, broad and tall or able to approximate that somehow) coming sometime today.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2021

Best answer: This was a harder combination to recommend for than I thought when I started, so I'm including plants that miss one of the criteria also.

Remember that any of these can sunburn under the right circumstances, and that I'm just some rando on MeFi who could be mistaken or misinformed about toxicity.

nontoxic, tall, wide, flexible light

Ti plants (Cordyline fruticosa) work, except that they are extremely prone to developing spider mite infestations, especially in direct sun; even out of direct sun, they're so fussy about humidity and watering that I wouldn't ordinarily recommend them. That said, if it's your only plant in the room, or one of only a couple, you're lucky enough to buy one without spider mites on it to begin with, no spider mites blow in through the window, you can keep the room very humid, and you don't mind wiping down all the leaves with soapy water every few months just in case, you could maybe pull it off. The prettier the colors (e.g.), the harder it will be to grow; the solid green species isn't as fussy (but still gets spider mites).
Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla or A. columnaris), maybe. They'll do best if cool, bright, and humid, and can get spider mites if they're getting lots of hot sun with dry air. Also not very forgiving of watering errors, in my experience. But the size is right, and they do like bright light (though you'd need to rotate the plant regularly to keep the stem from tilting to the side, because once there's a kink in the stem, it's permanent). Some sites claim Norfolk Island pines are intrinsically toxic; others say they're only toxic because of the stuff that retailers put on them; I always thought they were non-toxic but I suppose that could be wrong.
• Similarly, bunya-bunya tree (Araucaria bidwillii) is a bit more tolerant of heat and less inclined to spider mites, but is sharp and pointy in almost every way it is possible for a plant to be sharp and pointy ("almost" because I don't think there are spines on the roots), and not as pretty until they get fairly large. At which point you can't get anywhere near them. The sharp leaf tips do at least make the toxicity question moot, though: I don't know how you'd even start trying to eat one.

nontoxic, tall, and wide

Ornamental bananas (Ensete / Musa spp.) are also prone to spider mites unless humidity is very high, and they're not especially easy to care for, but if the light is so strong that it's too much for other plants, there's a chance this would work. Especially if you really enjoy watering and want to spend more of your life doing it.

nontoxic, tall, flexible light

Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea spp.): very slow-growing indoors but fairly easy as long as you don't overwater. Starting with a large specimen will be very expensive, and they don't get particularly "bushy." Your cat may be inclined to bat at or chew on the leaves, because they're long and dangly, which won't hurt the plant or the cat particularly but will affect the plant's appearance. There is also, rarely, a variegated version, with yellow marginal stripes, which is slower and more expensive but prettier and just as easy to grow. A particularly good choice if you really hate watering and want to spend less of your life doing it.

nontoxic, wide, flexible light

Flaming sword (Vriesea splendens) is great if you can find one, though it's probably not as large as you want, nobody'd call them "bushy," and plants are sold in bloom, which for a bromeliad means they're sold right before they begin to die. They'll produce offsets to replace themselves before they go, but V. splendens usually only produces one or two offsets, and it's tricky to make the transition from the original plant to the offset: sometimes the offset just doesn't want to root.
Ornamental pineapples (Ananas comosus and A. lucidus) are often sharp and pointy enough that they could cause injuries, but they're not, strictly speaking, toxic. And they'll never complain about getting too much light. They also die and offset after blooming and forming fruit, though the process is very slow. Not bushy either.
• There are a few very large cultivars and hybrids of Neoregelia spp., which combine both the above problems: they're very sharp and pointy, and they die and offset periodically. Often pretty colors and patterns, though the color and pattern is often dependent on getting very strong light: in a darker spot they'll just be green. Not bushy either.

tall, wide, flexible light

Coffee tree (Coffea arabica) would likely be a good choice for your spot if not for the toxicity; they can get very tall and wide (though they're also fairly sparse-looking at full sizes unless you can keep multiple individuals happy in the same pot) and tolerate a wide range of light levels.
• The Ficuses are all toxic to some degree or another, but I don't think I've ever seen anyone claim anything worse than vomiting and diarrhea, and two of them, weeping fig / "ficus tree" (F. benjamina) and long-leaf fig (F. maclellandii) are properly bushy. The main issue is with defoliation: if the light level drops too much too fast, they'll drop leaves (F. benjamina especially), and although the plant is capable of growing replacement leaves that are better adapted to the new lighting condition, they won't bother if there's not enough light. (F. benjamina especially. I've seen several ficus trees that were defoliated on one side but not the other, because they only had enough light on the side by the window.) So maybe not ideal for your situation, but maybe still worth considering.
Spineless yucca (the same species is found in plant books as Yucca elephantipes, Y. guatemalensis, or Y. gigantea have serrated leaf edges, which discourages chewing, and it's also supposedly very bitter to the taste, and toxic effects are pretty mild unless a whole bunch is ingested, so I think it's more a question of your risk tolerance than the plant's toxicity. They're extremely easy to grow, and I've grown mine in a wide range of light levels without problems. The variegated varieties are more vigorous than the plain-green species, for some reason; the one with grayish streaks on top and a gray underside is particularly worth your attention, but there's also one with yellow margins.


If hanging baskets can be an option, I'd also suggest you consider goldfish plant (Aeschynanthus speciosus), lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus lobbianus), Tahitian bridal veil (Gibasis geniculata), most of the more commonly-found Hoyas (especially H. bella and H. carnosa), ric-rac cactus (Selenicereus anthonyanus) and fern-leaf cactus (S. chrysocardium), as they are all non-toxic and can get fairly large.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 2:25 PM on May 9, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations anyone!

I'm going to give the fern a little more time to see if it keeps getting worse in this spot, but if it does - and I think it will - I have a lot of good recommendations to look into. I will probably come back with more plant questions in the future.

Also, thanks for the warning about snake plants being toxic. You don't need to worry - I don't keep any super toxic plants and the mildly toxic ones are on shelves and stands out of the cat's reach. This particular spot is close to his cat tree though, so he could probably reach anything that's even slightly bushy even if it's on a stand.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:15 AM on May 13, 2021

« Older Replace engine, how much   |   How can I get an exit package? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.