A Guide to Growing Native House Plants
Attention, dear plant lover wandering the indoor plant section at your local garden nursery. STEP AWAY FROM THE FIDDLE LEAF FIG and take a stroll down the native Australian plant aisle instead!
The studies are in – solidifying what we always knew deep down to be true – plants make people happy! Also, they improve oxygen levels and air quality by filtering pollution and toxins and purifying the air, an added advantage contributing to the rise in popularity of house plants across Australia.
When conjuring ideas for indoor plants, the mind doesn’t immediately leap to native Australian plant options. Instead, we think of the more common, popular house plants like the fiddle leaf fig, monsteras, Boston ferns and peace lilies.
Whilst we love ALL plants here at TPH, we’re always looking for new and interesting ways to bring plants and people together.”
Considering that Australia is home to tens of thousands of plant species, with each more spectacular, exciting and mad than the next, we thought it imperative to bring some of our favourite native indoor plant options to your attention and show you how you can substitute these for some of the more common varieties indoors (or better yet, grow them both!) So, the next time you’re on the hunt for a new indoor plant baby, venture a little outside the norm (but a little bit closer to home) with a native house plant!
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium spp.)
With their layered fronds shaped like deer antlers, staghorns are art pieces ready to be hung on your walls or draped from the mantle. Native to Southeastern Australia, QLD and New Guinea, these ferns are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants and trees or in rock crevices, absorbing moisture and food from the air. Platycerium are characterised by their mixture of forked and kidney shaped fronds – the reason why different species are known by names like staghorn, elkhorn and antelope ears. If you’re looking for something interesting, you can’t go past these beauties. Whether tied to a board, draped in burlap or mounded in a basket of sphagnum moss, compost or other organic matter, these easy-care ferns will reward you with new fronds in no time at all. Staghorns requires bright, indirect light and regular watering.
Substitute this one for a draped, hanging plant like Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
Mat rush (Lomandra longifolia)
Native to all areas of Australia except for the Northern Territory and Western Australia, Lomandra longifolia is one of the most widely known native grasses and has been used since ancient times by Aboriginal Australians to create baskets, nets and hunting traps. This striking grass is identified by its long strappy flat leaves and glossy green sheen. Due to its tolerance of most climates, soil types and site locations, this is an easy-care plant to grow almost anywhere indoors. Leaves grow between 40cm-1m long, depending on the size of the pot, so place yours in an area that shows off its strappy lime-coloured texture. Lomandras are drought tolerant but best growth will be achieved with regular watering.
If you’re looking for something different, substitute lomandra in place of peace lilly (Spathiphyllum).
Umbrella Tree (Schefflera actinophylla)
You may have seen this one growing indoors already. Named for its multi-trunked stems and umbrella-like groups of seven suspended leaves, Schefflera actinophylla is native to tropical rainforests in the Northern Territory and QLD where it sometimes grows as an epiphyte and can reach heights of 10+ metres! If you’re looking for a plant that will bring height and body to your space, this is the one for you – available in a range of colours including a variegated leaf, umbrella trees are ideal for growing indoors as they are highly adaptable to any site or climate. These plants respond well to regular clipping so you can keep yours the right size and shape for your space. Though they prefer bright, indirect light, you can grow these plants anywhere, however, expect growth to be slower in low light conditions. Regular watering required.
This plant will look just as full and lush as a fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) without the temperamental nature.
Narrow-leaved Palm Lily (Cordyline stricta)
Cordylines can be found in boggy, dark rainforests all along the East coast from Queensland to South Australia. The narrow-leaved palm lily is identifiable by its masses of graceful, strappy leaves, growing up to heights of 5m in some environments. Cordylines are loved by gardeners looking to bring a tropical rainforest feel into their gardens and Cordyline stricta is perfect for continuing this feel indoors. When grown in a large pot, this plant will grow to around 2-3 metres with a dense, compact body so place yours at the back of the room or in a statement area to bring height and volume to your space. These plants are super low maintenance, growing happily in full sun or low light with low water needs. Protect from frost.
The tall, spiky nature of Cordyline stricta is not unlike kentia palm (Howea forsteriana).
Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta)
You’ve probably noticed Grevillea robusta before even if you don’t realise – it’s one of the most popular ornamental trees in Australia, grown for its spectacular display of golden flowers throughout spring and summer. This tree is native to a region in South Eastern QLD/North Eastern NSW where it grows freely up to heights of 35m, the largest growing member of the Proteaceae family. Known as the silky oak, the wood of the Grevillea robusta is a favourite of cabinet makers as it is resistant to wood rot. Although known mostly as a towering specimen tree, the silky oak is highly adaptable as a low growing indoors plant if cared for well. Plant tubestock into a medium-large sized pot and place in a sunny, well-lit window with plenty of air circulation. Grevilleas are highly drought tolerant, so check the dampness of your soil regularly to ensure you aren’t over watering. Prune after flowering and feed with a low phosphorous granule fertiliser in Spring. If you’re looking for a statement house plant – this is the one for you. The punch delivered by Grevillea robusta isn’t unlike the wow-factor of the gorgeous Swiss cheese leaves of Monstera deliciosa.
Honourable mentions: Lilly pilly (Syzygium spp.), walking stick palm (Linospadix monostachyos), cabbage-tree palm (Livistona australis), Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus), Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia johnsonii), native ginger (Alpinia caerula), rasp fern (Doodie aspera), maidenhair fern (Adiantum aethiopicum), fishbone fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia) and the Blue Mountain pine (Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii).
If you’re looking for more information on growing native house plants, source yourself a copy of Growing Native Plants Indoors by John W Wrigley and illustrated by Murray Fagg in 1992 – the true bible to keeping thousands of different native species inside.
All images source from Wikimedia Commons. Header image of Staghorn Fern (Platycerium spp.) by Annette Teng.