Recommended Plants for Indoor Living

Bryan Mukai interviewed the company’s banker and part-time plant enthusiast Ron Chang for tips on selecting and caring for condominium plants. Included in this article are highlights from this insightful discussion.

Mukai: As you know, the majority of our readers live in high rise condos in the Downtown/Kakaako/Ala Moana/Waikiki area. Is it possible for them to successfully raise plants inside their apartments?

Chang: Absolutely. There are wide varieties of plants out there which are well suited to indoor living. The first thing a homeowner must do is determine what type of lighting is available in their apartment, so that the right type of house plant can be purchased for their environment. I like to categorize plants in four categories: 1) high intensity light plants which are best suited for outdoors only; 2) strong intensity light plants which thrive in sunny windows; 3) moderate intensity light plants which are capable of living in diffused light conditions; and 4) low intensity light plants which can survive in artificial lighting and rooms with minimal natural lighting. Anyone living in a condo should avoid category 1 plants unless they have a sunny balcony or glass bay window with heavy sun exposure. Many flowering plants fall into this category, and include plants such as Bougainvillea, most Ficus plants, and the colorful Impatiens.

Mukai: I know what you mean. In fact, most of those plants you just mentioned I often see in the yard and not indoors.

Chang: The ideal house plants for most condos fall in categories 3 and 4; although a number of south and west facing apartments which receive a lot of light can easily accommodate category 2 plants and even some category 1 plants which need full sun for at least part of the day in order to thrive.

Most people who have trouble raising house plants indoors have simply done an inadequate job of identifying what type of lighting they have in their apartment and have not been able to identify what type of plants will thrive in the type of environment they can provide.

Mukai: That’s very interesting and probably explains why the only plants surviving in our office are the artificial ones!

Chang: Exactly. For example, bathrooms, hallways and deep areas of a room that are away from a window should be filled with category 3 or 4 plants. Anything else will not be able to survive long term in such a condition. The Sansevieria plant, also known as Mother-In-Laws Tongue, is an ideal low light plant which is characterized by slow growth and thick hardy leaves that are long and angular. It can thrive in medium to full light but the amazing thing about this plant is that it can also adapt to very low light conditions. Because of the angular geometric shape of its leaves, it is also very stylish when placed in a decorative container. There are over 70 species of Sansevieria. Some types on the market now have been bred to grow in short, compact heights of less than a foot high, while others will reach over three to four feet in height.

Another great low light plant comes from the Dracaena family. Like the Sansevieria, these plants can also do well in full sun or in very low light. They are almost as slow growing as the Sansevieria, but rather than growing in clusters from the ground up, Dracaenas grow like trees and have long stalks filled with leaves. There are many types of Dracaenas, but the most common type in Hawaii is the Dracaena Marginata, which is commonly called the Money Tree. The Dracaena Marginata is probably more of a category 2 plant in terms of light preference, while the Dracaena Warneckii is, in my opinion, a better Dracaena for indoors than the Dracaena Marginata. Warneckii seems to thrive better in low to moderate light conditions and has brighter coloring than the dark green Marginata variety.

Mukai: What if I have a sunny window or a bright room in my apartment? What kind of plants do you think would thrive there?

Chang: Apartments with excellent lighting have a much wider range of plants they can choose from. In addition to the ones described above, they can also select other types of plants like the Spathiphyllum, also known as the Peace Lily. Its flowers look like a white anthurium and it has rich dark green leaves. It can thrive in moderate light to strong light and is a relatively fast growing plant. Bromeliads also will do well in a well lit indoor setting and there are hundreds of different types of bromeliads to choose from that offer a wider variety of color and leaf patterns to suit your décor.

The one thing I love about the Spathiphyllum is that it is perfect for people who never know how much to water a plant. Because its leaves and stems do not store water very well, the Spathiphyllum will start to droop if it is being under-watered so that you should easily notice if the plant is in need of a drink.

The Spathiphyllum is also an excellent choice of plant if you are unsure of what kind of lighting is available in your apartment, because it can thrive in a brightly lit room (category 2) or in a diffused light setting (category 3). It can even stay alive in an office for a long period of time under artificial light (category 4).

Mukai: That sounds like the perfect plant for me! Are there any other considerations I should make when selecting plants for my home?

Chang: One thing that should always be considered is scale and space. When you look at a plant in a garden shop, it may not seem very large among the other plants there and especially in relation to a wide open space in the store. But bringing the plant home to your apartment can be a different story. Make sure you are not getting a plant that overpowers the space you have and try to purchase something that is consistent with the room’s décor.

Mukai: Thanks for the tips, Ron! I do have one more question, though. Is it true that talking to your plants helps them thrive, or is that purely a myth?

Chang: I think all living things do better when they are being cared for by someone who is interested and concerned for its well being. The time we spend to cater to our plants and observe whether they are getting the right amounts of water and light, will go a long way to ensuring their longevity and health. I wouldn’t be too concerned about talking to your plants, unless of course, they start talking back!