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9 Underrated Houseplants That Deserve A Spot On Your Shelf

Unless you live under a rock (It’s okay, I do too, it’s quieter.), then you know that houseplants are hot.

You can thank broke millennials for breathing new life into the houseplant trend. For many in this generation, houseplants stand in for pets their lease won’t allow, kids they can’t afford, or a yard their apartment doesn’t have.

Heartleaf philodendron hanging in front of a window.

My own daughter assures me I have quite a few grandplants. I even get pictures of them as they grow.

Houseplants haven’t seen popularity like this since the 70s, and oddly enough, many of the hottest plants on Instagram and TikTok are the same plants that were popular back then. Could it be? Have we finally found common ground for both millennials and baby boomers to stand on?

Don’t ask me; I’m a gen x-er.

The Appeal of the Underdog

In this article, we will not talk about the popular plants. No, I think they have received enough attention. Today we’re going to have a look at the underdogs. The forgotten plants that don’t get the hashtags and catchy captions like Monstera Mondays.

The botanical world is huge and not limited to the Oh-My-Gosh-Top-Five-Need-These-Because-Everyone-Else-Has-Them Instagram favorites.

As most serious houseplant enthusiasts will tell you, once you get past the Pokémon mentality (gotta catch ‘em all), you begin to get picky about your plants. You thin out your collection, and it becomes more curated. And that’s where underdogs shine.

Plus, when it comes to these plants, they’re usually inexpensive.

And finally, there’s the number one reason to grow an underrated plant – because you like them.

Houseplants are supposed to be something that brings you joy. If you hate how finicky your $50 maranta is, but you secretly covet those $3.99 supermarket African violets, then give the diva maranta to a friend and get the African violet already.

These nine underrated plants have quietly been shoved to the back of the greenhouse. They may not get the ‘Gram glory, but they have genuine green appeal and deserve a place in the bright, indirect spotlight too.

1. Heartleaf Philodendron

Heartleaf philodendron hanging from a hook, the plant is nearly six feet long.

Yup, pothos are great. And they grow quickly. And how about all those cool leaf variations? But I’d like to submit for your approval another philodendron, the Philodendron hederaceum, or heartleaf philodendron.

Hand holding the large, green leaf of a heartleaf philodendron

If you’re looking for a trailing houseplant that grows quickly, skip the pothos and get a heartleaf philodendron instead. They grow much faster, and because their leaves are bigger than pothos, the plant appears bigger in general. You can’t beat a heartleaf if you’re looking to green up a large space fast.

side by side comparison of a pothos and a heartleaf philodendron
My golden pothos on the left is five years old, grown from a cutting and around three feet long. My heartleaf philodendron is only two and half years old and is well over six feet long at its longest.

I find my heartleaf is much easier to train to climb, too; the shape of their vines is a bit easier to manipulate.

The heartleaf philodendron thrives in the same conditions as pothos. They prefer bright indirect sunlight, well-draining soil and comfortable temperatures of around 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Like most tropical plants, they prefer humidity. If your home is on the drier side, mist your plant once or twice a week.

To encourage bushier growth, you can pinch back the plant, and it will put out new growth closer to the pot.

2. Holiday Cactus

Small potted Easter cactus in front of a piece of driftwood.
My favorite schlumbergera – a wee little Easter cactus. I filched a cutting from one at a local restaurant three years ago and it’s grown from that single cutting.

I often feel that holiday cacti are overlooked in the current houseplant craze because of their prevalence, especially around the holidays. I’ve even seen them for sale in a pharmacy at Christmas time.

However, don’t let their commonality fool you; this “grandma plant” has a lot to offer. Namely, it will probably outlive every other plant in your home. Schlumbergera can live for generations. It’s not uncommon for these plants to be passed down in families.

Their appeal lies in their flowers. Holiday cacti are one of the few houseplants that will bloom regularly indoors. All it takes is a little know-how to enjoy gorgeous, showy blooms for several weeks out of the year.

Bright, orange-red blooms of a Thanksgiving cactus.

Schlumbergera species, or holiday cactus, are named after the holiday they bloom closest to – Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas.

Most everyone refers to them as Christmas cactus, but nearly all of the ones sold in stores and nurseries these days are Thanksgiving cactus or Schlumbergera truncata. Schlumbergera × buckleyi, true Christmas cactus, are a little harder to find but not unobtainable, like, say, a white variegated monstera.

And while they may start on the smaller, unimpressive side, it doesn’t take long for them to grow into dramatic fountains of greenery. They make an impressive statement on a tall plant stand by themselves.

Green lengths of a Thanksgiving cactus.

You can read all about their care, feeding and how to get them to bloom in my piece:

Christmas Cactus Care: More Blooms, Propagate & Identify Holiday Cacti

But in general, these epiphytes prefer loose soil, bright indirect light and lots of humidity. Placing your plant on a tray of pebbles is a great way to make sure they are happy, and they prefer the same temperatures you and I do. They do not like wet feet but shouldn’t dry out completely between waterings.

Related Reading: How To Propagate Christmas Cactus & 2 Secrets To Big Blooms

3. Umbrella Plant

Potted umbrella plant in front of a window.

Ah, the umbrella plant, seen in every mall food court in America. Probably not a ringing endorsement for adding one to your collection, but hear me out.

Schefflera arboricola, more commonly known as the umbrella plant, is simple to care for. They can grow quite large, around 6 feet indoors with the proper sized pot, or make a perfect small plant remaining compact. To encourage height, you’ll want to grow them in deeper, larger pots.

They are tolerant of temperatures on the cooler side, the mid 50s, making them a great choice if your place is on the cooler side.

Three umbrella plant cuttings in pots.

Their foliage is unique, too, a rosette of 6-9 oblong leaves growing from the center on stems like an umbrella. The leaves are shiny dark green and can have variegation in either white or gold. The variegated varieties aren’t hard to get a hold of or prohibitively expensive, making them a great choice for anyone who loves the look of green and white leaves.

The Schefflera arboricola looks very different from many of the most popular plants these days, which makes it perfect for the collector looking for something different to grace their homes.

Close up of umbrella plants leaves, cream and green variegated.

Umbrella plants require similar care to many other tropical plants, well-draining soil, bright indirect sunlight and keep them from sitting in water.

Their fertilizing needs are minimal, but a general fertilizer used at half strength every watering will go a long way to help if you’re encouraging height. Once a month, skip the fertilizer and flush the soil with fresh water to prevent salts from building up.

4. African Violets

Three African voilets, selective focus
I refuse to divulge the number of African violets currently in my home.

African violets are yet another often snubbed plant because they are so commonplace. They also have a reputation of being a “grandma plant.” But every houseplant lover should have an African violet or two.

These charming plants are one of the few houseplants that will bloom continuously with the proper care. Many folks who have African violets complain that they never bloom; however, once you figure out what the plants need, you will be rewarded with blooms nearly year round.

Bright purple African violet in bloom

I’ve written up a complete care guide for these tiny little blooms.

African Violets: How To Care, Get More Blooms & Propagate

African violets are another common houseplant with some pretty wild hybrids and varieties if you just take a closer look. Etsy and The Violet Barn are my two favorite places to find interesting violets.

I will warn you, though, that your violets may outnumber your other plants once you start collecting.

Deep crimson African violet blooms.

These tiny plants are perfect for the houseplant parent who doesn’t have much space. They prefer bright, indirect light and need to be a little root bound to bloom.

Fertilize at half strength at every feeding to encourage blooming. They do not like wet feet and are susceptible to root rot. Water them from below and be sure they don’t sit in water.

Give them a pebble tray to increase humidity and keep the temperature between 65-75, and you will have a happy, blooming African violet.

5. Hoya

Hoya growing in blue pot
This little guy is, without a doubt, my favorite houseplant.

I remember the first time I saw a hoya. I visited a dear friend, and she had the weirdest looking plant on her table. It almost looked fake with its thick, waxy leaves. As my visit was nearing the end, I asked what the plant was. She said she had no idea, only that it had been her mothers, and asked if I wanted a cutting.

If a friend offers you a plant cutting, you always say yes.

And that was four years ago, now look at my little Hoya carnosa. These plants are so cool; I do not understand why more people aren’t growing them. The Hoya kerii, the heart-shaped hoya, are the ones you’ll see all over Instagram, but the Hoya carnosa has so much more character.

Hoyas are another plant that will reward you with the most stunning flowers when given the love and attention they need. Hoya is known as the wax plant and as porcelain flower because of the texture of their flowers.

Hoya flowers with bright orange centers

It’s not uncommon to train hoya to grow around a small wire support, giving them a little structure and fullness.

Hoya are epiphytes, meaning they grow up trees and in the crevices of rocks. They require light soil with bark chips, like an orchid mix. Hoya need humidity which you can provide with a pebble tray. Keep them warm and don’t water them too frequently, and they’ll grow for decades.

Two hoya plants in pots.
I’m known as “that weird plant lady” at my dentist’s after I asked for a cutting from his variegated Hoya carnosa.

Dark, shiny leaves and sweet, stunning flowers, what’s not to love?

6. Nerve Plant

Striking green and white potted nerve plant.

Fittonia albivenis, also known as nerve or mosaic plant, has some of the most striking leaves you’ll ever find on a houseplant. Add to that how hard they are to kill, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why they aren’t more popular.

Perhaps it’s because they tend to be a tad finicky; they require a lot more humidity than your average houseplant. That being said, if you’re up for the challenge, the nerve plant is a show-stopping plant.

Overhead view of several types of nerve plants against black rock backdrop.

Deep green leaves are shot through with striking white, red or pink veins.

No matter where you put them, they’re sure to catch your eye.

Nerve plants are low growing but will creep and spread if given the opportunity, and in some areas, are planted outside as a ground cover. Like most houseplants, their native habitat is lush rainforests, where they creep along the ground in low light.

Bright green and red leaves of a nerve plant

This is one plant that you rarely need to worry about overwatering. They prefer to be kept moist and enjoy a high level of humidity. If you’ve wanted to try your hand at building a terrarium, this is the perfect plant. Or, if you’ve got a low-light, high steam bathroom, consider adding a nerve plant to your décor.

Overhead view of a terrarium with a nerve plant

Like their native habitat, nerve plants require lots of warm, moist air and will quickly look bedraggled if they dry out. A drink usually perks them right back up. Choose a soil that will hold moisture and consider growing the nerve plant in a terrarium or other humid environment.

7. Peace Lily

Healthy peace lily in front of a sunny window

Peace lilies were popular back in the 80s, and with all things that go out of style, it stands to reason that the peace lily will find its way back into the spotlight again. Why not now?

The Spathiphyllum has a minimalistic beauty, with its deep emerald leaves and the clean lines of its bracts. If ever a houseplant exuded elegance, the peace lily is it. Everything about them says tropical opulence.

close up of peace lily bloom

If you’re looking to make a statement, then a single, well-cared-for peace lily is just the plant.

And that’s part of why these plants aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be; they’re a tad on the fussy side to keep. They need to be kept moist, but not too moist, and they like bright light but prefer diffused light. They will wilt and brown if they receive too much light.

Brown, burned leaves of a peace lily

However, care isn’t that difficult once you find the right spot in your home. If you’re dreaming of the perfect 80s seafoam and mauve décor with dried pampas grass and brass, you have to have a peace lily as well.

8. Arrowhead

Arrowhead in a hanging planter

If you love the thrill of seeing a new leaf unfurling, the arrowhead, or Syngonium podophyllum, is the plant for you. Rarely does a week go by that my arrowhead doesn’t have a new leaf on it. Unlike so many plants, the arrowhead will reward you with new growth nearly all year long.

Close up of unfurling arrowhead leaves.

One of the cool things about this plant is that it starts out growing as a compact bush but will begin to vine over time. It’s a great plant for a hanging basket.

As the name implies, the leaves are arrowhead-shaped and, depending on the variety, may be veined in pink or dark green. As the plant matures, the leaves will take on a more finger-like shape with 3-5 lobes. This is another plant that has quite a few options when it comes to colors; the leaves can be soft green or pink, or dark green.

Variegated plant lovers will want to add one of these to their collection.

Several varieties of arrowhead plants.

The arrowhead prefers well-draining soil and monthly fertilizing. Keep the plant in a high-humidity area or use a pebble tray if necessary. They prefer bright indirect sunlight and can be kept outdoors in the warmer months in an area that doesn’t receive direct sun.

9. Tradescantia

Burgundy and green tradescantia in pot

Tradescantia, Spiderwort or Wandering Dude is a beautiful vining plant that practically propagates itself. These houseplants can tolerate low light, although they may lose their vibrant colors. They will flourish in bright, diffused light and can be grown outside in some areas.

Overhead of pale pink and lime colored tradescantia.

The leaves of several varieties have an almost silvered appearance, and they’re easy to train to grow into bushy hanging plants or long creepers. Spiderwort makes the perfect hanging plant.

If you love visually striking plants, you’ll want to take a look at all of the beautiful varieties of tradescantia.

There are plenty to choose from, deep emerald and burgundy, sage and mauve, lime and pale pink.

And for something unique and interesting, consider a Tradescantia Hijau Baru, more affectionately known as teddy bear tradescantia for its incredibly soft, fuzzy leaves.

Furry leaves of a teddybear tradescantia.

Choose well-draining soil, and let the plant dry out between waterings. They prefer temperatures between 65-75 and a light misting of their leaves now and then. Pinch them back hard and short to encourage a bushier plant.

Who knows, maybe by the time you read this, these plants will be hot on Instagram, and you’ll be looking for the next houseplant sensation.

At the end of the day, don’t forget that your plants should make you happy, and it doesn’t matter what’s on social media. Enjoy your beautiful green babies.

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,