Suggestions for my living room

Discussion in 'Indoor and Greenhouse Plants' started by mossonthemoon, Jan 26, 2012.

  1. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    Hello, this is my first post here and unfortunately I am coming for sad reasons. I do hope that in the future, I post about somewhat happier things, but here it goes.

    I have recently experienced a death in the family. My husband and I have decided to get some type of plant for our living room to honour the memory of our loved one. We really have no idea what we want. We have been meaning to get some plants anyway (we only recently moved here), so this will be the start of it. We want something large, that has a chance with proper care to live for a long time. It must be non-toxic to cats. It would ideally be flowering, as it is in tribute of someone who loved flowers, but this is not an absolute necessary because we have found that it seems to be difficult to find large, flowering indoor plants. We would like it to be more soft than spiky (feeling and appearance), and we would need to be convinced on something like a palm. A tree would be wonderful too, as long as it won't be extremely tall. I think our ceilings are about 3-3.5m (9-10 feet).

    We live in Scotland, so our winter days are short, but our summer days are long. Our living room is large with high ceilings, and ornate woodwork. It is Victorian, and we have a huge, south facing bay window, so we have plenty of light whenever the sun is out. I think the room can take something impressive, but it isn't exactly an atrium. I am good with outdoor plants, but not wonderful with indoor plants. I am friends with someone extremely experienced with plant care though, so I will get her help if necessary. We will be quite sad if it died quickly, though, so something that is known to live a long time in the correct hands is what we really need.

    The room gets reasonably warm in the summer, and hot in the direct sun, but it is Scotland, so "hot" is relative. It stays cold in the winter, sometimes getting down to perhaps 10 or even 12, but probably staying around 18-19 when it is "warm".

    I can't think of any other information, but will answer any questions needed. Please throw loads of suggestions at me. I think I need to think about this to help with the grieving. Thank you in advance.
     
  2. mrsubjunctive

    mrsubjunctive Active Member

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    In decreasing order of suitability (according to my personal opinion/guess):

    Murraya paniculata (orange jasmine) is long-lived, can become large over time, flowers, is non-toxic to people (however: less certain about cats, and some people react badly to the strong orange-blossom-like scent of the flowers, either due to allergies or sensitivity to strong smells), and could probably handle 10C/50F though that might slow growth and reduce blooming. Leaves are small, oval, and non-spiky. It's uncommonly sold around here (upper midwest US); I have no idea how available it would be in the UK. It's also messy: the flowers dry out and drop after a short period, and blooming is year-round, so that's conceivably a problem. It's also fairly slow-growing, so you'd want to start with a large plant, and they require lots of fertilizer and light in order to bloom.

    Araucaria heterophylla or Araucaria columnaris (Norfolk Island pine) would be very happy with the temperature (the usual problem with growing them indoors is air that is too hot and dry), is potentially long-lived, isn't especially spiky as I understand the word (certainly not to the touch), and can get large. They grow faster than Murraya paniculata, too, which might appeal. They do not flower (they form cones instead; this is all but impossible indoors). Most sites list them as being non-toxic to cats. They'll drop branches if allowed to get too dry; in very hot and dry air, they may get spider mites. Long periods of direct sun can worsen both problems, but a sheer curtain would deal with that.

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (tropical hibiscus) can become large, are long-lived, are non-toxic, will produce large, showy flowers nearly year-round in greenhouse conditions, aren't spiky, and would do well with a large sunny window. The temperature, though, may be a problem. (I had a co-worker who let her hibiscus go dormant every winter and then started watering again in the spring: they'll apparently tolerate more cold when dormant than they will when actively growing.), and I personally gave up on growing them, because mine were extremely attractive to bugs, didn't come back from dormancy as completely as I'd been told, and were messy even when not going dormant. So basically: Hibiscus would be perfect for what you're asking, except that it'd be tough to grow.

    Beaucarnea recurvata (ponytail palm) can become large (though they're very slow about it), are long-lived, pretty easy to grow, non-toxic to the best of my ability to research the matter, and do flower though it's very unlikely to happen indoors. (The flowers are small, and are produced on large panicles containing hundreds of flowers. I don't know if they're fragrant: I've never seen it in person.) 10C is probably warm enough for the plant to survive, but I would recommend not letting this particular plant get that cold, as plants kept in colder conditions will be touchier about overwatering. They're not spiky, though Beaucarnea's shape is odd enough that it might still not appeal to you.

    Coffea arabica (coffee tree) can get to be large, aren't spiky-looking, and are potentially long-lived. I believe they are non-toxic to cats. They do produce white flowers with a pleasant, jasmine-like scent, though flowers are infrequent, short-lived, and only appear on fairly mature specimens. Around here, large specimens are rarely available for sale, though. A prolonged temperature of 10C is almost certainly too cold for a Coffea, alas -- they'd prefer something more in the neighborhood of 24-27C. They're also very unforgiving of missed watering, and need a lot of fertilizer, so they're not the easiest plant.

    Schefflera actinophylla or Schefflera arboricola are both potentially large (especially S. actinophylla), long-lived, non-spiky, and comfortable in full sun. They also both flower, but are unlikely to do so indoors (even if they did, the flowers aren't very ornamental), and 10C is probably a little too cool. (I'd recommend a minimum of 13C for both.) They're both, I think, technically toxic to cats, but I don't think either would be likely to be lethal as much as painful, and probably there'd be some vomiting and diarrhea. Both are easy to grow, though they're very attractive to spider mites, especially when grown in full sun, and mite infestations can get out of control very rapidly, so you have to be vigilant.

    Ficus benjamina (ficus tree, weeping fig) is long-lived, can become large, and is non-spiky. It's probably not lethally toxic to cats, but I would expect vomiting and diarrhea again. The winter temperatures might be a bit on the cool side. They can also be messy: once you have one in a spot it likes, and are giving it consistent care, they're not bad, but they do tend to defoliate when moved to a darker spot (and to a lesser degree, when light levels fall off during winter), if too cold, too wet, or too dry. They do flower, technically, but as they're in the fig family, the flowers line the inside of an (inedible) fig, and the figs themselves are not particularly decorative.

    Ficus maclellandii (long-leaf fig) is the same as F. benjamina, except for having a much spikier appearance (the leaves are long and narrow) and being much better about holding on to its leaves.

    Yucca guatemalensis (spineless yucca) is pretty easy to care for, can become large, and is long-lived. May be slightly toxic to cats, but is unlikely to do anything more than cause vomiting and/or diarrhea. They do flower, but I've never heard of it happening indoors. 10C is probably a bit too cold. The appearance is definitely very spiky.

    That's as much as I can think of. The combination of tall and non-toxic eliminates most of the possibilities, unfortunately.
     
  3. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    Thank you so much! That is a very informative reply. I have had a quick look at them all, but am going to read more right away. I said tall because I want it to be a focal point, however it doesn't have to be tall if there is another reason for it to stand out. I am used to only having mums, so everything will be tall to us! Cymbidiums were recommended to us by a woman at the florist, however I have been finding it difficult to find examples that aren't windowsill plants or silk (online- they will source pretty much anything we decide on.)
     
  4. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    I thought I had replied, but I don't see it. I hope it didn't go in the wrong place! In any case, it is just as well because I came up with a question. First of all, thank you so much for that list! It is very informative, and I am going to have a good read about all of those. I said "tall" because I would love for it to be a focal point in the room, but if something else makes it an attention grabber, then that is just as good. I am basically trying to avoid absolutely tiny plants. In the past years I have moved many times and have only had mums for that reason. Now that I am settled, I want to have some more fun plants (I do love mums, though).

    The woman at the florist suggested cymbidium, however I can't find any examples online that aren't either silk or small windowsill plants. They are stunning, but if I could get something that could sit on the floor at least eventually, it would be more ideal for this room. I looked at a list of plants that are non-toxic to animals, and found Ixora coccinea mentioned. I tend to rely a little on the BBC plant finder, and cannot find it under that or its common name, but I have found some sites that say it is suitable for indoors, and that there are dwarf varieties as well. I have no idea about the suitability, though. I figured that my cold living room is warmer than the average winter, so many plants would hopefully be okay in here, and that temperature is not a constant in the winter. We do use heat, but our very old (possibly original) windows mean that it is never as warm as the rest of the house.
     
  5. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    I would have to strongly second the pony tail palm, Beaucarnea recurvata. Unlike plants such as Cymbidium or Hibiscus, it doesn't need such high, greenhouse-type humidity to thrive and avoid bugs. It is a proven indoor houseplant in heating climates where our houses have lower humidity in winter, and it's very reliably long-lived. If you really, really take poor care & forget to water for a month or so, it will only drop some of the leaves in complaint, but can easily grow them back again as it gets taller. Makes an incredible specimen plant when larger, especially if you put it in a nice pot. Very slow growing if you keep it rootbound. It can still grow & thrive even when there is only a few cm of dirt outside around the base of the trunk.
     
  6. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    Thank you! I will have an especially good look at that palm, then. This will probably sound strange, but the reason I said "not spiky" is because the idea is based on so much sentimentality. I should also add that our house tends to be fairly humid. It never really dries out here in Scotland other than when it gets extremely cold, but even that is rare. It is a pretty strange climate, and difficult to compare to anywhere in North America as far as I can think. Perhaps like the Pacific Northwest US, but without the hot summer... oh and the winters aren't as harsh. So maybe not there.
     
  7. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    I bet my other posts are going to suddenly appear and it will look like I am saying the same thing over and over, but since the one I just wrote has posted and the others haven't, I will say again that it isn't an absolute must for it to be very tall. I would like it to be a focal point, though, and tall is the most obvious conclusion drawn from that, I guess. Cymbidium and jungle geranium have both been suggested. I am not terribly picky, I don't think. I just need to see something that feels right, and that can survive my house (I can move it outdoors in the summer if necessary, as long as it doesn't mind potential heavy rain).
     
  8. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor 10 Years

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    What about a dwarf Banana? There are a couple of them available in the UK that would satisfy all of your requirements, and they're also incredibly tough plants that will stand over and underwatering over a wide range of temperatures. Dwarf Red is an exceptionally pretty member of the cultivar group.
     
  9. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    Moss, can I ask what kind of heat you have in your house, and are you getting low temps at night in the 4-10 C range this time of year? Unless there are some subtropical areas of Scotland that I didn't know about, you are probably using your heat during the day. Outside humidity is irrelevant to inside humidity; actually it's usually just the opposite of what you'd think. In the winter our heaters bake off the moisture, and it can be rainy for weeks here, with hardly any sun, and near 100% relative humidity outside, so we use our heaters more and the indoor humidity can fall below 10%. In the summer when it is drier outside, we are not using our heaters and the indoor humidity jumps up higher to nearly match the outdoor levels. No heating climates anywhere are immune to dry winter indoor levels unless you are intentionally adding back moisture indoors.
    Plants like Cymbidium & banana really suffer indoors in our climates unless you turn your living area into a swamp or turn your heat off. :)

    PS: If you like bananas, I grow several outdoors during during the summer, then bring them into the cold-but-not-freezing garage under lights for the winter. Works also with many other kinds of tropicals, but the Hibiscus was still weak & buggy without the sun and warmth.
     
  10. mrsubjunctive

    mrsubjunctive Active Member

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    Three more suggestions, then, if candidates don't have to be large:

    Crassula ovata (jade plant) are non-toxic, rounded, long-lived, and good for full-sun spots. They do flower (pink, star-shaped, faint scent, infrequent), and can survive cool temperatures. I'm not a huge fan (more accurately, they're not huge fans of me), but a lot of people find them very easy to grow.

    Phalaenopsis cvv. (moth orchid) could work too. Both the leaves and flowers are rounded, they're non-toxic, the flowers last a long time, the plants are long-lived, and they'd be okay with 10C temperatures (they actually need a bit of a cool spell in order to set buds). A Phalaenopsis might need a little protection from full sun, like a sheer curtain, during the summer. They're probably the easiest tropical orchid to grow indoors, and relatively easy to rebloom if you can get the temperatures right.

    Schlumbergera truncata cvv. (Christmas cactus, holiday cactus) are, I think, non-toxic (they may have slight toxicity; information is hard to come by and often contradicts other information), capable of getting large (though they grow more out and down than they do up), easy to care for, okay with cool temperatures at least up to a point, would be okay with a full-sun spot as long as they got a little protection in the summer, and are capable of living for multiple human generations. Varieties are available in several colors (red, fuchsia, lavender, pink, peach, white, yellow). They're a bit odd-looking, and have somewhat jagged stem segments, which may or may not qualify as spiky. The flowering period is relatively brief, but a large plant will produce a lot of flowers, usually one big bloom around late November (maybe earlier for you if you're far enough north) and then again around late March (possibly later). If you actually use the living room at night, this might be a bad choice, because they need dark nights to set buds, and artificial light can sometimes be enough to prevent blooming. They also won't set buds without cooler night temperatures (around 10-13C). This might also not be the best time of year to find them, since they're mostly sold in bud just before Christmas, but they're very nice plants.
     
  11. Dave-Florida

    Dave-Florida Active Member

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    Beaucarnea recurvata will tolerate temperatures below freezing and will thrive in full summer sun, even if the temperature rises over 32. They can become twice or three times as tall as a person, given time and excellent drainage (the garden club in my town has a spectacular one growing next to its building).

    For climate comparisons, a patch of the southern Oregon coast near Brookings has remarkably equable temperatures.
     
  12. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    A few thoughts on some of the plants mentioned so far:

    • I agree with Murraya paniculata being a messy tree because of the way it sheds its flowers. Also, the fragrance can be over-powering in the presence of a major bloom.
    • Beaucarnea recurvata has a serrated leaf margin which can produce paper-cut type injuries. Thus it may not be considered 'soft'. Other than that it's a great plant.
    • A banana plant may not be suitable since it is not long-lived. It dies after producing fruit and lives on only through the propagation of a pup.
    • Coffea arabica seems to satisfy the listed requirements. I've had several trees for almost seven years now and have not had any problem with them. They were purchased as a half dozen or so seedlings in a 4" pot, separated and grown as individual trees. Form is columnar at this point. The foliage is lush green with no browning of the leaf margins. Leaf loss is next to none; the majority of the leaves lost during all these years were the ones that were growing on the main stem, which is to be expected. Laterals first appeared in the second year, flowers in the fourth year. However there has not been many flowers; it's been suggested the trees are still too young. Time will tell whether they will be long-lived. I am quite amazed at how well they have performed. The trees are being grown in bright but filtered light. The room is unheated; winter temperatures have reached lows of 3C. Humidity is medium to high. (My Beaucarnea recurvata is also being grown under these conditions.)
     
  13. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    Thank you for the replies! I will look at all of these in a couple of hours because I have to rush out right now, but I do recognise at least a couple of the names as things that stood out when I was looking. My house does not get like a Florida home, where water is pouring down the windows from humidity, but it truly is humid all of the time. I couldn't say what the humidity is exactly, but it is always a bit more humid in the living room than, say, the office. The room is too big for the radiator, and it is just a standard, on-the-wall radiator. Our piano tuner is even happy with the air quality despite the heat in there. I don't know what the coldest temperature at night is, but I know there are times that my hands get painfully cold, and I need a lot of clothes and blankets. I will try to remember to check the temperature drop tonight, though.
     
  14. Dave-Florida

    Dave-Florida Active Member

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    For what it's worth, the more accepted name for the plant is Nolina recurvata. Nolina's one of the "woody lilies" of Mexico and the southwest US, along with Dasilirion and the Yuccas. Nolina has some 33 species, with three little ones in Georgia and Florida. Nolina recurvata is from Mexico east of Mexico City and seems, in cultivation, unfussy about humidity, but does need to be well-drained. It seems to grow equally well in Florida with dry winters and California with dry summers. Here's an online photo of the local Garden Club building showing the big one.
     
  15. Tom Hulse

    Tom Hulse Active Member 10 Years

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    Nice specimen at the garden club Dave. :)
    I believe the currently accepted name actually is Beaucarnea recurvata. DNA studies, such as Bogler & Simpson 1996, have confirmed Beaucarnea as distinct from Nolina, which is why you'll find Nolina recurvata listed as a superfluous synonym of Beaucarnea recurvata at the big souces like GRIN and Kew.
     
  16. Dave-Florida

    Dave-Florida Active Member

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    I was relying on the Missouri Botanical Garden's TROPICOS database and checked Mabberley's Plant-Book. I should have gone farther.

    Family placement remains problem. The Flora of North America keeps Nolina in the agave family, despite noting Bogler & Simpson's two papers, one in Systematic Botany, the other in the American Journal of Botany. The local flora for Florida puts it in the Ruscaceae.
     
  17. dt-van

    dt-van Active Member 10 Years

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    I'd vote for the coffee plant, the ponytail palm and or the Christmas cactus. If you can get a nice big cymbidium, maybe from a specialist nursery or local orchid fancier it would probably be a good choice.

    My Christmas cactuses all bloom reliably even without having hours of uninterrupted darkness. One is in our bedroom which gets light every evening and another is in the living room which we rarely use. A big plant full of flowers is a fantastic sight and if you put it in a plant stand or hang not too high it will be a real focal point. I'd suggest getting one as well as whatever else you choose. They are very reliable and tolerant plants in my experience, but don't like overwatering or too big a pot.

    Don't get too worried about plants being labelled as "non-toxic to cats". Most plants aren't seriously toxic except in large quantities and cats, unlike dogs, tend to chew things rather than gulping them down. This means that anything with an unpleasant taste or texture is tried once and then left alone. At worst the cat will usually vomit up a bit of chewed up leaf. If you are really concerned then ask your vet if she has ever encountered serious poisoning from a cat eating a houseplant and if so what plant.

    Don't get a Ficus benjamina. They are long lived and hard to kill, but not easy to keep looking nice. Very picky about sudden temperature changes and drying out. My two plants are 25 and 35 years old and sometimes I wish they would die as they have a lot of bare branches and it doesn't seem to be possible to get them to resprout once they are old.
     
  18. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    Thank you again for all of this advice. There are a lot of really lovely suggestions here, and I am trying to make a narrowed-down list for the florist. Two suggestions have been made by my friends, which I would like to mention here in case anyone would like to comment on them: Crassula ovata and the umbrella plant. I'm not sure of the actual botanical name for that one as I have found a few, but it is this one the friend meant: http://www.different-kinds-of-plants.com/umbrellaplant.html. She has a couple of them (they were gifts) and has decided that she likes them a lot more than she expected.
     
  19. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    In case you missed it, mrsubjunctive commented on both plants earlier upthread. Your friend's umbrella plant would be a Schefflera arboricola.
     
  20. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    Oh, thanks! I am keeping separate list but haven't put names of the people who suggested them. I guess I should copy and paste a bit of the info for them onto it too, so I know when someone has actually told me more. As you can see I'm a little overwhelmed with choices right now, but I was hoping that would happen.
     
  21. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    You don't have to necessarily settle on one plant. You can see which ones will perform in your environment if you start out with a number of small plants. They're quite affordable when they're young. My bottle plant and coffee trees both started as tiny plants in 4" pots. Part of the fun is in taking care of them and watching them grow over the years.
     
  22. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    While you're researching these plants be aware there are different varieties or cultivars of each plant. For example. 'Gollum' is a cultivar of Crassula ovata that looks quite different than the species. Similarly, Schefflera arboricola has many cultivars some of which have variegated foliage.
     
  23. Dave-Florida

    Dave-Florida Active Member

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    Schefflera arboricola has become a popular landscaping plant for low hedges in Florida during the past decade. It thrives in full sun and the typical 32 degree heat. It's apparently a case of a popular house plant becoming an outdoor plant.
     
  24. mossonthemoon

    mossonthemoon Member

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    I noticed that there are Schefflera arboricola around my house and the neighbouring houses. It seems pretty common around here too, but I never knew what it was. I think plants behave unusually here (I am not originally from Scotland) in that we have several bushes blooming, and I have noticed primroses, buttercups, and some new leaves in my neighbourhood as well. It is freezing outside, but the plants don't seem to notice.

    I definitely plan on getting several different plants, but I think we want to make an investment into a more mature plant too. The florist I spoke to said they could source a large one (of whatever we choose) and plant it for us in our room if necessary. I think when they do that I will pick their brains about what from our list they think would do well in our rooms.
     
  25. Dave-Florida

    Dave-Florida Active Member

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    Schefflera arboricola is from Taiwan and Hainan, below 900m. It may be comfortable in persistently cool weather. Taipei (where it likely as not wasn't native) is sort of a magical place for plants. Tropicals like baobab and many rather tender palms thrive, but you can also see native temperate plants like Chionanthus.
    Flora of China, Schefflera arboricola

    The little Leach Botanical Garden in Portland, Oregon advertised that it had more plants flowering in January than July.
     

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