13. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera (or Aloe barbadensis) is a succulent with spiky and serrated leaves. Although it makes a compact houseplant, the leaves do spread a bit and have a sharp point as well as serrations along the edges of the leaves. While these spikes are unlikely to cause much harm, they are sharp enough to encourage some space around the plant. The plant can clear formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
Aloe Vera plants are widely considered to be medicinal and have been grown by people for thousands of years for that purpose. There are claims that the liquid in these leaves has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and topical wound healing abilities, among other things. These are largely unproven by scientists. It is, however, safe to say that this plant is not toxic and a little aloe juice on a minor burn or rash will do no harm.
The plant originally comes from the area around Yemen, so the desert climate of that area provides clues as to how to care for your plants. Make sure that your plants receive lots of bright, indirect sun and use a well-drained potting medium such as cactus mix, or ordinary potting soil mixed with sand. The plant grows slowly but is very hardy and will probably suffer from too much water than too little – good drainage is essential.
It’s easy to create more aloe plants by dividing the pups, or offsets, that the parent plant produces. Gently take the adult plant out of the pot, then remove the “baby plant” at the base of the parent, along with its roots, leave it to dry a bit for 2 days and form a slight callus, then plant in a small pot. Don’t water until the roots have set in – about 2 weeks later. Alternatively, you can always grow them from seeds and try out some exotic varieties.
14. Chinese Evergreen
If one must choose as a pot plant, one might as well choose one reputed to bring good luck, such as the Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Not only are they lucky, but they will rid your home of benzene and formaldehyde. They are one of the most popular houseplants as they require so little care and effort to thrive – they will tolerate bad lighting, dry air, and even drought. If you’re a little challenged in the plant-rearing sphere, then this is the plant for you.
The textured, spear-shaped leaves are usually variegated and sport white or red marbling which make for a very decorative plant. The plant is tough and forgiving and will thrive in low light conditions, but enjoys indirect sunlight and a well-drained soil, such as a cactus mix or potting soil mixed with sand. It can also tolerate low water conditions, but does like a bit of humidity. To prevent over-watering and root rot, let the soil dry out a little before you water.
Tolerant as they are, they are native to the tropical and subtropical regions Asia and New Guinea, so they don’t like the cold and may form dark patches on the foliage if left in a cold environment for too long. Note that these plants are considered toxic to your pets so rather keep them on a table or shelf out of reach of digging dogs or curious cats. The juice can also cause skin irritation and rashes and ingesting them can irritate your mucous membranes.
A little liquid fertilizer once or twice a year is good. Older plants may produce flowers, which look a little like peace lilies, as well as red berries. You can cut the blooms before the seeds form or allow them to seed then harvest them for growing more plants. When you trim back the leaves and stems, you can save some cuttings and use them for propagating – rooting them in water works extremely well. Your new plants will make great gifts.
15. Dwarf Umbrella Tree
The Schefflera arboricola plant comes in many varieties, with one of the best known being the Dwarf Umbrella Tree. This statement plant works very well in a large pot with lots of space, because of its height (4-5 feet) and spread, but looks spectacular, so perhaps this is best suited to an office environment. It soaks up formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene. Some varietals offer variegated leaves and are a popular subject for bonsai trees if you like a challenge.
This tree needs bright, indirect light – keep it out of direct sun as the leaves will burn. If it starts to look a bit weak and spindly and the leaves droop and go yellow, it’s not getting quite enough light. Variegated varieties need a bit lighter than the green ones. This tree is pretty drought resistant so water only when the soil is dry, or the leaves start to wilt. Preferably use slightly warm water. Remember this is a tropical plant so it likes a humid environment.
You will need to prune your Umbrella tree by cutting off overgrown or leggy bits – try to shape it a bit and shortly after the pruning your tree will look healthier and fuller. Fertilizing is not really necessary. Watch for spider mites and mealybugs and wash the plant with soap and water to get rid of them. Try to avoid chemicals if you can. These plants are poisonous if eaten – both to humans and animals. As the toxins affect the mucous membranes, it can cause a burning sensation, swelling, difficulty swallowing and sometimes breathing. Their larger cousins were a popular choice as outdoor trees in milder climes in the past, but are aggressive invaders, so don’t transplant yours into your garden.
Be warned that plants grown indoors are more susceptible to disease and parasites, so keep an eye out for anything that looks abnormal and seek help at your local nursery. A hardy indoor plant may mean an aggressive invading plant outside, so think before transplanting your potted plants into your garden. You will have noticed that the same simple steps are required to take care of most of the plants in this list, so you can now consider yourself an accomplished inside gardener