Plants Surviving with Benign Neglect

For the flower gardener that I am, you would think I would do well with houseplants. But, houseplants are a different breed.  Some are very touchy and sensitive, like a ficus or bonsai tree, neither of which I own now.  On the other hand, or in the other pot if you like a pun, there are those plants that survive in my house simply on benign neglect.  These plants continue to grow without a lot of care or even watering for that matter!  For the most part, I’ve found what plants can deal with my ignorance by trial and error over the years. There is a range of species that do well in my home without any coddling from me.

The first is Mother in Law’s Tongue or Snake plant. The botanical name for this plant is Sansevieria trifasciata. It is native to West Africa from Nigeria to the Congo, according to “The Spruce” and other online sources. I believe I have the variety called ‘Twist’, based on the horizontal striping.  This plant sits in the corner of our family room off our kitchen.  It receives indirect light from mother nature, and infrequent watering from me. Yet, it grows and survives. I’ve even been able to divide it once, so that my son now has a plant in his apartment at school. Mother in Law’s Tongue has been know to be an “air purification” plant.


Cacti and succulents also do well with some benign neglect. I have long been fascinated with cacti, growing them in a terrarium type garden for my 6th grade science fair project, eons ago! You can imagine my thrill when I got to see some real “live” cactus growing the wild when I visited the Mojave Desert this fall! In my home, I have small cacti that do quite well with the provision of some morning light and again, minimal watering. One unusual variety I have is the Rhipsalis cactus. It is also known as Old Man’s Beard, Mistletoe cactus, or even, Easter Cactus.

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This plant grows natively in the Brazilian rainforest and is an epiphyte. Epiphytic plants  grow high on the limbs of other plants in typically tropical or subtropical regions of the world. They are able to absorb the nutrients and even water from the air to enable their survival.  This plant is not a parasite, however; it just uses the tree limbs for support!

Over the last few years, I have kept a rhipsalis living in my home. It does quite well and even flowers. This plant is great for teaching young garden club students about epiphytes and plant adaptations. It is also a very cool cactus in that the spines are hair-like and super soft. They do not dislodge easily, so one can handle the plant without fear of being “stuck” by an angry cactus protecting itself from predators!  The rhipsalis even puts up with an annual “haircut” to enable me to share it with my students in a holiday garden club project, which I call a living ornament!

I have other cacti, as well, including a variety of Prickly Pear called “Bunny Ears”. And, I added to my succulent collection this summer as well. All of the succulents and cacti do well with my benign neglect. So, I keep them around and water when I notice their dirt is drier than a bone, or cannot remember when I last gave them some fluid. Cactus rarely die on me, except when I put them outside to catch some stronger sun rays and forget about them. This happened just this past fall. I really just need to leave my house plants in the house!


My orchid collection has grown to seven different plants. These are also unusual plants and epiphytic as well. It has surprised me to have done so well with this variety of house plant that comes with a reputation for being difficult. Mostly, I chalk my success up to  infrequent watering and lots of indirect lighting. My oldest orchid (three years) is budding again and this will start a succession of the other plants blooming during the winter months. They always add a burst of color to any room I choose to put them.




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And, finally, my tree hibiscus is doing marvelously since bringing it inside this fall. It has an initial loss of leaves that is an expected shocky response to being moved, but since has recovered.  Two days ago, we had a gorgeous red bloom, which is not followed by two more today.  The tree is covered with buds!  I’ve been careful to keep it watered and I did repot it this past spring. I am looking forward to a bit of tropical decor during the holidays from this tree that is now in its second indoor wintering season. I am going to be careful with this plant, as I know it needs more tender, loving care than I normally offer my other houseplants. But, the flush of blooms makes it worth it!




What house plants do you keep? How do you care for them? Is it also with benign neglect or do you lovingly baby your green friends?  I’d love to know, please leave a comment!


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