Plain philodendrons and lonely sansevierias may seem to decorate half the homes and offices in the country, but many other sturdy house plants are colorful, fascinating, and just as easy to grow.
Here are five such plants, which are available in most well-stocked plant stores. They require so little care that even the most inexperienced indoor gardener can keep them flourishing:
Purple Waffle Plant (Hemigraphis alternata). This full, trailing beauty from Malaysia has puckered, egg-shaped leaves up to three inches long - greenish-purple above, wine-red below. A graceful hanging-basket plant, it enhances any color scheme, thrives in low light, and is an excellent choice for a dim corner.
It likes water, so keep it moist and out of direct sunlight or warm spots. New plants root easily from cuttings.
Agave Victoriae-Reginae Eye-catching, this dark-green rosette of the agave family may live for 20 years or more, making it a remarkable bargain. As the stiff, spiny leaves - delicately edged in silvery white - stretch to a height of 6 inches or more, they slowly unfold, revealing new growth as the rosette matures.
In mild climates, the agave doubles as a handsome patio plant during the spring and summer months (remember to move it into the bright light it prefers gradually, however, so as to avoid sunburn). It will forgive changes in temperature and humidity, and if you forget to water this nearly indestructible native of Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert, you've probably done it a favor; it doesn't like to be overwatered.
Yellow Bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii Aureo-reticula). Few house plants can top this one for brightness and variety of color.
Roundish leaves are a combination of creamy yellow, bright rose-pink, white, chartreuse, and leaf-green; upright stems are shocking pink. Fast-growing, the yellow bloodleaf likes moist soil and filtered sunlight or bright, indirect light.
Pinch new growth occasionally to keep the 1- to 2-foot plant bushy, or pot several plants together for effect.
Velvet-Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens scandens). Unlike its plain cousin, this philodendron sports dark, coppery-green leaves that have an exquisite silken sheen and red-purple undersides.
Up to about 4 inches, the leaves trail on delicate, airy vines, yards long. Place the plant in bright, indirect light, keep it evenly moist, and trim the vines for a fuller plant. Cuttings root in water.
Panda-Bear Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa). This pale grayish-green plant looks so fuzzy it invites touching. Actually, the orange-tipped leaves and the single main trunk are covered with fine hairs. A fast-growing plant from Madagascar, the panda-bear may reach up to 2 feet or more in direct sunlight.
Being very tough, it will live in lower light, any humidity, and a broad range of temperatures.
Like other kalanchoes, it may be propagated by cuttings, or will grow tiny new plants along the margins of its leaves. Drench it and then allow it to dry completely before watering again.
There's more good news: In addition to demanding little time and effort, all five plants are easy on the pocketbook. Even the largest and most attractive isn't likely to cost more than $10. At medium size, they usually can be purchased for $3 to $6, while small starts often are available for less than a dollar.