Barry Fugatt: These tropical house plants can survive the brownest of thumbs

JANUARY 27, 2019

Love tropical house plants? Wish they would stop dying on you?

Success with house plants begins with plant selection. Some house plant species cling to life and refuse to die despite terrible growing conditions. Others are so finicky they may die during the trip home from the garden center. Here are several low-maintenance tropical plants that cling to life like white on rice.

ZZ Plant

ZZ plant (aka Zamioculcas zamifolia )

If ever there was a perfect plant for the ultimate brown thumb, it’s ZZ Plant. It came by its unusual name honestly enough. Most gardeners, and more than a few horticulturists, simply could not pronounce its tongue-twisting botanical name: Zamioculcas zamifolia. Hence the abbreviation: ZZ Plant.

ZZ Plant is one of the most durable house plants ever. It quite literally can go for weeks, even months if necessary, without a sip of water. The secret to its longevity and toughness may be found in its root system. Just beneath the soil, this amazing plant forms a potato-like root (rhizome) that stores water and nutrients sufficient to survive periods of deprivation — like when you go on an extended vacation and ask your teenage son or daughter to care for your plants. Good luck with that. ZZ Plant also is the perfect choice for a busy office — typically where plants go to die.


ZZ Plant is a multistem tropical with glossy foliage and an upright growth habit that slowly reaches 3 feet in height. It’s the absolute poster child for easy-to-care-for house plants. I typically water ZZ Plant every other week. I honestly can’t remember the last time I fertilized it, probably never.


I’ve enjoyed a decades-long relationship with this tropical beauty. While not quite as foolproof as ZZ Plant, Bromeliad also deserves high marks for ease-of-care. Its exotic good looks (gorgeous variegated foliage) sparkle in virtually any environment, including low-light conditions typically found in many homes and offices. A weekly watering keeps Bromeliads happy.

Elephant Foot Palm aka Ponytail Palm

Travel the road to Veracruz in Eastern Mexico and you’re sure to encounter lots of native Elephant Foot Palms. Despite its name, this tough-as-steel tropical is not related to true palms. Its most endearing features include a bulbous, woody stem that stores water during extended dry periods and its long, hair-like leaves that hang from the top of the plant like a ponytail. It’s thought that this exotic-looking species dates to the dinosaurs. If Elephant Foot Palm out-lived dinosaurs, surely it can endure most office and living room environments. It easily tolerates low-light interior conditions and infrequent watering. My Siamese cat loves to chew on this plant’s long slender leaves. Not sure if I have a totally weird cat or if this is common cat behavior around Elephant Foot Palms.

Elephant Foot Palm aka Ponytail Palm

Elephant Foot Palm aka Ponytail Palm

Southwood Landscape and Nursery in Tulsa is hosting its annual “Tropicana Extravaganza” that features hundreds of new and gorgeous tropical plants. Visiting the showroom is like walking through a lush tropical jungle. Ask to see the three species I’ve recommended in this column. I think you will really like them. I promise they won’t die in the car on the trip home.

By Barry Fugatt, originally written for and published by the Tulsa World. Click here to view the original article.