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Rare Plants: Unusual and Hard-to-Find Houseplants | Almanac.com

Rare Plants: Unusual and Hard-to-Find Houseplants

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Rare houseplants from the old farmers almanac

Exotic Houseplants to Add to Your Collection

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Houseplants have exploded in popularity in recent years, but if your windowsills are overflowing with common greenery, it might be time to embrace the strange and wonderful. This blog post introduces you to a captivating collection of rare houseplants, some that thrive in bright light and others that don’t require much sunlight at all.

The plants here were once considered weird; today, we look upon them as wonders of nature. Unfussy about their care, they’re not boring or demanding. You may have to search for them (rarities don’t lurk in every big-box garden department), but you can conduct your “strange safari” at your own pace in garden centers throughout the land—or even online. Enjoy the search, celebrate your discoveries, and think of the stories that you’ll tell!

If you are new to houseplants, you may enjoy our list of Easy Houseplants for Your Home. Or, if you’re looking to make an impact, check out our article on big houseplants.

Rare Houseplants for Bright Light

You’ll want to match your new potted pal with the right growing conditions. The marvels mentioned here want the brightest location that you can muster. No need for a greenhouse: Any unobstructed south-facing window will do. Placement is key, so harness available sunbeams by positioning these plants close to the panes. Rotate them often (half a spin once a week) to balance their growth. In the right spot, these sun-worshippers will adapt happily to the glow of your hospitality.

Mother of Thousands

Talk about being fruitful and multiplying! Mother of thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) carries hundreds of little plantlets on the rim of each succulent leaf. Some might say that she overdoes the whole procreation process, but the physical presentation of tiny rosettes lining each chalky blue-green leaf is totally intriguing. Plus, this kalanchoe is a cinch to grow. For best results, give her good light and don’t overwater. And when friends shower you with compliments on your mother load, just snip off a rosette or two and send them to their new home.

Mother of Thousands plant on a black pot isolated on white background. Mother of Thousands also known as Kalanchoe pinnata, cathedral bells, air plant, life plant, miracle leaf, and Goethe plant.
Mother of thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana
Photo: jamaludinyusuppp

Small Starfish Flower

If flowers make your heart race, we’ve got a mini plant with a rather strange blossom to give you a cardiovascular workout. Starfish flowers (Stapelia scitula) prefer confinement in a super-small container, so everybody has room on their windowsill for this compact performer. If you forget to water this little number occasionally, that’s okay. Give it bright light to encourage its mighty but a tad macabre flower moment. We’re talking puffy, star-within-star blossoms the color of coagulated blood and teeming with wavy hairs. Sci-fi aficionados, this one’s for you!

Starfish flowers (Stapelia scitula)
Starfish flowers (Stapelia scitula)
Photo: Tovah Martin

Climbing Onion

Any plant with an exposed and swollen bulb at its base is going to thrill a certain crowd. During summer, this nonconformist sits around looking strange enough, but in late autumn, it goes into action mode, spouting chains of lacy growth climbing all over the place (it has no aerial roots—it just winds). Ultimately, tiny, green and white, starlike flowers appear on a vine that athletically adds an inch or more daily. Like most bulbs, the climbing onion (Bowiea volubilis) does not like to be over-watered and prefers to sit in a slightly tight container.

Exotic succulent plants. Closeup view of a Bowiea volubilis, also known as climbing onion, growing on a pot in the urban garden. The big bulbs and green stems.
Climbing onion (Bowiea volubilis
Photo: Gonzalo de Miceu

Coral Cactus

This Frankenplant looks like it was born in the basement of a mad professor. A result of grafting two euphorbias, this weird presentation doesn’t really grow perceptibly but sits around making a statement. The kinky, crested, paddle-like top attached to the poker-straight E. neriifolia base has fanning, undulating accordion pleats that would be the envy of any dilophosaurus (the dinosaur with the double-crested headgear). To keep your little Coral Cactus (Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’) monster happy, give it gritty soil and confine it to a tight container. You might want to anchor the base in a heavy pot for ballast to prevent the top-heavy crown from toppling. Water only when the plant is very dry and keep water away from the base. 

And be careful: When bruised, all euphorbias “bleed” a toxic milky latex that can cause skin or eye irritation. Wear gloves.

Coral cactus (Euphorbia lactea Cristata, mermaid tail) plants
Coral Cactus (Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’)
Photo: CoinUp

Orchid Cactus

Are your windowsills full? Here’s a plant that dangles. You can host it in a hanging pot or a tall cylinder; either way, this non-traditional cactus will send its Medusa-like mass of plump, twist-ed leaves draping down. Beyond its banana-curl hairdo, you might ultimately see bright pink fruit. With or without fruit, though, the Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum guatemalense ‘Monstrose’) is extraordinary and easy to please. Let it go dry between waterings, but if you begin to see browning edges and tips, amp up the water slightly. Remember that more light will make for longer curls.

Sydney Australia, epiphyllum guatemalense monstrose curly sue in garden
Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum guatemalense ‘Monstrose’)
Photo: demamiel62

Rare Houseplants for Low Light

Lack light? No need to lack luster. Plenty of options remain on the table for botanical oddballs that thrive in an east- or west-facing window. Again, being closer to the panes is better for making the most of the incoming sunbeams. Avoid window treatments that reduce light and open those curtains—early in the morning (on the east side) or in late afternoon (on the west)—for maximum effect. Water plants that grow in lower light conditions only when the soil is dry to the touch. Also, don’t overpot; tight is about right. Check the root system of these plants before giving your resident green eccentrics bigger digs. Then, prepare to be amazed.

See more houseplants that thrive in low light.

Stag or Elkhorn Fern

The Elkhorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is amazingly easy to grow, although it looks outrageously complicated. As you might imagine, antler-shape fronds play a part, emerging from shieldlike fronds (aka the back plates) that protect the root crown. The fronds are all covered in what looks like white felting, which helps the plant to conserve moisture. Because staghorn ferns are epiphytes and prefer to be anchored in a mossy base rather than soil, they are often wired to plaque-like frames on a wall. The easiest way to water this thirsty rainforest native is to do so in a sink or bathtub every 3 days or so.

Platycerium at a wall. It's a genus of about 18 fern species in the polypod family, Polypodiaceae. Ferns in this genus are widely known as staghorn or elkhorn ferns due to their uniquely shaped fronds
Elkhorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)
Photo: Hendra Arieska Putra

Polka-Dot Begonia

Many begonias have intriguing foliage and flowers, but the Polka Dot Begonia (Begonia maculata var. wightii) is particularly well endowed with swag. In the angel-wing group, this scene-stealing specimen has dramatic, sharply pointed, batwing-like leaves with red undersides. On top of their noteworthy shape, the dark leaves look like someone went crazy, splattering them with luminous white paint. (The polka dots are natural, not a result of hybridization; this one is native to the rain forests of Brazil.) All begonias prefer to be watered only when their soil is dry, and they do best in situations with ample humidity.

Our Begonia Growing Guide explains more about caring for these beauties!

Polka Dot Begonia (Begonia maculata var. wightii)
Polka Dot Begonia (Begonia maculata var. wightii)
Photo: Tovah Martin

String of Turtles

Green roommates that form strings of leaves—that look like, for example, dolphins, pearls, hearts, fish hooks—are the rage. To these thrilling spillings, you can add a string of turtles (Peperomia prostrata), whose tiny leaves resemble a cascade of patterned carapaces. In autumn and early winter, you should see flowers—look for upright “needles”—but don’t be disappointed. The leaves are the show and a snap to grow: Give this terrapin-type indirect light and water it sparingly—that’s all you need to know.

String of turtles (Peperomia prostrata)
String of turtles (Peperomia prostrata)
Photo: Tovah Martin

Erect Peperomia

Want an upright cousin in the same easy-does-it family as the String of Turtles? Try Peperomia columnaris, which sends up stacks of graphic, funky, cuticle-like leaves. Take note that peperomias are nicknamed “radiator plants”: They tolerate the low humidity, dry conditions, and so forth that an imperfect home can hand out.

Erect Peperomia (Peperomia columnaris)
Photo: Tovah Martin

Moon Valley Pilea

Botanical nonconformity can take on a textural spin. If you’re the type who likes to reach out and touch your plants, Pilea mollis ‘Moon Valley’ is going to bring this encounter to a whole different tactile level. The bronze and forest green leaf surface of Moon Valley pileas is seriously otherworldly. Walk your fingers over it, and sandpaper or a cat’s tongue comes to mind. Equally cratering are the foliage spikes and pits on a visual level. Although Moon Valley resembles the lunar surface, it can not survive its namesake’s aridity, so care is not a giant leap: make sure to water consistently.

Moon Valley Pilea (Pilea mollis)
Moon Valley Pilea (Pilea mollis)
Photo: Tovah Martin

Twisted Lipstick Plant

If you like plants that are considerably off-kilter, this curly-leaf version of the lipstick plant is your twisted sister. A different flat-leaf variety may bloom more easily (producing lipstick-like flowers up “tubes,” as if they are lip gloss), but the Twisted Lipstick Plant’s (Aeschynanthus radicans ‘Rasta’) whorls of ropelike leaves hold endless fascination. Just steer clear of sunlight or risk scorching the foliage. Give it a shady window and water from below (although not to excess) to prevent leaf mottling. This is the perfect low-maintenance, offbeat companion for anyone who wants to impress neighbors.

Twisted Lipstick Plant's (Aeschynanthus radicans ‘Rasta’)
Twisted Lipstick Plant’s (Aeschynanthus radicans ‘Rasta’)
Photo: Tovah Martin

So, there you have it! A curated collection of rare and captivating houseplants to add a touch of the extraordinary to your indoor space. Whether you have a bright and sunny windowsill or a cozy nook with lower light, there’s a unique botanical find waiting to be discovered. 

Beyond the sheer beauty and intrigue these plants offer, houseplants can also improve air quality, boost your mood, and add a touch of life to your surroundings. Plus, the hunt for these uncommon specimens can be a fun and rewarding adventure. 

So, are you ready to embrace the weird and wonderful? Happy planting!

What is the rarest houseplant that you own? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

About The Author

Tovah Martin

Horticulturalist, author, freelance writer, photo stylist, and lecturer Tovah Martin is one of the country's best-known garden writers. Read More from Tovah Martin

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