Whether you’re a casual plant-parent or a hardcore collector, deep down, we all want to own an unusual plant. Not only do you get to appreciate the rare beauty of a plant you’re unfamiliar with, but you get to show it off to your friends both virtual and IRL! With that in mind, here is a list of twelve unusual houseplants, arranged by the ease of care from least to most challenging!
1. Sugar Vine
Want to discover a plant before it’s cool? Of course, you do. That’s why I included the Sugar Vine, a plant that was gifted to me, and which I’ve had a hard time finding any information about! This Chilean climbing plant can be found in three varieties: Cissus striata, Vitis striata, and Parthenocissus striata. Quick-growing and easy to propagate, this easy-going vine is one of the most grower-friendly plants on our list and makes for a stunning hanging plant.
2. The Samurai Plant
A plant with many names, this member of the sansevieria family is known for its distinctly layered sword-like leaves. The Samurai Plant (sansevieria ehrenbergii) is a slow-grower, but like its Snake Plant cousins, it is incredibly hardy, enduring any number of conditions (except overwatering). Found from Libya to Tanzania, true samurai plants can grow up to five feet in diameter, while their Dwarf Samurai relatives remain a more manageable size for indoor growing.
3. The Pencil Cactus
The Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) is not a true cactus at all, but a succulent. In its native environment, which ranges from Africa to India, these twig-like plants can grow up to thirty feet tall and produce a milky sap that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. This striking plant evolved in the semi-arid tropics and revels in the bright consistent sun. While those with a latex allergy might want to steer away from this plant and its cousins, because of their unusual sap, this striking plant makes an incredible addition to any plant collection and is sure to turn some heads.
4. Sensitive Plant
I know what you’re thinking, but Sensitive Plants are a real thing and have the Latin name to prove it. Mimosa Pudica is a creeping shrub known for its fascinating ability to react. The leaves of this Central and South American plant are lined with tiny hairs that respond to touch, curling inward in a self-defensive maneuver. You’ve likely seen videos of this plant’s fern-like leaves recoiling, but what you might not know is that Sensitive Plant is surprisingly low maintenance, despite its name!
5. Twisted Cactus
While its common name may tell you what to expect, the Latin name of this South American cactus sets a more appropriate mood: Cereus Forbesii Spiralis. Believed to be the hybridization of the Cereus Peruvian and the Cereus Forbesii, this cactus is unassuming when young, with no distinct pattern or marking. Once it surpasses the 4” mark, however, the trademark spiral begins to appear, and makes quite an appearance! Though it’s a slow grower, the twisted cactus can grow over ten feet tall when correctly cared for.
6. Rex Begonia
You can’t get a name like King Begonia without earning it. One of the most striking members of an already remarkable family, this dramatic plant can produce leaves in silver, green, purple, or bright red. Originally from Eastern Asia, rex begonias are relatively easy to care for, preferring bright, indirect light year-round. Because they’ve been a botanical celebrity for so long, there are hundreds of variations of rex begonia to be found, each with their own unique variegation and coloring, including my personal favorite, the ballroom dance rex begonia. Check it out!
7. Cotyledon Pendens
You wouldn’t know it, looking at her beautiful flowers and charming foliage, but Cotyledon Pendens is a total adrenaline junkie. Native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, these plants are commonly referred to as ‘Cliff Cotyledon,’ given their tendency to grow directly from the faces of cliffs. A hardy succulent, C. Pendens prefers indirect light and aery soil and produces beautiful flowers throughout the spring and summer.
8. Purple Pitcher Plant
Part extraterrestrial pipe-organ, part Halloween decoration, the Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia Purpurea) is the only plant on our list that evolved to be carnivorous! Like all its hungry relatives, the Purple Pitcher Plant has tubular leaves which are full of juices that lure in unsuspecting insects. In the vast sunny wetlands of southeastern North America, these plants can easily find enough food, but when kept indoors you may need to feed them once every few weeks yourself. If that doesn’t sound off-putting, this may be the plant for you!
9. Black Coral Taro
Commonly known as ‘elephant ear,’ Colocasia Esculenta is native to Hawaii and known for its huge, downward-sloping leaves. Colocasia is often grown as a food crop, with large underground tubers known as taro, which is used in many traditional dishes. The Black Coral cultivar is a hybrid created by the University of Hawaii, intended to produce glossy, dark purple leaves that hold their color even after prolonged sun exposure.
10. Alocasia Zebrina
One of the trickiest plants on our list to care for, Alocasia Zebrina is not for the faint of heart. As a tropical plant, Zebrina loves humidity but is incredibly sensitive to overwatering. Like other Alocasias, Zebrina is toxic to animals and sensitive to too much light. But unlike some of its relatives, Zebrina rarely grows taller than three feet in size, making it a much more accommodating Alocasia to live with. With its broad fox-like leaves and Wicked-Witch-of-the-East striped stems, this little diva is always ready to show off.
11. Trachyandra Tortilis
I was downright dubious about this plant until I looked it up because it looks so positively unreal. But Trachyandra tortilis is neither alien nor from the bottom of the sea. This stunning plant is native to Africa’s Western Cape, and one of the more challenging plants on our list. Sought after by intrepid collectors (for all the obvious reasons), Trachyandra is a succulent with a penchant for finickiness, with specific water and lighting needs that vary depending on the season. Given their rarity and the challenge that comes with raising them, I don’t recommend this plant for beginners—but if you have the tenacity (and access), they can be one of the most eye-catching pieces in any collection.
12. Macodes Petola
Potentially the most challenging and astounding plant here, M. Petola, also known as Jewel Orchid, is also one of the most rewarding. Prized by collectors the world over, this orchid features dark green leaves adorned with lightning-bolt veins of bright green. Originally found in humid, tropical climates ranging from Malaysia to Japan, recent advances in cloning have made this plant more available on the market—but the price to be paid for its beauty may be the hours you spend fussing over it!
Thanks for checking out our list! Are there other plants that you’d like to see mentioned? What’s your favorite unusual houseplant? Share a photo and tag us @houseofplantlovers.