10 Houseplants That Aren't Your Usual Houseplants

Lifesaver plant and other succulents

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Today's Instagram-popular snake plants, pothos, peace lilies, and monsteras are beautiful, but they aren't nearly as interesting as some other houseplant options. Air plants, for instance, are entirely soilless and thrive in an upside-down hanging position. And the pitcher plant? It traps insects with its intelligent cupped leaf design.

Just because certain houseplants are unusual doesn't necessarily mean they're tough to find or difficult to care for (although some do require unique conditions, like humidity-inducing jars or entire seasons without water).

If you're in the market for a botanical addition that goes beyond the usual houseplant, consider these 10.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
of 10

Air Plants (Tillandsia)

Air plants planted in sea urchin shells
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A departure from your typical pothos and spider plants, air plants are unusual because they don't require soil. In the wild, they grow on other plants, such as trees, rather than rooting in the ground. Inside, they are often displayed in terrariums, seashells, or simply by themselves.

Native to drier climates—from the Southeast U.S. to South America—there are more than 730 types of tillandsia. Apart from looking downright funky, air plants are likely the world's least demanding houseplant. However, just because they're soilless doesn't mean they don't need water.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Bright, indirect.
  • Water: Soak in room-temperature water for five to 10 minutes every one to two weeks.
  • Soil: None.
  • Pet Safety: Not toxic.
2
of 10

Living Stones (Lithops)

Living stones (Lithops) planted in a small pot
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Living stones, also called pebble plants, are a type of split succulent that resembles rock. They come in a variety of colors and even produce daisylike flowers, which emerge between the leaves in the fall and winter. Just as peculiar as the living stone's appearance is its life cycle: When it gets a new set of leaves in the spring, it sheds its old leaves like a crab outgrowing its shell.

Like all succulents, living rocks require very little maintenance. While they do love a sunny spot, they can go long periods without water. In fact, they shouldn't be watered during their dormant periods, in the summer and winter.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Full sun.
  • Water: Water only when the soil completely dries out, and not during its dormant periods (summer and winter).
  • Soil: Well-draining, sandy.
  • Pet Safety: Not toxic.
3
of 10

Marimo (Aegagropila linnaei)

Marimo (moss ball) on the table
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Marimo (meaning "ball seaweed" in Japanese) is a type of spherical green algae that can grow up to a foot in diameter and has a velvety appearance. Plop these geometric wonders in a jar of water or an aquarium and you'll never have to entertain guests again.

Japanese moss balls are easy to care for, requiring only room-temperature tap water (changed weekly) and some light to grow up to a quarter inch per year. They're a rare find, but are sometimes sold at aquarium stores.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Indirect.
  • Water: Keep submerged in room-temperature water—preferably filtered, but tap is also OK.
  • Soil: None.
  • Pet Safety: Not toxic.
4
of 10

Lifesaver Plants (Huernia zebrina)

Lifesaver plant with other succulents

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There are some extremely strange-looking (and -smelling) succulents out there, and one of the strangest has to be the lifesaver, aka lifebuoy, plant. Its name likely comes from the fact that the rubbery inner part of its unique flower resembles an inner tube—or the classic Life Savers candy, or a chocolate-glazed donut. It has red-striped yellow petals, hence the zebrina in its botanical name, and, to make it even more unusual, it's incredibly stinky. Its rotten meat smell is actually meant to attract pollinators.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Water: Once per month.
  • Soil: Cactus potting mix.
  • Pet Safety: Toxic to cats and dogs.
5
of 10

Bonsai (Various species)

Bonsai tree in a pot on a stump
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If you're looking for an unusual houseplant, how about a whole entire tree? Well, in miniature form. Unlike succulents, air plants, and others that you can practically display and forget about, the bonsai requires ample trimming, pruning, clamping, wiring, grafting, and defoliation. It's an exercise in patience and craft.

Bonsai is an ancient Japanese art form blending horticultural techniques and Asian aesthetics. It uses the same species of tree you'd find in your backyard—such as fir, maple, birch, cedar, and cypress—but they're stunted to coffee table-size.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Full sun to low light, depending on the species.
  • Water: When soil gets slightly dry.
  • Soil: Mix of akadama, pumice, lava rock, organic potting compost, and fine gravel.
  • Pet Safety: Some are toxic to cats and dogs.
6
of 10

Orange Trees (Citrus X sinensis)

Small orange tree in a pot inside
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An orange tree isn't what you'd expect to see outside of the Mediterranean, California, or Florida—much less in a living room in the Midwest. These citrus-producing plants can, indeed, grow even in cold climates so long as they're given naturally rich soil, a stable 65-degree environment, and five or six hours of direct sunlight per day.

Caring for an orange tree isn't terribly difficult, but it does require patience. An orange tree can take three to five years to begin producing fruit, and even then, the fruit takes up to eight months to ripen.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Full, direct sun.
  • Water: Once or twice weekly in the summer and only when the soil dries out in the winter.
  • Soil: Rich, such as a mixture of clay, organic matter, and sand.
  • Pet Safety: Toxic to cats and dogs.
7
of 10

Forced Bulbs (Various species)

Several hyacinth bulbs growing inside
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Another quirky botanical conversation piece is the indoor-growing bulb. Flower bulbs are globe-shaped buds, typically planted in the ground, with overlapping leaves growing from them. Convincing these bulbs to bloom indoors is a trick humans have been performing for centuries. The hobby was such the rage in 18th-century Europe that special vases were designed for this purpose.

The act of tricking bulbs to grow inside, out of season, is called "forcing." Many types take to it, including hyacinth, paperwhites, tulips, and amaryllis. The procedure is simple, but varies with the type of bulb and vessel you choose.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Dark during the chilling period, then bright, indirect once leaves appear.
  • Water: Keep moist.
  • Soil: Well-draining potting mix.
  • Pet Safety: Some are toxic to cats and dogs.
8
of 10

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)

Person picking leaves and flowers from potted nasturtium

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Nasturtium is common in outdoor gardens, but it's not as often seen inside. The flowering, edible plant can thrive in an indoor environment, and you can pluck its leaves and petals to add color to your culinary creations. Grown indoors, the nasturtium is even able to produce flowers year-round as opposed to only during summer. These plants can grow in cultivars or vines, but the former may be better for inside as it takes up less space.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Full sun.
  • Water: Once or twice weekly.
  • Soil: Poor, sandy, slightly acidic.
  • Pet Safety: Not toxic.
9
of 10

Coffee Plants (Coffea arabica)

Coffee plant in a preserving jar

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What's more impressive than growing your own coffee fruit? These plants are native to tropical areas of Africa and Asia, so growing them in your home will take some extra work—but that's the price of having unusual houseplants sometimes. One way to mimic the heat and humidity of its native environment is to grow the coffee plant in a jar, which allows it to recycle its air and water.

Your coffee houseplant will likely need a bit of pruning to prevent it from growing into a medium-sized tree. You'll also have to wait a few years before it begins producing flowers and the subsequent fruit that contains the beans.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Bright, indirect.
  • Water: Keep moist.
  • Soil: Rich, well-draining.
  • Pet Safety: Toxic to cats and dogs.
10
of 10

Pitcher Plants (Nepenthaceae)

Hanging pitcher plant cups

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The pitcher plant's most unusual quality is its cuplike leaves that hang on stringy stems and form pitfall traps for insects. For this reason, they're called carnivorous—like the Venus flytrap. The plants can be planted outside, but make a beautiful, tropical-esque addition to your interior, too. Plus, they'll take care of your fly, moth, wasp, or ant problem.

In the wild, pitcher plants are perennials (mostly) that grow in Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and Australia. If growing at home, you'll need to replicate those conditions with moist soil, lots of humidity, and a fair amount of heat and sun.

Plant Care Tips

  • Light: Full sun.
  • Water: Every two to three weeks.
  • Soil: Moist, highly acidic.
  • Pet Safety: Not toxic.