Go Big and Go Home
One of the misconceptions people have about houseplants is that they’re all those small, limp plants you see in your doctor’s office. It doesn’t have to be that way! You can garden indoors with big plants if you’ve got the space.
My Dracaena fragrans has hit the ceiling twice. It’s great as a large indoor plant because it doesn’t really get wider, it just gets taller. Umbrella Trees (Schefflera) are another good choice for a large indoor plant, but they can get unwieldy over time. Mine had to eventually get lashed to the wall to keep it from falling over. And the Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) can be very happy inside, but be warned: they can become as wide as they are tall.
But by far my favorite large indoor plant is the giant Alocasia (species like odora, calidora, and macrorrhizos). They’re not often thought of as houseplants, but if you’re not in a subtropical climate, growing them indoors is your only real choice. (I’ve got a couple outside here in San Francisco, but the ones inside are far happier.)
I love the upright Alocasias because they’re tough. Smaller elephant ears (like the many varieties of Colocasia Esculenta) are often fragile, ripping if you brush by in a hurry. But an Alocasia calidora will sooner knock you out of its way. And the patterns in their leaves are just wonderful to look at.
They’re also extremely quick growing, so there’s rapid feedback. The A. calidora pictured here is less than a year old. Let me repeat that: this plant, which is almost as tall as me now, is not yet one year old. This is as close to instant gratification as you can get in a garden.
When your Alocasia is happy, you’ll know. It will look fat and strong, its leaves will point skyward, and sometimes it’ll even bloom. When it’s thirsty, its leaves will droop down. And unlike some plants (I’m looking at you, Maindenhair), if you let the plant dry out so much that it droops and then water, it’ll perk right up without losing any leaves. Giant Alocasias are almost impossible to overwater. Trust me, I’ve tried. Just make sure the pot its in can drain so that the water doesn’t become stagnant. If the leaves drip water from their tips, you’ve overwatering. Just cut back a bit.
And here’s the real secret to these giant beauties: they’re easy. All you need is the space for it. Put it in the brightest window you have, but it’ll tolerate a shady spot. Repot it when it outgrows its pot. Water it weekly with a little general houseplant fertilizer. When a leaf turns yellow and droops, cut it off.
The only downside I should mention is that spider mites just love these Alocasias. Spider mites are tiny (almost too small to see) bugs that spin a small web in the crevice where the stem meets the leaf. They can damage the foliage eventually, but they’re easy to control. They can be killed with rubbing alcohol applied with a cotton ball or diluted in a mister. The leaves are tough – they won’t mind – but it’s best to do this at night, so the sun won’t hit the alcohol, which could burn the leaf.
Houseplants don’t have to be tiny wimpy things. If you’ve got the space for it, go big!