Houseplants in the Forest

 In Indoor Plants, Nature, Travel


I’ve just returned from a few weeks break in Brazil. I spent much of my trip looking at spectacular wildlife such as jaguar, giant otter and fabulous bird life!

During those ventures into forests I couldn’t help but notice familiar plants along the way!

These houseplants in the forest gave insight into why some thrive better than others in our homes.

syngonium on forest floor

Syngonium on forest floor

Just like the Costa Rica jungles, Brazilian forests are full of plants that we regard as indoor houseplants.

A while ago I visited Costa Rica and there I was delighted to recognise houseplants in the forest.




Forest Floor Plants

The forest floors are covered in shade tolerant plants! I found plenty of the Goose Foot plant [Syngonium].

This tough and easy-to-please indoor plant is a great choice for a room that receives little or no natural light. And so it’s a great candidate for a hallway. And because it enjoys some heat it also tolerates our centrally heated houses well.

However I was surprised to find Mother-in Laws-Tongue [Sansevieria] growing in the shade of giant trees!

I had always regarded this succulent-like plant as a plant that grew in the open. I wasn’t expecting to find these houseplants in the forest!

If you travel through parts of Belgium and Holland you will often see Sansevieria. They are growing in pots or troughs on the inside window ledge of apartments. They grow so prolifically that there seems to be little need for curtains!

Sansevieria on forest floor

Sansevieria on the forest floor

Once more, this is a tough and easy indoor plant to grow. Just like the Syngonium, it is very happy with our centrally heated rather dry-aired homes.

In Brazil, I found the non-variegated version and I think that most, if not all, actually are introductions from Africa.

There was, of course, a substantial African migration of people [largely not of their own free will!] into Brazil. Perhaps this plant was introduced as a useful plant fibre?


Other forest shade lovers

The Prayer Plant [Calathea] is also a clump forming shade tolerant plant of the eastern Brazilian forest. It’s called prayer plant because it folds its leaves up and holds them up vertically in the evenings.

Calathea likes pretty much the same conditions in our home as Sansevieria and Syngonium. But it is perhaps a little less easy to please. The broad feather-shaped leaves are attractively marked in a fish bone fashion.

calathea ilha grande

Calathea Ilha Grande

Occasionally I stumbled upon a few plants of Caladium.

This plant has several delightful common names. They are called Angels Wing, Elephants Ears and Heart of Jesus.

These names allude to the large heart shaped leaf that, in cultivated varieties, can be spectacularly coloured.

Alongside, especially in damp soils, I found Dieffenbachia or ‘Dumb Cane’ growing well.

This too was less showy than the varieties that we grow in our homes.

I find Caladium and Dieffenbachia to be much fussier about the conditions we have in our British homes.

Both, I suspect would benefit from the higher humidity that we find in bathrooms and kitchens.

caladium on ilha grande

Caladium on Ilha Grande

By contrast, Wandering Jew [Tradescantia zebrina] is a very easy plant to grow as an indoor houseplant! This plant occupied bold patches of the forest floor. In fact it often smothered everything in its path!


Epiphytic Plants

Equally easy to please are members of the Bromeliad family!

These grow everywhere in the lower levels of Brazil and Central America. They can be found covering trees, posts, rocks and even the forest floor.

There are examples of Bromeliad that are both epiphytes and terrestrial. Both rely largely on collecting water and nutrients in their large urn like leaf arrangement.  Or by absorbing water and nutrients through their leaves and stems in the way that Spanish Moss does. Again, this is a good candidate for those rooms in the house with higher humidity. Nevertheless, they are remarkably easy to grow and require little expertise!


Climbing plants

dieffenbachia and tradescantia

Dieffenbachia and Tradescantia

Of course, not all familiar plants are to be found on the forest floor!

Climbing the trunks and growing into the tree canopy are massive Philodendron.

These are familiar plants in homes and in offices.  Their huge leaves are not only dramatic to look at but also do a great job of ‘scrubbing’ the air and making our homes healthier place to live!

scindapsus on tree

Scindapsus on tree

Devils Ivy [Scindapsus or Epipremnum] climbs here too. But it is less vigorous and has smaller leaves as an indoor plant and so lends itself to our homes better.


Thousands of others!

There are of course many more plants familiar to our British indoor plant scene growing wild in Brazil.

I haven’t even mentioned the thousands of orchids!

With so many plants and the life-saving potential of some, it’s vital that we protect them.

Brazil’s list of native plants makes our own British range look meager.

There’s no doubt and for so many reasons, this is a fascinating country to visit!

You can read about other great Brazilian plants that I saw on this trip here.


What plants have you seen growing in the wild that excite you?

Have you seen commonly grown houseplants in the forest? If so, in which country?

Do you grow any of the varieties that I’ve mentioned here?

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