Unusual, rare, or exotic houseplants are quite popular as an idea for decorating one’s living space. These plants can serve as a centerpiece or visual focal point for any number of rooms in the house. They can be a conversation starter with houseplant enthusiasts who rarely come across a plant they don’t know. These houseplants may garner more compliments than all the other plants in your home combined.
However, rare and exotic houseplants also have a reputation for being hard to keep healthy, especially season after season. There is definitely some truth to this, but if you take a little time to learn about the different types of houseplants and their care requirements, there’s a good chance you can find that perfect houseplant that is visually striking, reasonable to care for, and decidedly unusual.
What is an Unusual, Rare, or Exotic Houseplant?
In many cases, what counts as rare and unusual houseplants is inherently local. An indoor water garden that includes tropical hydrophyte plants that live in wetlands may be exotic in Indianapolis or Denver, but the same setup in New Orleans or Miami may be seen as simply taking a piece of the local ecosystem and bringing it indoors.
In other cases, rare and unusual houseplants are universally recognized. The Venus flytrap is also a hydrophyte native to the wetlands of the southeastern U.S. but is a consistent source of fascination, especially as a houseplant.
From pothos to philodendrons, from lucky bamboo to any number of succulents, the most popular houseplants are easy to care for, easy to find, and easy to afford. You may already have some or most of these plants in your home. Looking for a challenge? Looking for something new? Check out these ideas and examples of unusual, rare, or exotic houseplants.
Unusual Houseplants that Leave an Impression
- Living Stones: These plants are so called because they look like stones, as in rocks or pebbles sitting in an otherwise ordinary houseplant pot or blending in with their natural habitat. In fact, while they’re not that rare, they are easy to care for and unquestionably unusual. These plants may not be the first thing a houseguest notices about your home or collection of houseplants, but they’re more likely to become a source of curiosity and compliments when they are noticed. These succulents need less frequent watering and tolerate direct sunlight well.
- Spiral Grass or Frizzle Sizzle: There are two different houseplant species, albuca spiralis and moraea tortilis, that may be called spiral grass or frizzle sizzle. Indeed, these houseplants look very much like blades of grass that grow in a spiral. Some of these plants have longer stems and thin spirals; others have thicker, more tightly wrapped spirals. Each plant species adds some variety while also making spiral grass a little easier to find in general. These plants like plenty of sun and, despite being a succulent, fairly regular watering. Continue watering throughout the winter when this bulbous plant is actively growing.
- Crinkle-Leaf Begonias: If you’re looking for something from the island of misfit houseplants, there’s a good chance this is the plant for you. The name comes from the crinkle-leaf foliage and can masquerade as shriveled growth at first glance. Don’t be surprised if a houseguest asks if the plant is supposed to look like that. Or something like that. At the same time, what starts out as a fascination can grow on you, and there are some devote fans of the crinkle-leaf begonia.
Exotic Houseplants that Resemble Other Things
- Rose Succulents: When small and young, this houseplant may be confused for some type of knick-knack or hand-carved sculpture of a rose. As rose succulents grow, it’s more likely to be confused for an actual rose bloom, especially if the flowers are pink. This succulent doesn’t like frequent watering, but it doesn’t thrive on neglect, either. The best results for Greenovia dodrantalis usually come from warm, sunny spots and drainage that lets the soil dry out quickly enough to permit fairly regular watering without root rot.
- Bat Flower Plant: Not all houseplants have green foliage and bright, colorful flowers. Get in touch with your dark and mischievous side. The bat flower is a black houseplant with sprawling growth that looks like a bat with thin spindles coming out of it. With leaves two feet long and a flower that’s a foot across, this is a large and showy houseplant. So long as you have reasonably high humidity and a place to put it, the bat flower plant will do well with plenty of indirect light and regular watering with good drainage. It’s a great centerpiece or focal point.
- Wine Cup Plant: These gorgeous plants have long stems and flowers that vaguely resemble a wine cup with beautiful, berry-like flower buds. They are visually striking all the way around. Formally known as Crassula umbella, the wine cup plant does best with lots of light and less frequent watering but more than many succulents. Despite being popular, they are a rare houseplant originally from South Africa that can be hard to find at local plant shops. Thus, it’s also a great houseplant to propagate and give away as gifts.
Houseplants with Bright, Unusual Colors
- Rex Begonia: Best of all, there are actually several different subtypes of rex begonias each with slightly different colors and foliage patterns. These houseplants do require regular watering and a good amount of humidity but can also be susceptible to root rot and mold growth with too much water or misting. The Duarten, Tornado, and Yamileth are some of our favorites. Despite fairly large and striking leaves, the plant itself does not grow that large. They are just small enough to make for great terrarium plants, too.
- Pink Nerve Plant: The fittonia nerve plant isn’t that rare or unusual as a houseplant in general, but the pink variety is great for getting away from the typical look of green-leaf foliage. Don’t get us wrong; the silver nerve plant is a great look, too. But there’s something about the pink veins that you just can’t get with other plants. In homes with a good amount of humidity, these can be grown in their own pots. Otherwise, these low-growing creeping plants are a popular choice for terrarium arrangements.
- Blue Rain Plant: Another great choice for something unusual and brightly colored, the flowers have red spikes and blue tips that look like rain. This Aechmea bromeliad plant is more popular in the UK, but you can usually find them here in the United States with a little searching. An epiphyte, the best potting mix for the blue rain plant is the same or similar to orchids. likes humidity but should not be overwatered. Anywhere from 1 to 2.5 feet tall, this can be a medium or even large houseplant.
Houseplants that Remind You of Exotic Places
- Canoe Plant for Hawaii: Also known as the breadfruit tree, this plant was originally brought to Hawaii by the Polynesians who made the journey in canoes around 1,500 years ago. So, while the plant is originally from Polynesia, it’s more strongly and culturally linked to Hawaii. This factoid that many learn while on the islands is also great inspiration for your next houseplant. As an indoor plant, the breadfruit tree definitely needs a sunny spot, regular watering, nutrient-rich potting soil, and good drainage, but it’s not that hard to care for with the right set up.
- Desert Cactus for the American Southwest: There are some pretty otherworldly looking places in the American southwest. Desert cacti may be well-adapted to survive in the desert, but that doesn’t mean they can’t survive and even thrive in your home. Indeed, they thrive on neglect with deep but infrequent watering, fast-draining soil, and plenty of sun. A cactus is a natural choice if you have a south- or west-facing window that tends to bake in the sun. The saguaro cactus is the classic example but there are tons of popular species including the bunny ear cactus, old lady cactus, barrel cactus, and fairy castle cactus.
- Ferns for Southeast Asia and Australia: Many houseplant ferns are indigenous to southeast Asia and Australia. The possum tail fern is only found on Fiji. The Norfolk Pine is only found on the Australian island of the same name. There is the Madagascar Palm for people who have made this adventure. In general, these houseplants need regular watering and at least a moderate amount of humidity. We couldn’t really choose one over the other, but these houseplants native to exotic locations can be a great reminder of your once-in-a-lifetime trip.