Some plants just love to be 'tough'

If you are one of those people whose schedule is too busy to run a plant spa, you forget to water your plants or just seem to be blessed with a black thumb, take heart. You just need to know about some tough plants.

The following 10 plants will show you that you are not doomed to live a plant-free life. It is pretty hard to kill them, as they seem to thrive on neglect. All of them tolerate a wide range of light and temperatures, like to dry out between waterings, and require little, if any, fertilizer.

On the other hand, plants that tolerate such conditions tend to be foliage plants — they do not have spectacular blooms. They usually are slow-growing and can't take direct sun.

Probably the most popular houseplant grown is pothos. It is a vining plant that can be a hanging plant that trails several feet, or it can be grown as a table plant that can be cut back regularly to keep it in check.

Aloe vera is a living pharmacy in addition to being a houseplant. It is a succulent, which means it stores water and doesn't mind being dry. Check it out for its usefulness in treating burns, including sunburn.

Dracaena comes in a wide range of sizes and leaf colors, many of which have stripes of lime green or red. A tree-like plant in maturity, some look like a pompom on a stick. NASA uses these as air cleaners in space stations.

Lucky bamboo is actually a dracaena, not a bamboo. All you need to grow it are a glass dish, some pebbles to hold it up, and water. Water it with bottled water though, as it is sensitive to chemicals.

Jade is a succulent with fat leaves that store water. The leaves make it interesting to look at, but be careful not to overwater it, and keep it out of drafts.

A spider plant can be a hanging plant or reside on a bookcase or plant stand. Most have striped leaves, but one with solid green leaves exists, too. Spider plants tolerate irregular watering because they have succulent roots. This plant produces "babies" that hang down — if you are so inclined, these babies root quite easily in water or soil.

The well named cast iron plant has tough, leathery leaves. Dust? Heat? Cold? Low light? This native of China does not mind those conditions at all, but will not tolerate overwatering.

Chinese Evergreen plants have beautiful foliage and are tough, besides. Their dark-green leaves are accented with shades of silver, gray or lighter green. They make good floor plants, as they grow to about 3 feet tall.

Sanseveria, also known as Mother-in-law's Tongue in Britain, or snakeplant in the U.S., deserves its reputation of being nearly indestructible. It has long, erect, sword-like leaves that are cross-banded with darker green; many have a golden edge. Again, do not overwater or it will get root rot.

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia) is a relative newcomer to the commercial houseplant market. An African native, its newness may make it harder to find, and it may be expensive. Its rhizome stores water, making it drought tolerant, and its glossy green foliage is lovely. Do not let your pets munch on it, as it is toxic when eaten.

These plants are by no means the end of the list. But if you are discouraged about keeping houseplants alive, I hope you will try some of them and perhaps move on to some that require a little more TLC — when you are ready and your thumb gets greener.

Time is running out to enroll in the 2013 Master Gardener training class, which begins Jan. 16. Call Bob Reynolds, Oregon State University Home Horticulture Agent, at 541-776-7371 for information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at

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