From autograph trees to air plants, curious house plants that make good conversation pieces

Tillandsia plants use air, not soil, to grow. Picture: Shutterstock.
Tillandsia plants use air, not soil, to grow. Picture: Shutterstock.

As a gardener you might be looking for something a little bit different from your plants - a conversation piece perhaps.

One such plant that makes gardening that much more fun, is the autograph tree.

Often grown as an indoor plant the autograph tree, botanically named clusia rosea, will cope with medium light levels and some degree of shade indoors.

The foliage is this plant's feature characteristic, the leaves are thick and leathery, shaped like fat teardrops or paddles. It gets its common name from the fact that the tough dark green leathery leaves can be carved into.

You can scratch a name or initials onto a leaf, and it will stay there forever ... as long as the leaf remains on the plant, so sign your life away.

The autograph tree needs warmth, humidity, and a moderate amount of sunlight daily. A room with a north or east facing window is ideal for giving it a few hours of bright sun in the morning.

Apart from its attractive foliage the autograph tree is also one of the top indoor air purifying plants for removing volatile organic compounds.

Another curious plant well worth trying to get hold of, but is very hard to find, is the trachyandra tortilis, commonly called the ribbon plant. It looks like pipe cleaners stuck into a pot of dirt, but a closer look will reveal it is a remarkable succulent with green ribbon-like leaves that fold and coil.

This plant is native to eastern and southern Africa and grows from a bulb to a height of only 25cm making it a great addition for the serious plant collector as it takes up little space.

Tillandsia or air plants also make a very curious addition to the indoor plant collection. The best thing about these plants is they don't require soil or potting mix to grow and their quirky appearance makes them all the more interesting.

Air plants are epiphytes and draw their moisture and nutrients from the air around them.

They can do this using trychomes which are microscopic scales that cover the leaf surface. Looking after air plants is easy, just mist occasionally with water that has been left out overnight to allow chlorine to dissipate.

There is a plethora of interesting plants available to the plant enthusiast, but it is often those quirky, less common types that make gardening so much fun.

  • John Gabriele is a horticulture teacher and loves a green space.