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The Right Plant in the Right Light

Martha Stewart Living, February 2003

Some of the most exotic-looking houseplants are often the easiest to care for -- you just need to know the right amount of light to give them. If you have a plant that requires full, bright light, place it in a south- or west-facing window. If the foliage begins to yellow, it's not receiving adequate light or warmth (most full-light plants need between 60 and 65 degrees), or it's being overwatered.

A standard houseplant, such as a philodendron, is a low-light plant that can be placed in the interior of a room out of direct sunlight but still receive a bit of light. Many of these plants come from the forest floor, where light barely penetrates, and they are much easier to move around the house than full-light plants.

Somewhere in between full-light and low-light plants are plants that need diffused light. A plant such as Kaempferia pulchra requires filtered or indirect light. Place these plants on a windowsill, where they will receive sunlight through curtain sheers.

Houseplant Glossary
Full, Bright Light
Bougainvillea glabra
One of 14 species, partly deciduous, thorny climbers from tropical and subtropical South American forest. Flowers are small, tubular, surrounded by three petal-like bracts flowering in early spring. From spring to fall, water freely, and apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly; keep just moist in winter.

Haworthia
A genus of stemless perennial succulents from Namibia, Mozambique, and South Africa, with fleshy, stiff leaves sometimes barbed along leaf margins. In the growing season, water moderately; keep dry in winter.

Agave
Genus of more than 200 perennials from desert mountain regions of the Americas, fleshy leaves with sharp terminal spines. In summer, water freely; reduce water in autumn; keep dry in winter.

Diffused Light
Kaempferia pulchra
A rhizomotous aromatic tropical perennial native to Thailand and Malaysia, with small pink flowers in the summer; leaves are sometimes streaked with silver markings. In growth, maintain moderate humidity and water freely. Keep completely dry in winter.

Cryptanthus 'Black Magic'
Also called earth star, a member of the Bromeliad family, it belongs to a genus of 20 different stemless perennials native to eastern Brazil. Slightly spined leaf margins and beautiful maroon-gray streaking on foliage. In the growing season, water moderately but carefully, mist regularly with tepid water; reduce water slightly in winter.

Low Light
Aspidistra elatior 'Milky Way'
Commonly called cast-iron plant, this rhizomotous perennial from the Himalayas, China, and Japan is pollinated by slugs or snails and tolerates deep shade. Water moderately when in growth and sparingly in winter.

Philodendron 'Autumn'
Belongs to a genus of up to five hundred species of often epiphytic, evergreen shrubs, root climbers, or small trees from variable habitats, usually rainforest. In summer, mist twice daily. Water sparingly in winter.

Dieffenbachia 'Honeydew'
Also called dumb cane; tough, somewhat woody stems and beautiful full foliage, it is another forest-floor plant that will make it in low light, which will in fact help to maintain its beautiful, brilliant yellow-green foliage. In the growing season, water moderately; mist daily in the summer. Water sparingly, and admit full light in winter.