Sun-loving indoor plants from Africa

Published on July 29th 2020
A close up of a flower pot
Africa has the most amazing diversity of plants – so amazing, that people elsewhere in the world collect our plants. Worldwide, our plants are featured in homes.
And some of these are perfect for sunny homes…
In South Africa (and the southern hemisphere), this will be those with west and north-facing windows, windows that at times can be filled with sunlight. So what plants will be happy in this environment?
The most striking and largest of the African indoor plants that can enjoy sunny indoor spaces is Strelitzia nicolai, or Wild Banana (2). It has huge sculptural leaves, and has the potential of growing indoors 2-3 meters tall, outdoors far taller. This distinctive plant is the chosen decor in Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Terrace Room. And it is the choice of Jason Chongue for hallways, reception areas, meeting & living rooms (1). As the plant ages the leaves fray, adding character. And it is adaptable, it can be acclimatised to a lower light area and be perfectly happy. The challenge with this plant is to find beautiful specimens grown for indoors. Grown for outdoors they look somewhat wild…
The next plant is the Snake Plant, or African Spear, the Sansevieria (2, 3), which comes in many sizes and shapes, both tall and medium-sized. These are tall, spiky, sculptural: either with flat leaves, like Sansevieria trifasciata (4) from West Africa, or cylindrical leaves, Sansevieria cylindrica, from Angola. The shapes vary too, even producing Sansevieria Starfish! The variations are many, one of the most beautiful being Sansevieria Moonshine, which has a stunning soft grey-green leaf.
A close up of a tree
Sansevieria spp. | Mother-in-Law's tongue
And now we come to the Aloes, sculptural, all sizes - small, medium and large - but they can steal the show in their own way. Try Aloe ferox and Aloe marlothii (2). They are undemanding, requiring little water, and can be happy in sunny areas or indirect light.
Then we consider a small to medium size plant: Crassula ovata, the Jade Plant (2). The Jade Plant is indigenous to the Cape and is hardy, attractive and versatile. It has pretty little pink & white flower heads, that are little bunches of many blooms. It is tree-like and makes an attractive bonsai. When older, it can make a medium-large bushy statement in a big pot, unchangingly undemanding.
A cup of coffee on a table
Crassula ovata | Jade Plant
The next group is for the collectors. Also a medium-size, is Adenium obesum, a plant originating in Kenya, and its relative, the Impala Lily from the Kruger National Park, and Adenium swazicum, from Swaziland. But they are not for the inexperienced. They can only grow in truly hot apartments, with the sun streaming in daily. They need very little water, and only in summer. They make stunning statement plants in specially chosen pots and can be grown as specialist bonsai. The flowers are definitely worth waiting for, all shades of pinks to pink-reds, though the hybrids can be virtually any colour.
But there are still more. The Euphorbias will also be happy in a sunny apartment. You can look at Euphorbia trigona, the African Milk Tree, which can grow large and become a sculptural specimen, the focus of a room. Or you could go for colour: the Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) displays lime greens and orange-reds in full sun. But always popular is Euphorbia obesa (4), often called the baseball, because its roundly perfect symmetry reminds one of a stitched baseball. But this group comes with a warning: the latex sap of all euphorbia is at best an irritant and at worst toxic to some degree, and these plants need to be avoided if you have animals of toddlers.
Despite the cautions, some plants being only for the collectors, others not for families with children and animals, we can’t deny that Africa has produced a stunning group of plants for a sunny home.
A close up of a basketball hoop
Euphorbia tirucali | Fire sticks
  1. Chongue, J. 2017. Plant Society. Melbourne: Hardie Grant
  2. Joffe, I & Oberholzer, T. 2001. 2nd Impression 2018. Indigenous Plants. Pretoria: A South African Guide. Briza
  3. Peerless, V. 2016. How not to kill your Houseplant. London: Dorling Kindersley
  4. Squire, D. 2017. Houseplant Handbook. UK: Fox Chapel
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