5 Fancy-Looking “Difficult” Houseplants That Are Actually Pretty Easy to Keep Happy

published Mar 21, 2023
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There are houseplants that have a reputation for just being difficult. (Looking at you, maidenhair ferns.) These plants resist any effort to care for them, throwing tantrums if they receive either too much light or too little light, too much water or too little water, too much humidity or too little humidity. Plants might not have thoughts or feelings, but these diva houseplants seem determined to spite almost every caretaker, save for the favored few.

But even though there are many popular houseplants that have a deserved reputation for being difficult, there are just as many — if not more — that have been labeled “difficult” but are actually easier to care for than you might think. I’m here to rescue their good names. These five plants have been mislabeled as difficult or intimidating, but actually require pretty straightforward care that’s manageable with a little patience. These fancy- and high-maintenance-looking houseplants will be sure to impress — and you don’t even need to reveal that they’re not as tough as they seem (I won’t tell!).

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Philodendron “Birkin”

The Philodendron “Birkin” appeared in the popular houseplant scene a few years ago, and enraptured many collectors with its sturdy variegated foliage. It’s a striking plant, with streaks of white flashing across its dark green foliage. The stark whiteness of the variegation might lead some to think that the Birkin is a difficult plant to care for, but in fact the exact opposite is true. 

The Birkin visually presents when it’s not happy with its living conditions, which makes it a fairly easy plant to care for. Birkins are generally thought of as thirsty plants, so plan on watering it when the soil is dry to the touch, which ends up being once a week or so. If it starts to wilt, you’ll know it’s thirsty. Go too long without watering it and the leaves will turn brown and crispy.

Hot bright light will burn Philodendron Birkin’s foliage, and low light isn’t enough for the plant to perform photosynthesis since it lacks chlorophyll in its white leaves. (It’s also important to know that if the plant isn’t getting enough light, new foliage won’t have the strong variegation that the plant is famous for.) Put it in a spot that gets indirect to bright indirect light and it will be happy.

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Cattleya Orchid

Orchids are glamorous, there’s no doubt about it. That fact alone is intimidating to many people. After all, a plant that beautiful must take a ton of effort to keep alive, right? And even more effort to keep blooming year after year? Well, that’s not necessarily true —especially for the Cattleya orchid. 

The Cattleya orchid, commonly known as the corsage orchid, is a relatively easy orchid to keep happy. Most Cattleyas bloom with large, fragrant flowers in the winter through the early spring. Each bloom lasts roughly a month before wilting and dropping off. The orchid is available in many different shades of purples, yellows, oranges, and reds. 

The only real requirements for this orchid are simple: bright, indirect light with weekly watering and regular feeding of orchid fertilizer. Most orchids do best when the daytime temperature of its environment is between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the nighttime temperature is between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This fluctuation in temperature encourages blooming. 

Epiphytic orchids like Cattleyas require a special soil-free orchid potting mix, so make sure to do your research when the time comes to re-pot.

Cattleya orchids are nontoxic to dogs and cats.

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Commonly called prickly pear cactus, the Opuntia cactus is one of the most regal looking plants — especially when mature. In its natural habitat, the cactus can reach up to 15 feet tall, depending on the variety. Sections of the plant are covered in spines, and the cactus produces purple, fleshy fruit after flowering.

While many smaller varieties are common as houseplants, larger specimens make fantastic anchor design pieces in any space. Many people are nervous about bringing a human-sized cactus into their home and caring for it, but it’s actually easier to care for a larger cacti than a smaller one.

Larger, more mature cacti hold more water in their flesh than smaller plants, so you’ll have to water less often than you think. The most important care component is making sure your cactus gets enough light and warm temperatures. Bright, direct light is best, and if you live in a climate that gets cold at any part of the year, protect it from cold drafts and frozen windows. 

The most important thing to remember is to not overwater your plant. Overwatering can quickly rot your cactus from the base up. 

Opuntias are nontoxic to dogs and cats, but owners should be wary of their sharp spines and barbed glochids.

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Ficus Lyrata 

Ah, the Ficus lyrata — the fiddle leaf fig. The coined golden child of millennial plant parents all over the world. Even though this plant has been around forever, the 2010s saw it take the houseplant world by storm. Many frustrated plant parents made quite a bit of noise for being a difficult, hard-to-care for plant. 

The truth of the matter is that the fiddle leaf fig isn’t that hard to care for properly — it just needs very specific care.

Water, light, temperature control: Remember those three things and your fiddle leaf fig will flourish for years. Water your tree weekly, until the water flows out of the drainage holes. Fiddle leaf figs are very thirsty plants. It’s also going to need bright indirect to bright direct light. If you put it in a window that gets bright, direct light, make sure you turn it every week when you water so that it doesn’t get sunburned. And, don’t forget the temperature control aspect. It’s imperative that your fiddle leaf fig in a place in your home that has a steady temperature. Keep it away from drafty windows, air exchanges, operating fireplaces, and doors that open to the outside. 

If any of those three requirements are disrupted, the plant will start to drop leaves — but don’t panic! Readjust your care routine and they will grow back.

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Sansevieria cylindrica “Boncel”

The starfish sansevieria is the perfect example of a plant that looks really fancy and hard to care for, but it’s extremely simple. Its cylindrical shape fans out of the soil like a starfish, with gorgeous variegation in shades of silvers and greens. It’s eye-catching for sure, but it’s one of the easiest to care for plants you could bring home. 

Like other sansevierias, also known as snake plants, the Boncel will thrive in indirect light and can survive for quite some time in low-light scenarios. It’s also drought-tolerant, so plan on watering it like a cactus. A thorough watering once every two weeks or so is more than enough for this plant. Even better? This plant thrives when rootbound, so you won’t have to worry about repotting except for once every few years. This plant might look like a fancy diva, but she’s actually as easy-going as they come.