Many of our houseplants originate from tropical regions where the tree canopy constantly filters sunlight. However, some plants, especially those native to South Africa and Australia, need a lot of sunshine to thrive indoors. You can transform a sunny and bright room by adding a plant that needs direct sunlight, filtered sunlight, or a very bright light when grown indoors.
Plant List: Sun-Loving Indoor Plants
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Add to your first aid arsenal with a low-maintenance aloe vera plant. The sap provides ready relief for minor cuts and burns, and plants are easy to propagate by repotting the pups (also known as offsets). Plant your aloe vera in a heavy terra cotta pot that will both support the top-heavy growth and encourage air circulation.
- Light: Full sun; tolerates filtered sun
- Water: Prefers dry conditions; do not overwater; provide good drainage; tolerates drought
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With its sturdy stems and interesting, fleshy leaves, jade plants are popular houseplants for those with sunny windowsills or bright conservatories. Jade plants need at least four hours of sunlight each day, so a south-facing window is ideal. Although the Crassula argentea is a succulent, and therefore drought-tolerant, it is not a cactus. Keep your jade plant moist by watering it when the soil surface is dry to prevent shedding leaves. Jade plants can live for decades and continue to grow slowly over time, so keep your plant in a suitably heavy pot to prevent it from toppling over.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Let soil become dry before watering, provide good drainage
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The sago palm is a slow-growing cycad that fits well into modern decorating schemes. It produces no flowers and rarely sheds its leaves, making it a tidy choice for the bright bedroom or living room. Got curious cats or nibbling toddlers? This plant is toxic and should not be around pets or children.
- Light: Filtered sun
- Water: Needs consistent moisture but allow soil to become almost dry between waterings
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Euphorbia trigona is an unusual-looking plant that often elicits strong feelings of affection or dislike. Although not a cactus, this succulent does grow sharp spines that can make repotting a challenge. The African milk bush is strictly a tropical plant, and if you give it a summer vacation outdoors, be sure to bring it back in before temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
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- Light: Bright indirect light
- Water: They are thirsty plants. Wait until the top inch or so dries completely, then water well; does not tolerate long periods of drought
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This popular "impossible-to-kill" houseplant is carried in most garden centers as an ideal specimen for those new to houseplants, or those too busy to provide much care to their plants. Sansevieria trifasciata does great in bright light, but it will grow in shady conditions as well. If you are lucky, your snake plant might even reward you with a flush of fragrant white flowers.
- Light: Full sun to low-light conditions
- Water: Let the soil dry between waterings
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The same plant the ancient Egyptians used to build boats and make paper also happens to be an interesting houseplant specimen for sunny spots. The key to growing a happy papyrus plant is to give it constant moisture. Papyrus grows as a pond margin plant, so it is accustomed to having wet feet. Place your container in a dish of water and change it weekly to prevent it from becoming stagnant.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Provide constant water; wet roots are best
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The croton is proof that foliage can be every bit as lovely and vibrant as plants that produce blooms. Croton plants need warm temperatures to thrive and might experience dieback with insufficient sunlight and if temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Water regularly to keep moist; likes high humidity
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The swollen trunk and frizzy foliage of the ponytail palm make it a fun accent plant for the sunny kitchen or family room. Care for your ponytail palm as you would a succulent plant. Give it coarse soil amended with sand and water it weekly. The ponytail palm grows slowly and will only need repotting once every year or two.
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- Light: Full to partial sun
- Water: Allow soil to dry out between waterings; the bulb-like base stores water
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No houseplant brings larger flowers indoors than the tropical hibiscus. A site with strong light is essential to achieving blooms when growing the hibiscus indoors. Pinch your plants monthly to keep them compact and branching and feed them regularly with a potassium-rich houseplant fertilizer. To keep your hibiscus healthy, provide regular, consistent moisture but avoid soggy soil.
- Light: Bright light but not full sun
- Water: Water regularly; needs good drainage
- Color varieties: Red, pink, orange, yellow, and white
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The areca palm is a grand specimen for entryways or living areas with vaulted ceilings. The plants can grow about six to eight feet tall indoors and have a spread of several feet. Areca palms need little other than a brightly lit space and even moisture. Make sure no water is left standing in the dish under the pot.
- Light: Mostly sunny exposure
- Water: Consistent moisture with high humidity
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Gardeners covet jasmine vines for their highly fragrant flowers that appear in late winter. White jasmine blooms are simple but plentiful, and a few cut stems make any flower arrangement special. Some varieties also bloom in pink. Jasmine plants like bright but not direct sunlight. They need humid conditions, and a summer vacation outdoors will increase their longevity and performance.
- Light: Bright indirect sun
- Water: Water regularly; keep moist; mist regularly
- Color varieties: White and pink
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Senecio rowleyanus is a fun conversation piece tumbling over the edge of a container or hanging basket. These succulent plants like bright indirect light, sandy soil, and infrequent watering. Cuttings are easy to root, so you can share some of this whimsical plant with your friends.
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- Light: Bright indirect sun
- Water: Water occasionally
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Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Ocimum basilicum is a warm-weather herb that can be grown as an indoor houseplant. It is an ideal addition to a sunny kitchen windowsill where it adds glossy green color while providing tasty leaves to harvest for cooking. It's best to prevent it from blooming by steadily pinching off or harvesting the stem tips. Once the flowers appear, the plant can become woody and sparse.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Deep, regular watering; make sure soil is well drained
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This tropical evergreen shrub with glossy green leaves can make a good indoor houseplant if you choose a dwarf variety like 'Buttons' and prune it regularly to keep it small. Although it prefers partial shade as a garden plant, when grown indoors it thrives in a sunny location. It will bloom repeatedly with fragrant creamy-white flowers if you promptly clip off spent blossoms. It prefers acidic soil. Early spring and summer is the prime bloom period, but the foliage makes this an appealing plant year-round plant.
- Light: Bright light
- Water: Water deeply once a week; do not allow soil to dry out
- Color varieties: Creamy white
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This subtropical broadleaf evergreen tree from China makes an excellent indoor potted plant, where it thrives with plenty of bright indirect light but will also tolerate a limited amount of direct sunlight. It gradually will become a four to six foot tall floor plant but can be grown as a tabletop plant when young. Prune every few months to maintain its shape.
- Light: bright indirect light, avoid full sun
- Water: Consistent moisture but not wet
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This tropical woody evergreen plant with palm-like leaves makes an excellent floor plant for indoors, with colorful foliage that can include pink, green, purple, red, as well as streaked variegated forms. Indoors, it tolerates the limited amount of direct sun available through windows and doors, but it prefers bright indirect light. As a tropical plant, it prefers humid conditions.
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- Light: Bright, indirect light; too much direct sun can scorch leaves
- Water: Keep consistently moist but not wet, reduce water in winter
- Color varieties: Foliage can be pink green, purple, red, or variegated
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Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
It's no surprise that desert cactus plants thrive in full sun, and barrel cactus is a prime example of a cactus species that makes a good houseplant. There are several different species in two different plant genera are known by the common name barrel cactus, but Echinocactus grusonii, with its green body covered with golden spines, is an excellent choice for indoors. Eventually, it can mature into a two foot tall, three foot wide spiny intimidator, but its growth rate is slow and it can spend many years as an interesting tabletop specimen. Be careful about growing this sharp-spined plant in a home with small children, or one where pets don't quickly learn their lessons. This cactus likes warmth as well as direct sun, so make sure windows are sealed against drafts in the winter
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Water once monthly; let soil dry out in between waterings; do not overwater
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Moon cacti are grafted plants, which means that the colorful top growth (the scion) has been grafted onto lower rootstock (the host) from another species. Depending on the scion species, many different colors are possible, including yellow, red, orange, purple, or white. Care for these plants is similar to that of any cactus: warm temperatures, occasional watering, and plenty of sunlight. In the case of a moon cactus, though, too much intense direct sunlight can cause the colorful scion to fade.
- Light: Direct sun a few hours per day
- Water: Allow plant to dry out completely, then water deeply
- Color varieties: Orange, red, yellow, purple, white
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Also known as donkey's tail, this is a succulent plant with small blue-green teardrop-shaped leaves that cluster around stems. The stems cascade over the rim of a pot, making for an interesting display on a tabletop or a hanging basket. Although slow growing, the stems can eventually reach lengths up to four feet. Unlike many succulents and cacti, burro's tail prefers moderate temperatures and can survive down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Light: Bright light with at least partial sunlight
- Water: Once a month; allow soil to dry out between watering
- Color Variations: red or pink flowers in spring (rare when grown indoors)
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One of many Euphorbia species commonly grown as houseplants, this unusual cactus grows in the shape of shrub or small tree, with thick stems terminating in wide, flat fleshy leaves tipped with thorny protrusions. When grown indoors, E. lacta cristata can reach about two feet in height (though it grows much larger as an outdoor garden plant). Although this rarely happens with indoor plants, it's possible for the leaves to become scorched and burned if they receive too much direct sunlight. Like many succulents, this plant is mildly toxic, so be wary if your pets are prone to chewing on plants.
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- Light: Bright light with some full sun
- Water: During the growing season, water whenever the top two inches of potting mix are dry; in winter, water only when the plant begins to shrivel
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Dragon tree, one of several popular houseplant species in the Dracaena genus) is a broadleaf evergreen tree that can easily grow to touch the ceiling, though it takes this slow-growing plant many years to become that large. Ideally, this plant wants very bright indirect light from morning until night—positioning it a few feet back from a south-facing window or door is ideal. But it will do fine with some direct sunlight, provided it gets some relief for at least part of the day. A plant that sits in harsh sunlight from dawn to dusk may develop burned leaves.
- Light: Very bright indirect light; protect from direct sunlight; loses its leaf color in too much shade
- Water: Keep uniformly moist; reduce water in the late fall and winter months
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Fiddle-leaf fig is is named for the shape of the large. lyre-shaped leaves that grow from a slender trunk. Indoor specimens readily grow six to ten feet tall, so this plant will need plenty of space in a room that is quite bright. Like many indoor plants, it would prefer bright indirect light, but it can tolerate several hours of direct sun, preferably in the morning. To keep it looking its best, wipe the leaves free of dust every week or two.
- Light: Bright, indirect light; protect from afternoon sun
- Water: Water regularly during the growing season
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Echeveria (Echeveria spp.)
Echeveria is a large genus with dozens of species and hundreds of cultivars that are popular as houseplants. Though sizes and colors vary considerably, all of them are characterized by fleshy leaves arranged in a dense rosette pattern. Echeveria plants provide so much diversity that you can readily construct fascinating mixed container gardens using nothing but varieties from this genus. Echeveria are also popular plants for fairy gardens and terrariums. These desert succulents genuinely want as much sun as you can give them—no bright filtered light for them. In summer, Echeveria plants love to spend a few months outdoors on a sunny patio or deck.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Weekly during spring and summer; monthly during fall and winter
- Color varieties: Colorful flowers are possible but not common for indoor plants
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Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)
Like Echevaria, hens and chicks is a succulent with fleshy leaves that form dense rosettes. But hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) is a more sturdy, durable plant that tolerates outdoor temperatures down to minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Indoors, they thrive at typical room temperature—65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Although offering less diversity than the Echevarias, hens and chicks is an excellent plant to mass together in a shallow container or as an addition to mixed succulent/cactus containers. They are easy to propagate, simply by cutting off the small offsets (the chicks) that form alongside the mother plant (the hen).
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- Light: Full sun
- Water: Infrequently; when soil dries out completely
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Tree Aeonium (Aeonium arboreum)
The Aeonium genus includes several popular species grown as houseplants. One popular choice is arboreum (tree aeonium), which has leaves that form dense rosette clusters atop fleshy stalks. Indoor specimens grow slowly to eventually become as much as three feet tall. These plants need somewhat more water than other succulents, but take care not to overwater them, as this can lead to root rot. Aeonium plants can work well in mixed succulent containers with lower-growing Echeveria plants, adding height to the design.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: Occasionally, when top one inch of soil dries out
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Zebra Haworthia (Haworthiopsis fasciata)
Hawthoriopsis fasciata, commonly known as the little zebra plant, is one of the more popular perennial species in the succulent category, prized for the thick green leaves with horizontal white striping. Ideally, this plant prefers very bright indirect light, but it is quite tolerant of some direct sunlight, especially in the morning. If leaves turn red, yellow, or white, it's a sign the plant is getting a bit too much sun.
- Light: Full sun or very bright light
- Water: Occasionally; when top one inch of potting mix dries out
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The Yucca genus includes about 40 perennial plants, ranging from 1 to 30 feet in height. For indoor use, two species are most popular: Yucca gigantea and Yucca aloifolia. Y. gigantea is especially popular because its swordlike leaves are lacking the sharp spines found on other species. Although it can eventually grow into a 30-foot tree, the growth rate is so slow that Y. gigantea can serve as a houseplant for many years before it outgrows its space. Yucca plants are very tolerant of temperature shifts, but make sure not to overwater them.
- Light: Full sun
- Water: When the soil dries out; at most, once a week
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Many dwarf citrus trees can make acceptable indoor houseplants, but an especially good choice is Meyer lemon, a hybrid developed by crossing a lemon tree with a tangerine tree. While outdoor trees grow to a height of ten feet, Meyer lemon tends to grow slower and smaller when potted for indoor growth. This tree really needs eight full hours of direct sunlight each day, so it will need the sunniest winter or patio door you can provide. This tree grows well with a temperature range between 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but it likes humidity levels of about 50 percent, so you might need to use a room humidifier, especially if you want to enjoy fruit. With indoor trees, fruit usually ripens in spring, but only after the tree is four or five years old.
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- Light: Full sun
- Water: Water thoroughly when the top one inch of soil dries out
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Norfolk Island pine is not a true pine, but rather a species in the Araucaria genus, which also includes the monkey puzzle tree. Outdoors, it can be a 200-foot tree, but indoor specimens typically remain at three to eight feet. The soft, needle-like leaves cover symmetrical branches extending from a perfectly vertical trunk. The species looks so much like a conifer that it is often grown to use as a living Christmas tree. Though this is a tropical plant, Norfolk Island pine is relatively forgiving of dry indoor air.
- Light: Full sun or bright, indirect light
- Water: Keep evenly moist but not soggy
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Bird of paradise is a tropical plant related to banana, named for the distinctive look of the orange, white, and blue flowers. Although it can grow to a height of six feet, there is no central trunk. Instead, the large leaves emerge directly from the base. The unique flowers appear in late winter and spring but only appear with mature plants at least three years old. This plant requires direct sun and high humidity. Move the plant outdoors for the summer months. Mature plants should be allowed to become root-bound, as this will stimulate flowering.
- Light: Full sun but protect plants from very bright direct sun during the summer
- Water: Water frequently during spring and summer; keep drier during the winter
“Excess Light on Indoor Plants.” Umd.edu, https://extension.umd.edu/resource/excess-light-indoor-plants
What Is The Problem with My Indoor Jade Plant? Missouri Botanical Garden.
“Sago Palm Poisoning.” Vca, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/sago-palm-poisoning
“Codiaeum Variegatum Var. Pictum - Plant Finder.” Missouribotanicalgarden.org, https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b584