The Non-Expert


Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we catalog many popular houseplants, from bulbs to succulents, explaining which would be the best choices for your particular interior décor and style.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: I just moved into a new apartment, and I wanted to spruce the place up with some houseplants. What would work well?

Answer: A plant is the greatest of household decorations, for unlike the evasive wall calendar or the stuck-up area rug, it truly loves to be around you. Why? Because the carbon dioxide you exhale, it inhales, then it exhales oxygen and you inhale it. That’s why talking to your plants at close range is a good thing—you then expel greater, more accessible amounts of carbon dioxide for the plant, and the plant rewards you by dying the first time you leave for a long weekend.

So, to join in the great herbaceous journey of chlorophyll and photosynthesis, or just find something nice for on top of the radiator, here’s a guide to some of the most common houseplants.

Note: Some of the following plants are perennials, though it’s difficult to tell which.

Ferns, Palms, Etc.

Turn your living room into a lush jungle paradise with large, green, leafy ferns and palms. These are some of the oldest plant species in the world, as you can quickly tell from any picture of a dinosaur, at least those including herbivores. These plants thrive in warmth and moisture, so turn up the heat and install a sprinkler system, proving you consider their comfort and health far above and beyond your own. It’s kind of like owning a dog.

Paper Whites

These are little white flowers most commonly grown at Pottery Barn and Anthropologie stores. They were originally developed in 1996 by the J. Crew company for use in a catalog shoot depicting a female model gardening while her male counterpart roguishly squirts her with a garden hose. (‘Striped boatneck tee, $24, available in aquamarine and meadow.’) Paper Whites have continued to be a catalog styling favorite for their high visibility in a busy shot, and likewise for their ability to withstand powerful photo lighting and the scaly, disease-ridden hands of many fashion models.

Small Plots of Grass

Lovely for city dwellers: a small plot of grass you can call your own—and one you’ll never have to mow. If, however, you truly enjoy working in the yard, consider adding a lawn jockey, perhaps a rose garden, or even outfitting a child’s toy lawnmower with real blades. Of course, you should always consider the last option, regardless of the project at hand.


The orchid, a fascinating flower that can grow on a rock, is renown both for its unique beauty and for how difficult it is to care for. The tiniest change in an orchid’s environment—in say, temperature or natural gas levels—will kill it, instantly. This is especially heartbreaking for those who grow orchids, as they are usually sociopaths, and a couple of dead orchids in their argon-filled greenhouse could set off a tri-state killing spree.


It is a little-known fact that the ‘Geranium’ is really any plant that cannot be correctly identified as obviously some other plant. It may have flowers, it may not, but really that depends on the level of care shown. If a friend is going out of town and asks you, ‘Please water my geraniums this weekend,’ you should take this to mean, ‘Water all my plants while I’m away,’ which you always take to mean, ‘You can wear my panties at the same time and I’ll never know.’


Green, kind of limp, and not at all what you were expecting. Because you were expecting collegiate brick walls of thick ivy, not this parsley or whatever. Check, too, to make sure it’s not parsley. Use in a sauce.

Rubber Trees

A great novelty gift, but a poor choice for a ‘family’ setting, the rubber tree is a flowering accolade to noncommittal love between multiple partners; a bright, foil-wrapped beacon of hope for all who love to ball, but hate to call. Makes a good present for a friend in a hospital, especially one who believes in dirty nurses.

Miniature Cactus

Requires no love or care of any kind, making it the perfect plant choice for dentists’ offices the world around. Cacti don’t even need water, as they live on human blood alone, which is why they have the pricklies on them. Despite its dangerous nature and sterile vibe, the miniature cactus can turn any home into the bar area of a Chi-Chi’s when planted in a terracotta pot and accompanied by a figurine with a tipped-forward sombrero, seated and asleep against the side of the cactus. You get an extra olé! if you have a tiny bottle labeled ‘XXX’ next to his hand.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack