Houseplants gone wild: It’s fascinating to see them in nature

croton in garden in Hawaii
The house where we stayed had a small walled garden by the front door. The garden included these crotons, six-foot-tall shrubs that I had seen before only as small potted plants. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

When my nephew got married this spring in his bride’s home state of Hawaii, I had the pleasure of traveling there for the big event.

Besides the beaches and mountains and, of course, the beauty of the bride, one of the things that impressed me was being able to walk around outside and see plants that we know only as houseplants.

The first time I had experienced this kind of thing was when we visited friends in Brazil and I saw “houseplants” growing by the side of the highway like weeds. For me, the experience was like seeing tigers in the wild.

It had never occurred to me that the plants we tend so carefully inside actually live in the wild (or at least in an outdoor garden) somewhere else in the world. It made me wonder whether common Western New York plants are considered exotic elsewhere in the world. Is somebody somewhere carefully tending a pot of dandelions, thrilled with these fragrant yellow flowers that get the interesting puffy seeds?

Not all of the plants that you see in this article are native to Hawaii, but the climate there supports growing them outside in arboretums. (In Western New York, our USDA zones are 5 or 6, and in Hawaii the zones are 10 or 11.)

mother in law tongue around mailbox
Mother-in-law’s tongue is something I’ve had a difficult time growing as a houseplant. Ironically, I gave my mother-in-law’s tongue to my son-in-law who has been able to nurture it into a huge specimen. However it’s nothing compared to this outdoor planting around a mailbox in Oahu. Notice that they’ve had to trim back some of the leaves so the postal carrier can open the mailbox. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Enjoy these views of houseplants holding their own in a natural setting.

closeup of begonia polka dot
This begonia ‘Polka Dot’ was growing outside in the Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Oahu. I once had a begonia very much like it as a houseplant. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
philodendron microstitcum
Philodendron is a houseplant that does very well for me, but outdoors it can get woody stems and grow as large as a person. This specimen of philodendron microstitcum was at Waimea Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Oahu. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko





sedum on Flat Island by Brett Osiewicz
I grow some sedum in pots indoors, but mostly I try to grow it outdoors between stepping stones in my garden. I have been nursing the plants along for years, trying to get them to spread. After all that work, I was amazed when I saw this sedum growing wild– on bare rock! This photo was taken on Flat Island near Oahu. Photo by Brett Osiewicz.

11 Comments on “Houseplants gone wild: It’s fascinating to see them in nature

  1. Desire, I really don’t know. In Western New York, they’re just houseplants. Check with the cooperative extension or other gardening expert in your area.

  2. I have seen Philodendrons grow like crazy on the side of my grandmother’s house when I was a child in Philadelphia Pa. I am wanting to try this but I live in Flagstaff Arizona. Do you think I have a chance of growing it outside and does it grow better in the sun or the shade?

  3. Thanks again, Connie, for an interesting change in perspective. I, too, kept a poinsettia for a few years. That one changed color for me about 2-3 years, then croaked – the nerve! Another one still hasn’t changed – it gets til Easter, then it’s compost.

  4. Kirsten, I kept a poinsettia for more than a year once, but it was mostly spindly until it died. Yes, I wish I could have seen the giant houseplants you described. Thanks for writing.

  5. Oh and the hedgerows of Lantana that were neatly trimmed and over 15 feet in length. I didn’t know what they were called then, but fell in love. Bloomed all year.

  6. My husband and I lived in Taiwan for almost two years. We called it the land of giant houseplants. What I really found fascinating was in January there were these 15 foot tall one stemmed poinsettias in the mountains, and a neighbor down the street had a massive BUSHY poinsetta bush that was more like a privet or lilac bush after 10 years. WOW! I wish I had had a camera back then, but it had just been stolen.

  7. I’m so glad there are people who understand my fascination with seeing houseplants out in the wild. I was afraid no one would get it. I would love to see hedges of fuchsia, rosemary and jade. I saw hedges of hibiscus in Hawaii, too. I love that squirrel story, Susan!

  8. I agree with Anne, when in San Fran this year I saw more than a fair share of HUGE houseplants. BTW, the email alert for your magazine never came in today.

  9. I’ll never forget how shocked I was when I moved to London and walked down the street past a hedge of fuchsia in full bloom. My husband and I did a double-take when we realized what it was.

    In an nonbotanical vein, someone once told me about growing up in a country where squirrels were found only in zoos; she was astonished to see them roaming wild in America. I don’t remember now what that country was.

  10. Wonderful to see these “house plants” roaming free and wild. I know the feeling, Connie, I was shocked to see rosemary being used as hedges in South Carolina, and a jade tree hedge in San Francisco.

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