Not so long ago, cacti and their cousins were the hottest houseplants, with terrariums and Tillandsia xerographica serving as markers of sophistication and good taste.
Tastemasters have quietly moved on to a diverse family of tropical plants called aroids, according to Jesse Waldman of Pistils Nursery on North Mississippi Avenue.
"For whatever reason, people are super into aroids right now," Waldman says. "They're just really cool plants. They tend to have really interesting foliage, and they grow really well indoors. There's this aroid cult right now."
There are a few reasons this is good news for Portlanders. First, because while succulents thrive when bathed in sunlight, aroids naturally grow under dense forest canopy, meaning they're built to suck up diffuse ambient light.
"Plenty of people love succulents, but just given our environment in Portland and the fact that we don't get great light most of the year, they're not going to thrive the way they do in Southern California, unless you happen to be one of those lucky people who happen to have big, southern-facing windows," he says.
Second, aroids have scientifically proven health benefits. Specifically, they clean the air, sucking up the toxins off-gassed by synthetic textiles and appliances while pumping out oxygen.
So these plants grow well in Portland, clean the air and are super-cool—what's the catch?
Well, the aroids you find at an average garden store are, shall we say, classic. Think: The potters your grandma had in her kitchen, next to the plate with a bunny rabbit baker in an apron.
This is where a little expert advice comes in handy. Because while the most familiar forms of these plants are a little old-fashioned, they come from families with many subspecies that look very different and really cool.
"Most of the research is on the ones you see everywhere. As far as scientifically proven health benefits, the science maybe hasn't caught up to the trends," Waldman says. "But there are plants that are part of the same families that you would expect would have similar characteristics as far as the health benefits go."
And those health benefits are notable—even when you're talking about a now-out-of-style succulent.
"There are studies that show that having plants around improves your mood, improves your focus, just makes you happy," Waldman says. "Part of our humanity is that connection with things that are green, connection to nature. So just having them around is super-beneficial for your mood."
Here are six uptrending houseplants that can better your being with almost no effort, including the common versions and slightly hipper variants.
You probably know this as the snake plant, which is found everywhere up to and including mall food courts and is prized for its ability to suck up toxins and pump out oxygen.
"There's a study that you can probably find that NASA did a couple years ago, and this plant in particular was shown to absorb formaldehyde and all sorts of other chemicals that are put off in the air by the appliances," Waldman says. "It also releases a ton of oxygen, specifically at night. So it's good to have in the bedroom."
What you may not know is that the familiar snake plant has lots of cool cousins, some with dark purple leaves and even some, like the cylindrica, with tubular leaves.
"Years ago we would barely carry that plant. It was something that you'd see commonly, but then we got into the kind of stranger ones," he says. "Some of them you wouldn't even necessarily know were sansevieria because they look so different."
The pothos is native to the isolated island chain that includes Tahiti. In tropical lands where it's not native, its tenacity makes it a feared invasive species. In Portland, it's just hardy enough to survive for weeks without being watered.
The golden pothos is "the classic one you see creeping around your grandmother's kitchen." But there are also a number of variations, like the satin pothos, Waldman says.
"It's similarly easy to care for, and it has that really cool matte leaf texture with those silvery speckles that people really seem to like."
The spider plant, likewise, cleans the air and increases humidity.
"It's having a bit of a renaissance—people are asking for them a lot," Waldman says. "I think why people like it is that it produces all those offshoots that you can clip off and give to your friends."
The variations between species are not as pronounced as others, as all spider plants have green and white stripes.
These plants are prized for their big, leafy foliage and are typically seen in large planters in the corner of a room. But it's a huge family with species spread across the Caribbean and South America, and so large that many varieties still haven't been described.
The trick with these is to find a plant that's climbing—or to put yours on a stake.
"Philodendron actually means 'tree lover.' So a lot of them are climbers. They climb around to get that light until they reach to the tops of the trees," Waldman says. "Climbing triggers something in the plant: 'Hey, I'm on a tree, getting what I need!' So it starts getting bigger more interesting foliage."
This one doesn't have the scientifically proven health benefits of the others on this list, but Waldman sees benefits in monstera, which is "kind of in its biggest moment" given that it "just screams tropical" thanks to big, beautiful leaves with lots of interesting holes and splits.
"Plants absorb sound," Waldman says. "They're actually going to reduce the background noise in your house. So that's another subtle way that having plants in your space is going to make it more comfortable and more habitable. Obviously having bare walls that are reflective are going to create an echoey, uncomfortable feel."
Lace aloe (Aloe aristata)
OK, so this one is a succulent. Aloe has long been a staple of the kitchen window shelf because the gel soothes and moisturizes skin.
Aloe vera plants vary widely in appearance, including the super-on-trend variegated version. But if you want to up your game, check out Aloe aristata, which is bristly and often has richer green colors.
"One of the growers of that one says he prefers the gel of that one to aloe vera," Waldman says.