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Some are proven winners, while others’ wild habitat or form suggest they may adapt well to at least a partial life of confinement.
Delicate maidenhair ferns enjoy dappled shade and constant moisture. They are in the massive genus of Adiantum, and you will find both native and exotic species in garden centres, but why grow an American species when you can support a local? Adiantum hispidulum and A. cunninghamii are both gorgeous. Button fern, Pellaea rotundifolia, is another cute native fern often sold as an indoor plant.
Kawakawa (Piper excelsum, Piper melchior) are taonga that don’t grow naturally this far south, but you can grow them as pot plants, safe from frosts and where their shiny, heart-shaped leaves can be admired close-up — maybe even plucked to make a pot of tea or a soothing balm.
Puka or Meryta sinclairii is another northern native that will only grow outdoors here in an extremely protected spot. The shiny leaves are huge and reminiscent of a fig tree (Ficus). Other lush foliage plants to try are karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus), houpara (Pseudopanax lessonii) and akapuka (Griselinia lucida).
If palms are more your vibe, a young nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida) can make a fine house plant. They are very slow growing, so won’t take over your space. Cabbage trees, Cordyline, give a similar look, and there are many hybrids and cultivars with coloured or variegated foliage
Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Kate Caldwell.