Indoor Plants That Need Little Soil

Houseplants can bring life and beauty to any home, but growing plants in large, heavy containers of potting soil may be incompatible with a houseplant-lover's lifestyle, health or living quarters. Fortunately, there are many beautiful houseplants that grow in no soil or in very small amounts of soilless potting medium. These little-to-no-soil indoor plants are exotic looking yet easy to care for.


The bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae) includes several thousand plants native to North and South America. According to the UCLA Botanical Gardens, about half the species in the bromeliad family are epiphytic, growing on moisture and nutrients pulled from the air rather than from soil. The bromeliad Aechmea is one of the most popular epiphytic houseplants. Its strap-like leaves with spiny edges come in an attractive variety of colors and stripes, from Aechmea chantinii "Fudge Ripple," with alternating black and white horizontal waves, to Aechmea zebrina, with emerald green and white stripes running the length of the leaves. All Aechmea sport brilliant scarlet flowers and prefer brighter light. Bromeliad billbergia's strapping leaves are softer and more flowing than those of Aechmea. Variations include the rich burgundy "Hallelujah" and the pink polka dots of "Catherine Wilson." Billbergia prefers medium or indirect light. The Guzmania bromeliad thrives in shade, loves high humidity, and can grow several feet in height and width. Its long, slender spineless leaves come in a variety of dramatically variegated color combinations.


According to Clemson University Cooperative Extension, many orchids are well adapted to growing as houseplants--and yet, planting them in soil is a sure way to kill most of these epiphytic gems. Orchids like warm air, bright but indirect light, and either a board or cork on which to anchor their roots, or a small pot filled with a mixture of volcanic stone, charcoal and fir bark. For home growing, Clemson University Cooperative Extension recommends the Phalaenopsis or moth orchid species, which grow in relatively low light and produce sprays of colorful blooms in winter or early spring; the Cattleya or corsage-orchid species, which produces large single blooms in fall or spring; and the Dendrobium species, whose long-lasting white and lavender flower sprays are probably the easiest orchids to produce at home.


Hydnophytinae or ant-plants are a mostly epiphytic subgroup of the coffee plant family (Rubiaceae) notable for their large, fibrous main stem areas. The University of Connecticut Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Plant Growth Facilities explains that in the wild, these bulbous stems provide ready-made homes for ant colonies, which help transport nutrients to the plants. However, varieties of two genera from this family, Hydnophytum and Myrmecodia, are well suited to growing at home. A few varieties of each of these genera are available to home growers through commercial nurseries and are often sold mounted on a piece of cork bark.

Keywords: epiphytic plants, soilless houseplants, air plants

About this Author

Cindy Hill has practiced law since 1987 and maintained a career in freelance writing since 1978. Hill has won numerous fiction and poetry awards and has published widely in the field of law and politics. She is an adjunct instructor of ethics and communications.