Try growing: Illawarra rainforest species as indoor plants

Regular posting will now resume on this blog after a long hiatus. I have been unwell. 

One of the advantages of rainforest species is that, even if your garden is too sunny or otherwise unsuitable, you can still grow many of them inside. Several of the species local to the Illawarra do very well indoors in limited light. Maidenhair ferns, which are present throughout the escarpment, are already grown widely inside houses. Here are a few other species you can try, grown on their own or mixed together in a single pot. 

Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina). Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina) is a handsome shrub with a cane-like trunk (or often several trunks). The leaves are a glossy green, starting out pale but darkening with age. It can reach 4m or higher when grown outdoors, but in a pot will stay much shorter, generally not more than a metre. The one pictured has been in a pot for about three years. 

Native tamarind

Native Tamarind (Dipoglottis australis) might be a bit of an eccentric choice for an indoor plant, as it naturally grows into a very tall tree, up to 30m high. However, it will grow well enough in a pot for several years, and has beautiful pinnate leaves that are brownish and furry when young. It will grow rapidly, and need potting up once a year or so. This one is about four years old, and still happy enough.  

Orange Thorn   

Orange Thorn (Pittosporum multiflorum) has small round leaves and attractive orange fruit in autumn. (It won't fruit indoors unless you open your house to pollinators!) It will grow to 1-2m high indoors, but can easily be kept pruned to whatever size suits your space.

More options
Here is a fuller list of local plants that will do well indoors. 

Maidenhair Fern
(Adiantum aethiopicum)
Tough fern with beautiful lacy pale green fronds, prefers relatively high light levels
Giant Maidenhair Fern
(Adiantum formosum)
Tough large Maidenhair Fern with lacy dark green fronds; part shade
Bird’s Nest Fern
(Asplenium australasicum)
Classic smooth-leaved fern, needs a fairly large space once established but is  slow-growing and small when young
Fragrant Fern
(Microsorum scandens)
Very attractive climbing fern that needs shade; can be grown up tree ferns
Straw Tree Fern
(Cyathea cooperi)
Tree fern to 6m with lacy fronds and delicately patterned trunk; needs regular moisture and a large area
Prickly Rasp Fern
(Doodia aspera)
Tough clumping fern with upright fronds and reddish new growth; prefers relatively high light levels
Hare’s Foot Fern
(Davallia solida
var. pyxidata)
An easy-care plant with striking long rhizomes that may reach up to 50cm long. Great for hanging baskets.

Bangalow Palm
Slow-growing palm that looks good for many years indoors.
Cabbage Palm
(Livistona australis)
Large and slow-growing palm with attractive foliage but prickly trunk and leaf stem; for large spaces only
Succulents and similar

(Peperomia blanda
var. floribunda)
Small creeping groundcover that copes with very low light conditions
Warrigal Greens
(Tetragonia  tetragonioides)
Sprawling fleshy plant to 30cm high; will spread and hang over the edge of a pot; needs some sun to do well
Rainforest Spinach
(Elatostema reticulatum)
Edible plant with attractive leaves; best grown in a self-watering pot or bubbling water feature as it needs plenty of moisture
Strap-leaved plants

Settlers’ Flax
(Gymnostachys anceps)
Long strappy leaves, blue fruit on tall stems; shade tolerant

Giant Pepper Vine
(Piper novae-hollandiae)
Vigorous climber with attractive glossy leaves and red fruit; will trail downwards attractively from a pot, post or hanging basket
Pearl Vine
(Sarcopetalum harveyanum)
Slow-growing vine with heart-shaped leaves; can be grown up a rough stake or other support
Jasmine Morinda
(Morinda jasminoides)
Light twining climber with attractive red fruit
Small bushy plants

Orange Thorn
(Pittosporum multiflorum)
Small shrub with round leaves and orange fruit; rather prickly (caution required)
Brush Pepperberry
(Tasmannia insipida)
Thin-stemmed shrub to 3m with glossy leaves and edible, peppery berries; can be pruned
Small rainforest trees

Celery Wood
(Polyscias elegans)
Neat rounded crown and attractive glossy leaves
Native Hydrangea
(Abrophyllum ornans)
Leggy or shrubby plant with large hydrangea-style leaves; best in a self-watering pot
Grey Myrtle
(Backhousia myrtifolia)
Bushy and slow-growing; the leaves have a cinnamon like scent and can be used in cooking
Brush Mutton Wood
(Myrsine howittiana)
Small tree with interesting blue fruits along the smaller branches, though it will not fruit if kept in doors
Tree Heath
(Trochocarpa laurina)
Slow-growing shrub or small tree to 4m, smaller if kept pruned, attractive pinkish new growth
Illawarra Plum Pine
(Podocarpus elatus)
Slow growing, with closely-spaced glossy green leaves and edible fruit
(Eupomatia laurina)
Shrub or small tree with arching branches and large glossy leaves
Bird Lime Tree
(Pisonia umbellifera)
Striking large green leaves with a purplish tinge; best grown indoors
Blue Cherry
(Syzygium oleosum)
Striking and uncommon small local tree with edible blue fruits
Maiden’s Blush
(Sloanea australis)
Water-hungry tree with stunning reddish new growth, worth growing indoors in a self-watering pot
Brown Beech
(Pennantia cunninghamii)
Slow-growing tree with decorative zig-zag growth in its smaller branches and attractive leaves

Care and maintenance
Some maintenance is needed for all indoor plants, including these ones. It is particularly important to match the light levels to what each plant prefers naturally. Plants that cope with very dense shade are somewhat unusual, but include Settler's Flax and Illawarra Plum Pine. 

Feed them with slow release fertiliser for native plants, and give them a watering every couple of weeks or when the soil looks dry. They will look and last better if you wipe dust off their leaves with a damp cloth every three or four weeks. Plants will need to be potted up periodically, using low phosphorous potting mix suitable for native plants. 

Happy (indoor) gardening!


  1. Great to see you back and writing interesting pieces on our local native plants! I would never have thought to try growing natives indoors :D

  2. Thanks Sri! I have also been told recently that Celerywood (Polyscias elegant) grows well indoors - that is if you can find a seedling to grow!