The Newest Trend in Houseplants? Black Leaf Varieties

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Plant enthusiasts are notorious magpies. One year, their eyes are popping over the fiddle-leaf figs. The next, it’s rare cacti, or wild succulents (two big trends of 2019). But these days, if you cruise through Instagram, you’ll find that plant lovers’ interests have gone dark. From the rare black ZZ plant and popular philodendron black cardinal to the ludisia discolor (jewel orchid), whose burgundy leaves are shot through with shimmering white pinstripes, black leaf plants have captured the collective imagination. 

Could it be that these dark times call for matching foliage? Lisa Muñoz, a Brooklyn-based interior plant designer and founder of the high-end plant-styling business Leaf and June, says the trend could be a response to the zeitgeist. “People are spending so much time at home, and they’re just trying to enhance their spaces,” Muñoz says. “I think they’re seeking out unique specimens that are striking and hard to find.”

“I have noticed a trend,” says Anthony Watts, owner of the interior-plant-design company Layer. “Maybe it’s some subliminal response to the social and political environment—you never know,” he adds, only half joking.

In her work, Muñoz has used the black ZZ plant and the near-black burgundy rubber tree. But, she says, many of the other Instagram-friendly black plants are hard to find right now.

If you’ve gotten your hands on a stunner, Muñoz has a few tips on where to place it in your apartment or home. She recommends positioning dark plants against light-colored walls, “so they really pop off that background.” Similarly, if you’re arranging a group of plants, place the dark-leafed varieties next to those with lighter green leaves. “You want it to stand out,” says Muñoz. “It’s a unique piece that you probably searched high and low for—or paid top dollar for.”

That’s right: many of these dark stars are priced to reflect their high demand. A few months ago, Pistils Nursery, in Portland, Oregon, got its hands on a few raven ZZ plants, and sold out quickly, even though they were priced at $65 each. “The supply always lags behind the demand with houseplants,” explains Jesse Waldman, the company’s director of marketing and e-commerce. Right now, there’s just not enough wholesale inventory of these newly popular varieties. 

If you can’t find a dark beauty, consider letting go of your obsession and shopping around for something else. “If you form a particularly intense attachment to that one plant, you may risk missing others that are readily available,” he says. “There’s just so much beauty and diversity in the plant world.”

5 Black-Leaf Plants (That You Can Buy Online):

1. Philodendron black cardinal

In this cultivar of the philodendron, new leaves unfurl with a bright pink-red color and mature into a deep burgundy that can almost pass for black. Its petioles (leaf stalks) and stems are full-on ebony.

2. Burgundy Rubber tree

This low-maintenance member of the ficus family has a solid structure and thick, waxy leaves. It’s also tough: You can move it outdoors during warmer months.

3. Raven ZZ plant

Not only is the raven ZZ’s color beautiful, its leaf structure has a graceful arc. Watch for new shoots, which come up green and then darken gradually to purplish-black.

4. Alocasia reginula Black Velvet"

The leaves of this plant have a velvety finish worthy of its name. And it’s the perfect plant to grow if you’re short on space: The alocasia reginula is a dwarf variety that will only reach about 15 inches.

5. Ludisia discolor "jewel orchid"

This isn’t your typical orchid: Easy to grow, with absolutely striking leaves, it’s so popular that many retailers are putting limits on the number you can buy.

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