My son's miserable yet amazingly alive pepperomia. Photo: Steve Bender

Dorm plants and college students just don't mix, especially if the student is a dude. There are so many other pressing concerns they must attend to -- throwing a kegger, asking Mom for money, and figuring out what brooms are for. So if you want their rooms to appear habitable by adding houseplants, you need to choose ones they can't kill from utter neglect or watering them with PBR. Here are five suggestions.

Tough Houseplant #1 -- Variegated Pepperomia Auburn senior Brian "El Tigre" Bender made the right choice when he wandered through houseplant heaven at Home Depot and picked out a variegated pepperomia (shown above) because he liked the colors. Had he known it would be hard to kill, he undoubtedly would have chosen something else. Pepperomia is good for dorm rooms because all it needs is bright, indirect light (no direct sun), good drainage, and watering once a week. It also likes confined roots, so you don't have to repot it between freshman and senior years (like "El Tigre" ever would). Finally, the name sounds a lot like "pepperoni" -- something all college students seek out in mass quantities.

Tough Houseplant #2 -- The One & Only Snake Plant

emVariegated snake plant. Photo:

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) is legendary. If you weren't aware that all plants need sunlight and water sometime during their lives, you could still keep this one going for a year. A friend told me he moved out of his dorm room one semester, went home for six months, and when he returned the snake plant he'd left behind looked happy as a clam.

There are lots of snake plants, but the one above, called 'Laurentii', is by far the most popular. It features spear-shaped leaves that are dark-green with gold edges and silver frost. It grows up to four feet tall. All it needs to survive is dim light (it'll look better with bright light), good drainage, and watering every couple of months. If your student kills this, someone needs to do a background check.

Tough Plant #3 -- ZZ Plant

emZZ plant in our bathroom . Photo: Steve Bender  Styling: Steve Benderbr //em

No, this one doesn't get its name from my favorite Texas rock band of all time, ZZ Top. ZZ is the short form of its bizarre botanical name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia.

If one plant could challenge snake plant to a cage match in Ultimate Survival, ZZ is it. It sends up 3-foot stems adorned with succulent-looking leaves so glossy, deep-green they look like plastic. All it really requires is good drainage and ignoring. Surviving in very low light (no direct sun), it needs watering maybe once a month (but let the soil dry out completely before you do). ZZ is just so easy. It's like a gut course for a football player.

Tough Plant #4 -- Rubber Plant

em'Abidjan' rubber plant. Photo:

Anyone who has ever grown or seen a houseplant in their lives has to know this one. Good old rubber plant (Ficus decora). It gets its name from the milky, latex sap that flows whenever you cut off a stem or leaf. Unlike some kinds of finicky Ficus (for example, weeping fig), this one accepts a wide range of growing conditions without dropping leaves. It accepts low light (but not direct sun) and only needs watering when completely dry. The selection shown here, 'Abidjan', features glossy, dark-green to maroon leaves with red midribs.

Tough Plant #5 -- Plastic Flowers


Southern Living's Homes Editor, Zoe Gowen, is always on top of the latest decorating trends. So when I asked her to suggest the perfect, no-care, accent plants for any room, dorm room included, she didn't hesitate. "Recycled plastic flowers in a mottled purple-pink vase," she stated firmly. Her answer was genius on two counts. First, garish, no-care plastic flowers last forever, just like student loan debt. Second, these are made from recycled plastic soda bottles, demonstrating your child's environmental awareness. Bravo, Ms. Gowen! No wonder your magazine is considered the South's premier tastemaker!

Related Articles You'll Enjoy "Every Girl's Crazy About ZZ Plant"