Whether you’re seeking to add some much-needed colour into your bedroom amongst the piles of grey revision notes or are on the hunt for the elusive ideal birthday present for the friend who’s seen it all before, the large potential (and low price) of a houseplant is tempting to say the least.

Tempting, that is, until you begin to read the label, and you spot the hopelessly tiny font with the title CARE INSTRUCTIONS scrawled in block capitals. It’s a chilling reminder that unlike the flashy poster or fancy sidelight that you were also contemplating as candidates for your new room setup, you would be accountable for this little mound of green. Beads of sweat lining your furrowed brow, you gently place the plant back on the shelf with a half-awkward smile of regret.

Is all this sounding vaguely familiar? You aren’t alone – this was the very paradox in which I found myself on my first forage into keeping houseplants: on the one hand, excited about trying something new – and on the other, stressed about the responsibility that this might entail. Several successes and an equal number of failures later, I’ve learnt the basics. Here is my list of the top three plants that you can (almost) forget about for the entire University term, all without worrying that they may deteriorate into a pile of crinkled, guilt-ridden leaves.

1: The Spider Plant

This houseplant has a life of its own – literally. The Spider Plant is unique in the sense that it is one of the few plants that ‘self-propagates’; take suitable care of your companion and, depending on its size and age, it should produce baby spider plants, ‘plantlets’, all by itself. Adorable.

Caring for your Spider Plant is equally trouble free: to illustrate just how indestructible these things are, when I first moved to the UK many years ago, my family travelled with one or two of these plantlets in the hold of a transatlantic flight. And despite the change in climate (Bermuda sees a fair amount more sun than the Cowley Road does), our Caribbean Spider Plant dynasty is still going strong. Water sparingly every week or so, give them a good amount of sunlight, and if the plant eventually outgrows its pot, swap it in for another one. The pot, that is.

2: The Sansevieria

Natively from Africa and prized for its “I-decorate-the-entrance-hall-to-the-London-Shard” ambiance, it’s also good to know that the Sansevieria is virtually indestructible, as long as you don’t water it often. Yes, you read that correctly – the first-time houseplant owner’s biggest mistake is to try to take ‘too good’ care of their new possession by letting loose with the watering can. In the case of your Sansevieria, it’s best to forget about the plant completely – which will be hard as you begin to rake in compliment after compliment from envious friends. Place it wherever. Just do not water more than once a fortnight.

3: The Cactus

The original, and arguably the best. I have three from Ikea smiling back at me as I write this very sentence. With many different varieties to choose from and questions of the perfect pot/plant pairing (I personally prefer the hidden subtlety of white or grey-coloured pots, but opinion is divided), it is fair to say that the cactus has enjoyed something of a revival, becoming a true Gen-Z fashion statement. But whether you get yours from a trendy clothing chain which must remain unnamed, or simply from a garden-centre, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that caring for your purchase is simple. Leave yours in the sunniest spot possible, and water sparingly twice or thrice a term.

Ben Owen

A contributor to The Oxford Blue since its inception, Ben’s pieces explore topics as diverse as travel, literature, politics, and wine. His translation work has also helped foreign journalists share...