Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print and online media. She has worked on Newsday's interactive endeavors since 1994, and currently is Deputy Editor overseeing Newsday.com's Lifestyle and Entertainment coverage. Jessica enjoys toiling in her garden -- a never-finished work in progress -- and helping local gardeners solve their horticultural problems in her Garden Detective column, which appears every Sunday in Newsday. Her Garden Detective column and blog have been awarded Press Club of Long Island Society of Professional Journalists Awards. Jessica lives in Glen Head, NY, with her husband John, daughters Justine and Julia, dogs Maddie and Miguel, and a whole bunch of perennials, vegetable plants and weeds. Ask a question Show More

You got a new couch and coffee table, and added a new lamp and area rug, but something is still missing and you can’t quite put your finger on it. What you need to complete your décor is a swanky houseplant.

Now, hear me out: Houseplants can conjure up clichéd images of brown-and-orange 1970s interior design. But today’s houseplants aren’t afterthoughts; they’re strategic parts of the ambience. Some would even consider them furnishings. Couple their interesting shapes with trendy containers and you’ve got yourself a hip vibe. If you want a piece of this more-than-basic movement, get your hands on one of these:

String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)

Remember when you used to string fresh peas on thread and wear it as a necklace? Me, neither. But if you did, that’s what this plant would remind you of. The unusual creeping succulent is nothing if not a conversation piece. Plant it in a hanging container, where it will spill over the edge and trail toward the floor for full effect. Super easy to care for, it requires watering only once every week (or two, or three) and good light exposure. Keep it away from pets and small children, however, as plant parts are toxic.

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Best-suited for non-green thumbs, this lowlight plant that is native to eastern Africa commands attention with its glossy foliage and upright habit. It’ll reach up to 3 feet tall and doesn’t require a lot of care — or water. (Plant parts are poisonous; keep out of reach of children and pets.)

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Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides)

Also referred to as a pancake plant (because, well, look at it) the Chinese money plant would be well at home in a midcentury modern setting. Its round leaves sprout from long, thin stems and scream, “A minimalist lives here!” Plant it in well-draining soil and provide indirect sunlight. Considered safe for use around children and pets.

Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)

Sometimes called a “rubber tree” or, as immortalized in the song “High Hopes,” a “rubber tree plant,” this plant-tree can grow to 50 feet in its native Southeast Asia. In your home, it could reach the ceiling after a number of years, so plan accordingly. Give it bright, indirect sunlight, water only when the soil feels slightly dry to the touch. Keep out of reach of children and away from pets, as plant parts contain a poisonous milky white sap.

Fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata)

If we’re talking about trends, the fiddle leaf fig has become the “it” plant of the decade. Gracing the pages of design magazines and the showrooms of high-end designers, fiddle leaf fig is clearly the belle of the houseplant ball. Give it indirect light and water only once the soil has dried out. It is poisonous to pets and humans, so avoid or consider placement carefully if you share your home with small children or animals.

Cactus

What is it with cacti this year? They’re showing up on T-shirts, as bookends and as jewelry. I’ve seen cactus-shaped lamps, salt-and-pepper shakers and wall hooks. And all this cactus mania was inspired by the real thing, which, incidentally, also are showing up everywhere — from restaurant table settings to wedding favors. The most widely recognized of these, the saguaro, isn’t quite houseplant material, as it tops out at 40 feet. But other spiny succulents, with cute names like bunny ears, rat’s tail, Peruvian apple, pincushion, beaver tail, fairy castle and rainbow hedgehog, are perfectly suited. It’s not true that cacti don’t need water — they do, just like all living things. They can withstand long periods of drought, however, so they’ll survive nicely if you go on vacation and leave them behind. Just allow the soil to dry completely before watering, and be sure pots have adequate drainage holes to prevent root rot. It’s prickly, so protect the kids.