to go on a shady porch in Houston. Any suggestions? (also posted in shade gardening; no answer yet)
shade and trees? Understory tree is your best bet for it to continue looking good but they aren't all that fond of pots so there ya go. A dilema. Maybe you could get 2 and rotate them like office plants? That would broaden your options.
My pick for this location would be a small palm or cycad from the mountains of northeastern Mexico. Plants from this region are a specialty of Yucca-Do Nursery. Options include Chamaedorea radicalis, Brahea moorei, Dioon edule, and Ceratozamia hildae. These naturally grow in shady rock crevices where the climate is warm and humid.
Maybe: China Doll, Serpent Tree, Emerald Tree "Radermachera sinica"? I have one that's been in a pot as long as I can remember (it was my mother's before they started traveling full time, I'd be surprised if it wasn't at least 20 years old) and while one trunk died back, another had sprouted before the old one really declined. I bring it into a greenhouse every winter, as did my mother in San Antonio, and it's never dropped its leaves. It's perfectly happy under the mature oak tree that it lives under in the spring/summer/fall, and kept growing in the greenhouse this past winter. Yes, it's going to look funny, oh well.
You might also look at philodendrons (I have a split-leaf variety that gets the same treatment as the China Doll) or a Dracaena (I have a couple different varieties that also live under the oak tree when it's warm and in the greenhouse when it's cold). Probably any large tropical plant/small tree would work provided you protected it (pulled it inside or in the garage) whenever you had freezing weather and covered it (or made sure it was in a warm, protected spot) when it drops below about 40.
I pot up the false bamboo ( nandera) that are leggy in the nursery. It gives the look of a topiary. Nice flower buds, white flowers and winter red berries
I like the sound of that false bamboo. Do you just watch for specimens that have gotten too tall? Will they stay that way? Are they invasive, like bamboo?
I went with elephant ears, of all things. I knew they looked familiar, but I totally spaced out on what they were. I just knew I thought they would look nice. They are very elegant looking. I confess, I thought they were philodendron-just not split leaf.