Episode 101: the spider plant aka Chlorophytum comosum

A web of spider plants. Photograph: Sam Pascale.

A web of spider plants. Photograph: Sam Pascale.

Transcript

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Jane: Welcome to On The Ledge podcast, I am your host Jane Perrone and this is your audio guide to the world of indoor leafiness, that is On The Ledge. Thanks for your fantastic response to the 100th episode, yes it made us cry, yes it made us laugh and everybody seems to have really had fun with it. For me personally, it was a huge boost just to know how much everyone loves the show and it's spurring me on to make more episodes, so thank you, everybody, for your support.

Now it's back to business as usual with a regular episode and this one I'm devoting to the ubiquitous, the indestructible, well, we'll discuss that later, and the cheap as chips, spider plant, yes, Chlorophytum comosum. And I'm answering a question about a Begonia in which we slip in the term, removing apical dominance, yes that's something you can slip into conversations at your next oh-so-stylish dinner party.

Shoutout to my new Patreon subscribers this week: Jan and Naomi became crazy plant people while Jane, Violeta, Lok, and Andrew all became Ledge-Ends, thank you to all of you and if you want to join the On The Ledge Patreon community, then check out the show notes to find out how.

When I put a tweet out a few months ago asking for your spider plant tales I got a fantastic response from all kinds of people who love and cherish their spider plants. Badger Mash wrote, "I have, what I'm fairly sure is, technically still the same spider plant that I rescued from the top of a gently smoking bonfire on a frosty morning in 1978." Well, What a start to a story about a spider plant.

Of course, I asked Badger Mash for more information and nonchalantly they replied, "There really isn't much to it. I think it was February, I was out walking and someone had been, not very successfully, burning leaves. On the top of the heat was a rather sad looking spider plant, I took it home, potted it and after countless repottings, it's still here." So thank you, Badger Mash, for sharing that tale of the abandoned spider plant which found a new home with you.

Linda Smith told me about looking after the school greenhouse as an O Level student in the mid-1970s. She tweeted, "When the school relocated last year I was lucky enough to get a couple of plants. I like to think they're descendants of the plants I attended all those years ago." In fact, this reminded me of my own school spider plant story which was, and I think I have mentioned this on the show before, that I got let out of class with my friend Ruth to go and water the spider plants in the school library every week.

It's probably why I'm not very good at maths because I missed so much class but the spider plants in question were those kinds of really miserable spider plants that you used to see, not so much anymore perhaps, that were almost yellow with neglect and very underwatered. But we did our best to keep them alive and keep them alive we did.

The wonderful thing about spider plants is they are so adaptable to a range of different conditions. Marna Listergot in touch on Twitter to tell me about spider plants growing outdoors in Sacramento, California. Low temperature is 28 °F in winter, 110 °F in summer. They're growing profusely in front of our house and have even sneaked around to the side yard, and Marnamanaged to take a stem of babies and looks like they were plenty there to draw on. Anna Omiotek-Tott told me about her mom's spider plant, which has been there as long as she can remember, she had taken some babies from that plant to live with her, it's at least 50 years old and indestructible. There's more Chlorophytum Twitter tales to come, but for now let's look a bit deeper into the world of Chlorophytum comosum because there are several different cultivars of spider plant to collect. Let's have a look at them.

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Of course, when we say Chlorophytum comosum we really mean the plain green spider plant, which although it's had a bit of a burst of popularity in recent years, is definitely less popular than Chlorophytum comosum 'Variegatum', the classic white and green variegation with a white stripe down the centre of a green leaf, but don't dismiss the plain green Chlorophytum altogether, there is a rather nice new cultivar called 'Lemon', which has pale lemony lime green leaves, which is nice if you like that kind of thing.

Imagine a kind of Chlorophytum comosum version of neon pothosand you won't be far off. If you want to mix up the variation there's also the variegated cultivar 'Vittatum', where the green leaves have white margins and a green stripe down the centre, in other words an exact reverse of 'Variegatum'. It's nice to have these next to each other and you can look at the contrasting patterns. One thing to say though is, because 'Vittatum' has less green than 'Variegatum', it just got that green stripe down the centre.

The overall surface area of green is less, and therefore it can be a slightly less vigorous plant because those cream or white parts of the leaf don't have any chlorophyll, can't photosynthesise. Therefore, the plant has less area to make its food and energy, so bear that in mind if you're growing a 'Vittatum', it might need a bit more care and attention than a regular 'Variegatum'. The other super popular cultivar of the moment is, has various names, but it's basically a curly spider plant, so 'Variegatum' but the leaves look a bit more like a ponytail palm, in that they're kind of curly and wavy.

Again, I'm not a great fan of this because I just think it looks like it's been attacked by a pest and gone a bit poorly, but it is proving popular. There's a cultivar called Bonnie, which has curly leaves, which seems to be the main one available and it's quite compact as well, so if you're looking for a more compact spider plant this is one to go for if you like the curly leaves. If you like a compact plant, but you're not keen on the curly leaves, there's one called Ocean, which is definitely worth a look. Like comosum Vittatum, this one has a green stripe down the centre, but them white margins are much narrower, so overall the plant has less white than it does green.

The leaves are a bit wider and thicker, and it's overall a more compact plant that won't get really massive like the classic Chlorophytum comosum 'Variegatum' specimens that you might have seen in huge hanging baskets, this one will stay quite neat and small. Now, it's worth mentioning that of course the Chlorophytum genus is wider than just the species Chlorophytum comosum. As we've talked about in previous episodes, there are a few hardy members of the Chlorophytum clan, like Chlorophytum saundersiae and I'll put some links to those into the show notes, but they're not really the topic for this particular podcast because we're going to focus on comosum.

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Once you've got your 'Vittatum', your 'Variegatum', your Ocean, how in the heck do you look after these plants? I sought out Chlorophytum comosum fan Darryl Cheng for a chat, and I started out by asking him what it is about this plant that really floats his boat.

Darryl: Their structure is just so appealing in that it's just like a nice little bush that fans out at a nice beautiful arc, they have a nice curvature to them and they're generally quite full in terms of being very dense.

Jane: But Darryl's not that keen on the term easy when it comes to any house plant, let alone spider plants.

Darryl: Whenever we talk about something being easy to care for, that word easy contains many both subjective and objective criteria. Some of the things that are subjective, which are, "Mine has brown tips, or it's, floppy or it's faded," and these things are the ease of which it is to take care of the plant. Really depends on your tolerance for these visible imperfections.

Jane: Like any plant, your spider plant may not look Instagram-perfect at all times, but the key to its care is, as with so many plants, the right light levels. This South African native plant needs the old classic of bright indirect light. Well, at least that's what all the books say, but if you're trying to replicate that in your own home, the best spot might be a really nice big skylight as Darryl Cheng found out.

Darryl: There's a few pictures that I've taken at my new church, where I essentially had to rescue a whole slew of spider plants. Unfortunately, they weren't quite cared for all that well, what I did was I gave them a little repotting and it just so happens that the church had a really beautiful skylight right in the middle. I just moved all the spider plants there, and I have good photographic records of them since as-- Well, by now it would have been September of 2018 that I rescued them, and when I took a photo of them later on in January these plants just really sprang back up and doing beautifully because of those skylights.

Jane: If you don't have a skylight then try your spider plants in a nice large east or west facing window. It doesn't want to be baked by the midday Sun, but at the same time sticking it in a dark corner will leave it very pale and limp, just like those school library Chlorophytums I told you about. When it comes to water, one of the great qualities of the spider plant is that its fat white rhizomes are very good at storing water, so it can survive for quite a long time without much in the way of a drink. That said though, in the growing season it will benefit from a decent glug of water every week.

Just make sure that the compost that you use is free draining, so those rhizomes don't get soggy and wet. Because as is often the case, plants can recover better from being too dry than from being waterlogged, and spider plants do, of course, have a tough-as-old-boots reputation as Darryl explains.

Darryl: The spider plant is an extremely resilient plant, meaning that I've seen that-- Well, the ones that I did at the church, they revived from being completely wilted and spring right back up. They actually have what I would call several signs of showing the water status of the plant. Obviously the first is that it's fully water, which is that leaves are nice and bouncy. If you look at the plant and it doesn't seem as green as it was before, then it's starting to get quite dry, and of course, at that point the soil is also very dry.

Jane: Do spider plants like to be root bound? It's a myth that's often passed around, but is it true? Darryl, of course, has a few.

Darryl: One time I went to my favourite nursery, the owner took me to the back and showed me the stock plant. This is a really amazing thing because you normally see a spider plant, the biggest basket is probably 12 inches, maybe 14 at the biggest, and here I got to see a spider plant. It must have been in some-- It must've been a bucket of maybe almost 24 inches across and just spilling out, it must have been hundreds of babies on this single plant. He's told me that this is the plant they use to produce all their spider plant stock.

He said the trick with getting the lots of babies is, obviously yes, the right light, but the next thing is that the roots need to be a little bit cramped. If I put on my evolutionary biology cap and think about this, then it would make sense that the plant would decide to propagate itself by sending out the babies, rather than underground rhizomes to make more leaves for itself when it realises that it's running out of room in the current space.

Jane: More on spider plants prodigious baby-making abilities in part two, but now let's hear from our second sponsor. For me, the hardest thing about learning a new language as an adult is finding the time in my week to get out to a language learning class, and that's where Babbel comes in. Babbel is the language learning app that gets you speaking a new language with confidence. You can choose from 14 different languages, including Spanish, French and Polish. Babbel is designed to get you speaking your new language with ease super quickly.

The convenient lessons are just 10 to 15 minutes long and you can do them anywhere. You'll learn through interactive dialogues and speech recognition technology, so you can perfect your pronunciation and accent. The good news is you can try Babbel for free with On The Ledge podcast, go to babbel.com or download the app and try it for free. That's Babbel, B-A-B-B-E-L.com or download the app to try for free. Babbel, speak a new language with confidence. Now let's talk about making babies the spider-plant way. Lots of people refer to the little stems with plant nuts at the end as stolens or runner, but actually more accurately they should be described as inflorescences.

An inflorescence is basically just a bunch of flowers on a stem. In the case of Chlorophytum comosum that inflorescence is on the end of a very long stem, and once it's flowered tiny plantlets develop. Gradually as they grow, their weight will bring them into contact with the soil, where the stem bends down and touches, then in nature that will develop into a new plant. Generally, when they're grown in the house they tend to produce a lot more of these stems than they do in the wild. It's quite nice to leave them on and let the plant grow a chandelier-like appearance.

But if you do want to take some off to cultivate, there are many different ways of doing it. Twisting or snipping off the plant nuts and potting them up into some gritty compost is one way of doing things. I've also seen people snip them off and then water propagate. One of the more foolproof ways is to peg down a stem into a separate pot of gritty potting mix, with something like a paper clip that you've unfurl to make a u-shape, or if you want to get fancy you can buy some florists pins from your nearest florist, then just wait until that roots, and then at that point you can cut the main stem off.

Whichever technique you choose, it is ridiculously easy to make more spider plants, and that's probably why these plants are so very popular and so ubiquitous. One of the other tweets I received when I put my call-out for spider plant stories, came from QwanZone who said, "Stacked all my potted trees bulbs plants together on an irrigation tube in my conservatory with spider plants hanging overhead. Came home three months later to find every spare dot of soils colonised by a baby spider plant." While Artsy Herbivore told me about the spider plant that's thriving in her west-facing bathroom.

She says, "Babies and flowers just keep producing throughout the year. We won't be able to get in the bathroom soon." That sounds like it's getting serious. If your spider plant isn't producing any babies, there's probably a few reasons why young plants won't produce inflorescences. Maybe if you do have a young plant that it just needs to grow up a little bit before it's ready for the responsibility of parenthood, and the other reason is the plant just isn't happy enough to think about reproducing, you may need to increase the water, feed, put it in a brighter spot and hopefully you will start to see some inflorescences developing.

There is one common problem that spider plant owners experience and that's brown tips on the leaves. Here's Darryl's take on the matter.

Darryl: Let me take it this way, when we have children and something happens, we have what are called teaching moments, where here's a moment that we can use to teach them a life lesson about something. Is it me or is plant care completely devoid of that kind of thinking? Here I'm going to say that the brown tips thing I would rather call it a teaching moment, than something that you can do to avoid it. Actually, you know what? If we do want to avoid it, the newest leaves will be perfectly brown tip--

It'll be a perfect virgin tip if you will. I'm looking at one of my spider plants right now, the youngest one, and all of its tips are very nice and sharp, not a single brown tip in sight. Then I look behind me to those mother spider plants, which have been here for several months, and nearly all the tips are brown. If we just want to know that the physical explanation of why this happens, it's usually because of fluoride toxicity or I've also read boron toxicity. The way that nurseries avoid this is, they have to treat their water with different chemicals to make sure that these chemicals are neutralised, so they don't affect the tips of these plants.

Of course, they're doing that only because commercially they know that people have some aversion to these brown tips, so they try and avoid it. But when you're owning a plant at home, I really don't see a need for this level of perfection. I don't go wasting distilled water on my plants, I just use whatever I have in the tap. The thing is most city water is fluoridated for the purpose of helping our teeth or something like that, and I just accept whatever fluoride damage can possibly happen to my plants that will happen.

Jane: Well, I hope that's given you a new perspective on your brown tips. If you're lucky like me and have access to rainwater, then you can of course use that to avoid the fluoride problem. Although, in fact, where I live I don't think the water is actually fluoridated, which is very handy for us house plant owners. There's one last issue we need to discuss on the care front for spider plants, and that's dividing the big parent plant. If your plant has just got too heavy, unwieldy, it's full of babies and you don't know what to do, this is when dividing your plant comes in.

Darryl: You can do root division to spider plant, this is essentially where you take the whole group of spider, then just take a sharp knife and cut it right in half. When you first repot both plants it will look like you just have two half plants, and that's because the plant has not had time to adjust to its new setting of being in its own pot. Give it a good two months with the right light and correct watering, then they'll sort themselves out.

Jane: Sounds a bit brutal, Darryl. Is there any more gentle way of doing division?

Darryl: You can gently try and tease them apart, because the spider plant is not just a single-- I mean, it's usually sold as like a group of these-- Well, they're not really rosettes, but you know what I mean, they all emerge from a single stem and then they come out of a center. There's usually three, or four, or maybe five of these groups in one pot, so you can actually just pull them apart gently.

Jane: See? There is a propagation style for every personality. And before Darryl goes, I wanted him to tell me about how he used spider plants at his own wedding.

Darryl: For my wedding I obviously wanted to make it plant related, and what happened was both of our mothers brought a big spider plant that had one babies coming out of it, and they both placed the plant at the front near the altar. What we did was we each cut the babies off of our respective mother plants and then planted them together into their own pot.

Jane: As we'd say here in the UK, "Oh, ain't it lovely?" Thanks to Darryl for helping us out with some spider plant tips this week. You'll find information about Darryl's book The New Plant Parent in the show notes, along with links to his website and Instagram. If you are a regular listener to On The Ledge, you'll know that sometimes topics end up going in quite a different direction than even I had planned, and that's what happened this week when I spoke to Leigh Larson. I noticed a post that she'd put on the Facebook group House Plant Lovers a few months ago, and I bookmarked it because it really made me laugh and smile, and I think it's something that you would all relate to.

Of course, it includes a spider plant. But it turns out there's quite a backstory to this post and I'm going to let Leigh explain that.

Leigh: I started this plant journey several years ago. I'm actually in recovery and when I was not sober and not trying to better my life, I couldn't keep a plant alive. I tried to do it one more time after a couple years in recovery and was like, "I'm just going to see," and it turns out when I'm better my plants are better, it's weird how the logic works but it becomes a perpetuating cycle, like just waking up to a house full of green, life and gives me life, then it just keeps cycling and pushing, perpetuating itself really.

When I moved to Denver, Colorado, that was my big thing, I wanted house plants. We got this house and I hosted actually on our Facebook neighbourhood page, "I just moved here, I don't know much about gardening or indoor plants. Any help is encouraged," and a nice woman it turns out had something like 30 or 40 years also in recovery said, "Come on by, you can have some plant." I thought it would just be like a pot or two, and she gave me trash bags full, and was the spider plant. She said, "You're going to love this one especially as a new gardener, et cetera. Super easy."

I said, "I don't know. You don't know what I'm capable of, why you can't imply it." I said, "Okay," and actually turns out one of the plants she gave me has been propagating from the desk of Bill W, who is the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, so this has been propagating from the 1930s, there's legacy there, there's an emotional sentimental attachment to it. Yes, that was powerful, we actually cried and hugged in the kitchen like, "Oh my gosh," and it's actually been beautiful. I recently have started a non-profit here in Colorado, it's for people recovering from mental health and addiction.

We don't do any medical, we don't do any therapeutic, any illegal, we're simply a community space for people to go-- As we get that transition, that gap I guess, from when you get out of a hospital, or jail, or rehab, or whatever it may be, and you don't have a job yet, the stability hasn't come. We're just a space that's open for four hours a day, a very nice space that's open and free to those needing a meal, and really seeking community. One of the first things I put on our non-profit wish list I said, "We're going to need a lot of house plants."

My boss said, "No, I think we need something more substantial, like office supplies," and I said, "No, we get the house plants in here, I promise." People walking and say, "Oh my gosh, it's so full of life here," I'm like, "I know what I'm talking about." Plants have saved me, I've saved plants and now it's this whole little beautiful thing.

Jane: So far so emotional, and now let's hear the post from Leigh.

Leigh: I got a bunch of plants and I was building a shelf for them. It's worth noting I named all my plants, tell them how proud of them I am for growing, again, they all have names, "You're just looking so beautiful this morning, Henry. Wow, Margo, look at your legs, you're just beautiful and growing," that's my golden pothos. Pretty basic house plant crazy person stuff and they'll understand me. My shelf that I just built collapses, falls and breaks my spider plants. Samson, named for the biblical character who drew his strength from his long hair, because spider plants are so long and hairy, he was the first plant I grew from seed to leg to sprouting seeds. They're good starter plants and that one, oh Jane, that one was my first born, my baby.

The spider plant pot falls and knocks over the lamp, which falls and my majesty palm, Beyoncé, named for her majesty the queen Bee, breaking several limbs. I got her a while back, she was looking pretty rough and I brought her back to life. I hurt the plant I initially thought to save. There I am, bawling my eyes out, salt water spewing out of my eyes all over the spilled soil that I'm covered and laying in, leaves everywhere.

My boyfriend, who was working on shelving and the music therapy room across the house, runs in to see me sobbing like a dramatic 1940s film star and the evidence of the unintentional slaughter, "I'm sorry, Samson. Please forgive me, Beyoncé, I have failed you. I love you both so much. Please forgive me." Puffy eyes not down the face, this episode went on for a good 15 minutes, "Oh the shame, the despair, the humanity." He hugged me, rubbed my back and affirms the plants knew it wasn't intentional, and he helped me pick it all back up, putting all the soil in the pots, collecting the leaves.

He even had the heart to go along with it when I argued, "But wouldn't it putting the broken leaves back into the soil to fertilise the plant be the same as forcing someone to live with a corpse?" "No, honey, that's probably good closure for the plant and if they would want to be near their loved ones in life and death, plus it's good for the soil." Man, I cannot wait to hear my therapist take on this, between her and my boyfriend they understand, and that's why we have these house plant communities, for people who understand the drama, the attachment, the healing.

They really are become our babies, are extensions of ourselves and this little episode really proves that that sentimental value we attached to them, and how much we care.

Jane: Well, I hope you enjoyed listening to that as much as I did, and thank you Leigh. If you're interested in Leigh's project it's called Recovery Cafe Longmont and you can find it online at recoverycafelongmont.org, I'll put that link in the show notes. It's time for question of the week. Cecile got in touch about her Begonia luxurians, yes, that's the palm leaf begonia I may have mentioned it a few times on the show before, because yes, I'm a little bit obsessed and I know some of you are too.

Over on the Facebook group this week, listener Bobby was celebrating because his Begonia luxurians is flowering, and no, Bobby, I'm not at all bitter that mine hasn't flowered. Anyway, Cecile has emailed with a query about her very spindly looking but Begonia luxurians, she had done as I did last year and bought a plug of this plant from Dibleys, the North Wales nursery, but she's had some difficulties with it. The central stem is weak and the plant doesn't seem to be able to keep itself upright, and she's wondering if this is characteristic of a young plant or whether there's a problem, and she wants suggestions for how to strengthen it.

There's a few things you can do on this front with a plant like this. It is fair to say that my Begonia luxurians did need a little cane stuck in the side to support it when it was younger because they can be a bit spindly at first, until they get bigger and then they do become rather meaty. It could be that the plant needs a bit more light, certainly these begonias don't like being in a dark corner and they are quite happy being outside in the summer when they get more light, but obviously not in the baking direct sun at midday. I suggest to Cecile that she moves it a bit closer to a window and see if that helps.

The other thing that is worth trying is removing apical dominance, what in the haystacks is that? Well, if you listened to my episode with Leslie Halleck on the science of plant propagation, you may remember that this means that the plant is putting all its energy into that main stem and the growth there, rather than putting energy into making side shoots that push the plant out. If you take out the apical bud or the growing point on a plant, then it will then remove apical dominance and allow those lateral shoots to develop, and this was what will happen in a Begonia luxurians.

It certainly has happened in mine where I've taken out the main stem, and it's produced lots of shoots from the side and also from the bottom. Treating this one like a tomato, as I've said before, it's helpful and it really does need regular feeding, once a week at least during the growing season, and that way you'll make sure you get a nice meaty plant. But it does take a while to bulk up, that's what I will say about it, so don't give up hope, Cecile, and keep me posted on how your plant is doing.

If you've got a question for On The Ledge podcast, do drop me a line ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com and you'll get the reply either from me or from my editorial helper Kelly Westlake, and I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as possible with an answer, whether or not it features in the show. As you can imagine I do get a lot of emails these days, so please bear with me and feel free to give me a nudge if I haven't answered a question that you've sent in. Finally, before I go, a little Nicodemia diversifolia update, thanks to those of you who got in touch after my discussion of this plant in episode 99 with Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.

Scottish owner who has featured on the show himself talking about palms, got in touch to say that he once encountered this plant as a landscape plant in South Florida, "It was in an old garden and probably had been there since the '50s, it must have fallen seriously out of fashion because in all my time looking at cultivated plants in South Florida I saw it only in that one garden," that's interesting. Somebody else got in touch to say that the correct botanical latin name for this plant is actually Buddleja indica, which is most interesting.

I did find a website called buddlejacollection.com, which explained that this plant is rare in cultivation, commonly called the indoor oak and its native home is in the Mascarene Islands Chamorro and Madagascar. I did season pictures of this plant on the toptropicals.com web site and you can see why it's called the indoor oak, because the leaves are a little bit oak-like. According to the RHS plant finder website, there are two nurseries in the UK that sell this plant, the lavender garden in Gloucestershire and Longstock Park nursery in Hampshire.

I might check those out and see if they actually do sell those plants. If anyone has any more information about this not-so-mystery plant, then please do get in touch because I'd still like to know any other tip bits that you have. That wraps up this week's show. I'll be back next Friday, but until then keep the aspidistra flying. Bye.

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Jane: The music you heard in this week's episode was Roll Jordan Roll by The Joy Drops, The Encouragement Stick by Dr. Turtle and Overthrown by Josh Woodward. The advertising music was by The Heftone Banjo Orchestra with Whistling Rufus and Dill Pickles. All the music in the show is licensed under Creative Commons. See janeperrone.com for details.

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Spider plants are cheap as chips and common as muck, and yet Chlorophytum comosum is also a treasured plant for many houseplant growers. I find out about the wonderful world of the spider plant, from which cultivars to choose to how to keep the leaf tips from going brown.

Thanks to my guests this week: Darryl Cheng, aka Houseplant Journal, offers his tips on growing spider plants and tells me about the role they played at his wedding. Darryl’s book The New Plant Parent is out now. Leigh Larson tells me about how caring for houseplants has been so vital to her recovery from addiction. You can read Leigh’s original post and the reactions to it on the Houseplant Lovers Facebook group, and find out about her nonprofit community space at Recoverycafelongmont.org. You can see the tweets I mention in this week’s show in this thread.

Chlorophytum comosum ‘Lemon’. Photograph:  Bakker

Chlorophytum comosum ‘Lemon’. Photograph: Bakker

Spider plant cultivars

  • Chlorophytum comosum, the species, is plain green and is generally less popular than its variegated cultivars, but it is gaining popularity. There’s a pale green cultivar called ‘Lemon’ (pictured right) which is worth a look.

  • C. comosum ‘Variegatum’ is probably the most popular spider plant of all with its green leaves with a white margin.

  • C. comosum ‘Vittatum’ is the reverse of ‘Variegatum’ with a cream stripe: its variegation means it has less chlorophyll than ‘Variegatum’ which does make it a slightly weaker plant, but that’s a relative thing, obviously, given how tough spider plants are. (Taking that logic further, it makes sense that the most vigorous spider plant of all is the plain green species.)

  • C. comosum ‘Ocean’ is compact and has striped variegation: one of my favourites.

  • Curly spider plant cultivars such as ‘Bonnie’ are becoming popular, and have the advantage of being more compact than either ‘Variegatum’ or ‘Vittatum’.

  • There are some hardy spider plants, but they are not C. comosum: check out Chlorophytum saundersiae ‘Starlight’ and Chlorophytum krookianum. If you live in California, though, you may be able to grow regular spider plants outside too.

Spider plants can get BIG. Photograph: Steve Green.

Spider plants can get BIG. Photograph: Steve Green.

Spider plant care tips

  • Spider plants are able to endure dry conditions owing to their thick rhizomes which act as water storage organs, but if you want them to thrive, water them generously during the growing season. Just make sure the potting medium has some grit, sand or perlite in it so it’s free-draining, and don’t let plants sit in water.

  • Spider plants like lots of indirect light: Darryl Cheng suggests their ideal spot is under a skylight. Failing that, a spot in a large east or west facing window is good.

  • Spider plants can survive in temperatures down to as low as 10C but they prefer regular room temperature.

  • Spider plants can suffer from brown tips to the leaves, which is a cosmetic problem but not a serious one. You can prevent it happening by watering with rainwater or other water that has not been flouridated.

  • Spider plant ‘babies’ aka plantlets are produced on inflorescences ie stems with clusters of flowers on them. These bend down to the soil as they grow and then take root.

  • If you want to propagate your plant you can put a pot of gritty growing medium next to a plantlet, pin it onto the soil with an opened-out paperclip of florist’s pin, and let it root, snipping away the inflorescence stem once established. You can also snip or twist off the babies and root them in cutting compost or in water.

  • If your plant isn’t producing babies, it may not be mature enough yet - have patience! If it is a mature plant, it may be that it’s just been repotted, as spider plants’ roots like to feel ‘snug’ in their pots before they will reproduce. Also make sure you are watering and feeding through the growing season so the plant is in the best of shape.

  • If your plant becomes too massive, divide it by removing from the pot, teasing apart or cutting the plant into segments and repotting.

Question of the week

Cecile wanted help with her Begonia luxurians, or palm leaf begonia, which is very spindly: she wanted to know how to beef it up. I suggest that there may be an argument to remove the growing tip of the plant (if it's tall enough you may be able to remove a large enough piece to use as a cutting) - this has a technical name, removing apical dominance - this is where the main stem/growing point of the plant is where the it is putting all its energy, so that the side shoots don't grow as fast or as well. To do this, you snip away away the growing tip, and the plant will then pour energy into the side shoots and hey presto the plant becomes more bushy. If your plant is big enough, you could use this growing tip to make a stem cutting of the plant.

I also wonder also if this plant is craving more light. Begonias don't want direct sun but won't like a dark corner either. Try moving it closer to a window and see if that helps. I got my plant as a plug and I remember supporting the stem with a small cane (the type you get sold with orchids) to support it until it got bigger, so that's also worth trying as well.

Want to ask me a question about your plant? Either way, tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com.

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

Join me at Lullingstone Castle in Kent in the UK on September 21 and 22 2019 for Cactusworld Live where I’ll be doing a live recording of On The Ledge and holding a listener meetup.

The following weekend I’ll be at the Garden Museum on Sunday September 29 for their Houseplant Festival: I’ll be helping out with the houseplant clinic, and there’s also the chance to take part in workshops and browse an awesome range of stalls from some of my favourite houseplant shops!


This week’s sponsors

BABBEL

Babbel is the language learning app that will get you speaking a new language with confidence. You can try Babbel for free by going Babbel.com or download the app and try it for free!


TRUE LEAF MARKET

Thanks so much to True Leaf Market for backing On The Ledge for three whole months. This Utah-based seed company has been helping gardeners grow since 1974, so what they don’t know about sowing and raising healthy plants - well, it’s probably not worth knowing!

From arugula to zinnias, True Leaf Market has the seed you need!

US listeners, get 10% off your first purchase at TrueLeafmarket.com now using the code ONTHELEDGE.


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If you like the idea of supporting On The Ledge on a regular basis but don't know what Patreon's all about, check out the FAQ here: if you still have questions, leave a comment or email me - ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com. If you're already supporting others via Patreon, just click here to set up your rewards!

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Credits

This week's show featured the tracks Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, The Encouragement Stick by Doctor Turtle and Overthrown by Josh Woodward. Ad music is by the Heftone Banjo Orchestra:  Dill Pickles and Whistling Rufus. All tracks licensed under Creative Commons.

Logo design by Jacqueline Colley.