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Super-Stubborn Spider Plants

June 13, 2011

Chlorophytum comosum should be a dreadfully boring plant. Everyone has them. They don’t look very interesting. Even if they get big, they don’t get impressively big like a Monstera deliciosa or a Dracaena or something. Propagating them is so easy I could do it in my sleep – especially after growing hundreds of them at the Apprenticeship Place. Hundreds and hundreds of them, all looking the same all the time… they just didn’t have character, like the taller plants that had to be wrestled into an upright position and staked every couple of months. So easy to care for, no challenge at all…

And that, of course, is one of the reasons why I still like them. I should probably be ashamed of this, but I do treat some of my plants like ‘furniture’. It’s my home first, and the plants second, is the way I see it. Which means that I have to be comfortable and find it pretty, and the plants just have to deal with it. I’m definitely not putting up any lights for them, but I still need plants in the back of the living/dining room, further away from the window. I need plants on my bookcases. And that’s where the spider plants come in.

I’ve had Chlorophytums on my bookcases for most of my life. Not on my first bookshelf, which had only a Tradescantia zebrina, but when I was about nine, we moved and my father built me a big bookcase and my mother must have given me some plantlets from her spider plants because I always remember that bookcase with them on top. I propagated them, too, and ended up with spider plants all over the place, hanging from my curtain rod in a plastic bucket, being given away as good-bye presents to my teachers when I finished secondary school (most of my teachers, anyway. The one who taught most of my subjects (seriously. German, English (for two out of four years), Biology, Physics and Chemistry (one year), History, PE, Arts, and probably something else I’m forgetting) didn’t get one. Or a Schlumbergera, Kalanchoe or whatever else it was I also gave away, either, because a.) she was Snape’s Lost Twin Sister, and b.) to say she taught us is actually a lie. I can’t think of a single useful thing I learned from her.)

In all those years I’ve had them, the only ones I’ve killed were a couple of plantlets that got pretty bad sunburn when I moved them outside.

And even then, half of the plantlets survived, stubbornly refusing to die. I love stubborn plants. I can be pretty stubborn myself – actually, I get many tasks done more by pure stubbornness than by muscle strength. This is also why I chose this name, because ivy and stinging nettles are also famously stubborn, or should I say tenacious, hard-to-kill plants.

As a kid, I was fascinated by the different appearance of the parent plant and the sunburn survivors, by the way they had adapted to the places they were living in:

Either the parent plant, or a younger ‘sibling’ of the sunburn survivors, who had lived its whole life on top of a bookcase, and had never seen direct sunlight – long, dark, soft leaves. This was one of the first pictures I took when I got my camera for Christmas in 2006. What does it say about me that the first things I took pictures of were my plants? This was a couple of years after the sunburn accident and after a move – same bookcase, different room – thus the uncertainty about the plant.

These, however, are definitely the sunburn survivors:

Shorter, stiffer leaves, and, OK, a little chlorotic. I don’t know how much of that was a reaction to getting more light, and how much to a lack of fertilizer. They were looking a little yellow ever since I put them outside as babies, and you’d think if it were fertilizer-related, it would have cleared up when I potted up the water-rooted plants. But then again… I’m pretty sure I planted them in mole-hill soil from the garden, not potting mix, so not exactly the best conditions. But they didn’t complain – they just grew and grew, even though they had crappy soil and never got any fertilizer (and I mean never).

I got rid of both of these when we moved after my parents’ divorce. I can’t remember if I threw them out or gave them away, but I know I decided I could easily get plantlets of a plain green one again from work, so there was no point in cramming them into my small room.

Another plant also got thrown out, but at least one of its children stayed with me. I got this ‘Vittatum’ from my mother when we’d moved into the house, when I was about 15, to put on top of my Fantasy bookcase. I can’t even remember where she’d kept that plant before, even though it was pretty impressive already when I got it, with all those plantlets cascading down.

Sadly, it also had to go when we left that house again about one and a half years after that picture was taken. But I kept some of the plantlets, which took up residence on top of a bookcase again. A very dark spot – my only window faced north, and the Chlorophytums were a couple of metres away from it, near the ceiling. They didn’t get watered for weeks at a time, not until they were looking rather grey, and let’s not talk about fertilizer.

So by the time I moved to the Nettle Nest, they were looking rather sad. To cheer them up a bit, I put them on the kitchen windowsill – OK, that was mostly because the kitchen was the first room I’d got all the way cleaned (a massive task, since the previous tenants left it in a pretty disgusting state).

They weren’t too happy at first – from their dark bookcase directly to south-facing windowsill, that was bound to be a shock. But since it was the middle of winter, so the sun was neither very strong, nor up for very long, I was sure they could handle it, and they did. Looking a little grey  for a couple of weeks, but then they realized, ‘hey, sunlight is actually great!’ and started growing again.

I’d actually been thinking about throwing them out and starting over from the few plantlets they had, but now, how could I?

Long, ‘floppy’ and rather unattractive leaves from the years on the bookcase, and pretty new growth. The ‘Variegatum’ was looking similar:

But now, what to do? Those old leaves had to go if I wanted to get the plants looking good again, and then the plant would be much too small for that big pot – not to mention that the potting mix wasn’t really looking too good any more, either. Of course, I could have repotted them and chopped off part of the rootball, but… why bother? They’re super-stubborn spiderplants, refusing to die no matter what you do to them, so… I just chopped off the entire rootball!

I removed the old leaves and stuck them in a jar of water, and within a couple of weeks, they had rooted again:

Back into a pot, and – ta-daa! – prettiest spider plants I’ve ever grown at home!

They eventually ended up on a bookcase again, along with the rest of the Chlorophytum clan:

At least, until it got warm enough and I put them all outside on the balcony – for some reason, it feels like I have less plants, and they’re less work, when they’re outside, even though that’s not at all true – my mind works in strange ways sometimes.

But I actually do have a little less right now, because I decided those two plants were pretty enough to sell, so they’re now in the shop at work. Now I only have to get a couple of other plants looking good enough to sell as well – I have two plain green ones and three ‘Variegatum’s, and I only need/want one each. Let’s hope they’re not as stubborn about looking ugly as they’re about refusing to die!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ginny Burton permalink
    June 15, 2011 00:28

    That’s awfully nice of your boss to let you sell your own plants in his/her shop. Or do you work at a co-op?

    • June 15, 2011 21:03

      My boss is awesome. 🙂
      It started some time last spring, when I mentioned I’d got way too many Tradescantias (since they’re so easy to propagate), and he suggested I bring some in because they sell well, but are nearly impossible to get from the wholesaler – and this year I started to bring in other stuff as well (mostly begonias, so far) and actually growing stuff specifically for this purpose.

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