Plant of the Week – Chlorophytum comosum
This week’s plant profile is about a common houseplant, the spider plant. It was the very first plant I propagated when I was about four years old, I remember getting so excited when I saw my babies starting to grow! I still get the same thrill now whenever seeds I’ve sown germinate or cuttings I’ve taken start to root – there’s no other feeling like it. I hope you enjoy the read. 🙂
Common name: Spider plant
Translation: From the Greek chloros meaning “green” and phyton “a plant.”
Type of plant: Evergreen perennial.
Origin: South Africa.
The ideal growing conditions for Chlorophytum comosum is in a frost-free environment such as a glasshouse. It likes partial shade and well-drained, moist soil.
Soil: Chlorophytum comosum thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline or neutral: and chalk, clay, sand or loam.
Propagation: Propagation is easiest by root plantlets, seed and division also works.
Cultivation: Chlorophytum comosum is best known as a common houseplant, an easy and rapid grower. It not only looks beautiful with its long, grassy leaves it also removes poisonous gases as well as other impurities like formaldehyde and xylene. For best results it should be kept in the kitchen or near the fireplace, as these are the places where carbon monoxide accumulates the most.
Pest and disease problems: Chlorophytum comosum is susceptible to scale insects, aphids, and mealybugs. They can also get root rot if over-watered, and browning of the leaf tips if under-watered. The foliage will also scald if placed in direct sunlight.
1. Chlorophytum comosum is not only grown for its decorative appearance, it is also a valuable air purifying plant. According to a NASA survey it is one of the top plants to reduce components of indoor air pollution, even reducing volatile organic compounds such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene (a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries). Other popular anti-pollutant plants include: Spathiphyllum (peace lily), Hedera helix (English ivy), Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) and Nephrolepsis exaltata (Boston fern).
2. There are several cultivars/varieties of Chlorophytum comosum, the most common ones are:
Chlorophytum Comosum ‘Vittatum’ – This was the first variegated cultivar of the spider plant and was the most popular until the late 1990s. It has mid-green leaves with a broad central white stripe. It’s often displayed in hanging baskets to display the numerous plantlets (also called spider babies) that form on mature plants. The long stems on which the plantlets hang are yellow/white.
Chlorophytum Comosum ‘Variegatum’ – This version is newer than the ‘Vittatum’ and has dark green leaves with white margins. It’s generally more compact than the previous cultivar. The long stems which support the plantlets are green. It’s a striking plant and has generally replaced the popularity of the ‘Vittatum’ in garden centres and nurseries.
Chlorophytum Comosum ‘Bonnie’ – has the traditional green with white stripe variegation of the ‘Vittatum’ but its leaves curl and bend. The flowering stems are yellow and plantlets are curly like the parent. It is fast becoming a very popular variety as it tends to be very compact in size and is ideal if you want a spider plant but don’t have masses of space in which to show it off.
Chlorophytum comosum – This was potentially the original spider plant. Its leaves are all green with a slightly lighter green shade running through the centre. Although it is better adapted to darker positions than the variegated versions it is the least common.
3. Chlorophytum comosum was first collected by Carl Thunberg (known as the father of South African botany) on one of his expeditions to the eastern interior in Langekloof, near Uniondale.
4. Chlorophytum comosum often grows in dominant stands in forested moist river valleys, in its original habitat. This is due to the effective vegetative propagation by means of the plantlets rooting on the spreading inflorescence. The small white flowers are rather insignificant and are pollinated by insects.
5. One of the most interesting points of Chlorophytum comosum is its ability to rapidly propagate itself. A plantlet, or “baby” as they are more commonly known, form on the parent plant and will often root with a very high success rate – within a year it will be producing plantlets of its own.
6. Propagating Chlorophytum comosum is as easy as growing them. If the plantlets have been hanging on the parent plant for a while and have their own roots you can cut them off the flowering stem and push them directly into a pot filled with compost. There is no need to use any type of rooting hormone. Water well and put in a bright, but not directly sunny, spot. Keep moist, and within a few weeks you will notice new leaf growth.
If the plantlets are young and have no roots yet then cut them off from the flowering stem and hang them in a container of water – the leaves shouldn’t be submerged, just the root area needs to make contact with the water. In a few weeks you will have roots and you can pot them up.
7. All the variegated versions of Chlorophytum comosum need a bright spot in order to keep their stripes. The all green version (which has no variegation to lose) will accept a darker location although growth will be much slower. Direct sunlight should always be avoided.
8. Water plants liberally in the growing months (spring through to autumn) and sparingly in winter.
9. Feed mature plants every fortnight with a good liquid fertiliser (apart from in the winter months), especially once the plant has started to produce plantlets. Don’t feed newly propagated plantlets.
10. Chlorophytum comosum does need some attention in order to really make it perform at its best, but it is extremely tolerant should you accidentally forget about it from time to time. This is partly due to the thick white rhizomes it produces in order to store food and moisture to support itself.
Plant Names Simplified (Johnson & Smith)
RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
Houseplant Survival Manual (Jane Bland & William Davidson)