How long do indoor plants live? A gardening magazine recently wrote that houseplants typically last two to five years. After that, the author suggested the best thing to do is to invest in a new plant. I’m afraid the writer greatly underestimates the power of a grandmother with a watering can and some potting soil.
Long-lived houseplants are more common than we might think. A few years ago I asked readers to comment on indoor plants that had been in their family for many years. My mailbox was full of reports of Christmas cacti, snake plants, and ivy that were decades old, some over a century.
The average lifespan of houseplants is difficult to determine because their dates of birth and death are not recorded on plant obituaries. The oldest houseplant currently alive is in the winter garden at London’s Kew Gardens. The 246-year-old Eastern Cape Cycad has been growing in a pot since 1775.
People take their houseplant seriously. In 2014, a Pittsburgh woman left a sizable legacy to her philodendron, allowing the 42-year-old companion plant to be well cared for after her death.
Human, domestic, and other animal lives span an average number of years, and there is pretty much a maximum life expectancy. Houseplants, on the other hand, do not have a predetermined lifespan, and botanists generally agree that there is no specific endpoint.
Some of the species that often become long-lived houseplants include snake plants, rubber plants, ZZ plants, ferns, jade plants, and philodendrons. Local establishments like Baker Garden & Gift in Fargo have many types of houseplants to choose from. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
ON THE SUBJECT OF MATCHING ITEMS:
The longevity of houseplants does not depend on whether they drink, smoke or overeat, but rather on care and growing conditions, including light, moisture, watering, soil, insects and disease. In theory, most houseplants can live forever without adversity – until we kill them.
Some plants are better for indoor use than others, and their growing habits contribute to longevity. The following houseplants are typically long-lived, making them valuable heirloom plants that are passed down from generation to generation.
- Christmas and Thanksgiving Cacti: These flowering plants become more elegant as they age and are often passed on to the children or grandchildren of the original owners.
- Jade plant: Members of the succulent group continue to grow into miniature trees and get larger over the decades.
- Boston Fern: The simple division makes it easy to perpetuate ferns, even when crowded.
- Sansevieria snake plant: The robust plant continually adds new sprouts to the circumference of the clump and becomes wider and taller with age.
- Rubber plant (Ficus elastica): The large-leaved tropical native has a tree-like nature and contributes to its long-lived tendency.
- Wine fig (Ficus benjamina): Another tree-like houseplant that will live for many decades under suitable conditions.
- English ivy: being a hardy outdoor vine in milder climates, it has a long life indoors if its susceptibility to spider mites or other pests is kept at bay.
- Philodendron: The large family of plants includes grapevines and large-leaved tropical forms.
- Monstera: Nicknamed the split-leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant with its huge, rounded leaves, the plant becomes like a tropical tree with age.
- Bird of Paradise: The bird-shaped orange and blue flowers do not appear until the plants are on average 20 years old. So patience is definitely a virtue.
- Aspidistra Cast Iron Plant: This nearly indestructible plant got its nickname in the Victorian era when fumes from gas powered lights killed many houseplants but left them untouched.
- Hoya: The trailing plants get better with age and reward patience with fragrant flowers.
- Spider Plant: This classic can be perpetuated by the reproduction of “spiders” or by the rejuvenation of an aging plant with a drastic decline.
- ZZ plant: Fortunately, the name was shortened from Zamioculcas zamiifolia. Although it wasn’t introduced to the houseplant industry until 1996, it has all of the characteristics of long-lived species.
- Cacti and Succulents: The slow and steady growth of species of cactus and succulents such as Aloe and Haworthia promotes longevity.
The following tips can help extend the life of an indoor plant:
- Develop the correct irrigation technique.
- Fertilize monthly or every two months from March to September and break off on the short winter days.
- State the amount of light each type of plant needs.
- Check for pests frequently and treat them at the earliest.
- Provide well-drained, high-quality potting soil.
- Gradually increase the pot size as needed, but most houseplants will be comfortable when they are lightly tied to the pot.
Don Kinzler, a Lifelong Gardener, is a gardener at North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.