Jul 24, 2014

A New Spin on the Spider Plant


Common house plant makes a good shade garden perennial. 


By Kathy Woolsey

The spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, is a common house plant found in hanging baskets, on porches and in sunrooms around the island, but did you know it also makes a great perennial groundcover? I have been growing spider plants at the gardens for several years and was happily surprised when they survived last winter despite the record-breaking cold.  

Chlorophytums are native to tropical Africa and grow on the edges of the rainforest in part shade. Around here, it makes a good substitute for Hosta and will live in part sun to deep shade. When the temperature drops below 32, the tops will die, but the plant will come back in the spring.

 Chlorophytums have thick roots which hold water, making the plant very drought tolerant. It’s one of those houseplants you can forget to water without worry. However, spider plants are not tolerant of chlorine or fluoride. These chemicals, found in most municipal water supplies, can turn the leaf tips brown. Use rain or well water to prevent tip burning.

If you have a hanging basket with a spider plant, starting plants for your garden is easy. Simply cut off the larger spiderettes and stick them in the ground where you want them. Keep them watered for a few days until the roots spread out.

There are 4 types of spider plants commonly available: solid green, green with white edges and green with a white center stripe. A new one called ‘Bonnie” has curly variegated leaves. It looks good in a hanging pot, but I am not sure how it will look on the ground.  I grow Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum' in my garden. That’s the one with the white center stripe. This summer they started sending out scapes with spiderettes. The first few years the plants spend time growing and filling out before sending out babies. 

I think spider plants are a good companion plant for my daffodils. In the winter, when the daffodil foliage comes up, the spider plant foliage dies down. In May, the daffodil foliage dies down just when the spider plants come back up. My daffodil beds are under deciduous trees so they get winter sun and the spider plants get shade in summer.    

In this and previous articles the word scapes is flagged by spellcheck. I thought maybe I should explain a few horticulture terms not in common use. Scape is from the Latin for stem, and in general describes a stem with a flower with little or no foliage or nodes. The flower of the Daylily is on a scape.  A stolon is a stem with nodes which runs along the ground or just below ground from which new plants and roots emerge. The strawberry plant sends out new plants via stolons. Since the runners on a spider plant also have small white flowers it is considered a scape.  Spiderette is just a word I made up to describe young spider plant dangling from the mother plant.

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