Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Just hanging around - the variegated spider plant

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum'
I suspect that virtually everyone who has ever grown houseplants has grown Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum', the variegated spider plant.  It's so easy to grow and propagate indoors that it's become the ultimate pass along plant.  Simply detach one of the freely produced offsets - they come ready rooted - pop it in some compost and you have a new plant.  No wonder that every school or village fete has an abundance of these for sale.  As a biology teacher I used to propagate them by the dozen for the summer fair - and they all sold.  Not surprising, given their well deserved reputation for toughness.  Even the brownest thumbed gardeners find them difficult to kill.  Under and over watering, lack of light, dry air; they somehow struggle on, only to revive rapidly if good times come again.

They're almost hardy, quite capable of taking a couple of degrees of frost, so it always surprises me that they're not commonly used as bedding during the warmer months.  Even a couple of rooted offsets will soon mature and produce their own daughter, even granddaughter, plantlets at the ends of the thin, fleshy rhizomes.  A dense patch of pretty green and silver striped leaves is an attractive sight in the light shade preferred by these plants.

Having said that, the commonest method of growth is in a hanging basket.  Earlier this year I put a trio of offsets into a spare basket and hung it by my little shade house.  By today (early October) it had produced a goodly number of daughter plants and even a few granddaughter plants, their collective weight bowing the flexible rhizomes to produce the characteristic cascade effect that makes this plant so desirable when allowed to grow freely.

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum' - one summer's growth outside
Even though the summer has been pretty awful - cool, even cold, and very wet - the spider plant has grown well, virtually lacking the dry, brown tips to the leaves so characteristic of plants grown in dry air indoors. 

It will soon be time to move it to winter quarters.  Cool, frost free and light is all that is required.  So, undercover in my little shade house unless we get a really cold snap when it can sit out the freeze in the house.  And next year the daughter plants will produce their own offspring and the cascade will lengthen and thicken.  Hopefully to the stage of the one below, photographed a couple of years back in an Italian property.

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum' - a mature plant photographed in Italy
Mind you, I'll pot up a couple of offsets before it gets cold.  Just in case.  After all, I wouldn't want to wait for the summer fetes to renew my stock.


  1. It's a good idea to prop some indoors now. On previous years with milder winters they used to sail through fine outside, coming back from the ground here. A nice reliable plant that looks so exotic!

    1. Must seek out some of the old disposable plastic cups to give the authentic feel of the 80s when I was teaching Biology and Science and propagating these for the school fete!

  2. My mum always had huge straggling spider plants... I never have and I don't know why because they're so handsome. Must get to one of those school fetes!

    1. With time they can grow too straggly. A bit like me, thinning on the top and overly bushy at the sides.