Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's a jungle in here

Strange disturbances are afoot in my apartment, causing all the plants to go absolutely haywire with new growth and flowers.

Peace Lily

My friend Merryl gave me this lily right before she moved to Colorado, and I really can’t take much credit since she was nearly this big when I got her and was a constant producer of 2-4 lilies at a time. But she certainly hasn’t suffered here and consistently shoots up new flowers every time another one dies back - if you look closely there are 5 lilies in this photo.

Split-leaf philodendron
This one I can take credit for. Another Merryl gift, only when I got him he was three anemic leaves rooting in a vase of water. In terms of sheer size, the philodendron wins – his leaves are ENORMOUS and every new leaf is larger than the last. He’s shooting out aerial roots in the hopes of finding soil to steady what’s becoming a top-heavy operation, and I can’t decide if I’m going to give it to them. How big can I let this plant get??

Wandering Jew
This is one of two plants I cared for last summer for my college friend Justin, both of which were in pretty dire straights when they came to me (not that Justin is not a diligent plant caretaker - he is). The Wandering Jew was a few scraggly branches with a lot of dead leaves that I repotted and gave a lot of sunlight to when still living in my last house. It started recovering right away, but it literally took off – look at it! – in every direction it could go once I got it into this apartment. Again, it makes the case for a bigger home, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering as is.

Aloe Vera

The aloe was the other plant I took from Justin, and I really didn’t know if it was going to make it, it was so weak and yellow. Even a new home and months later I was still nursing it, but once the days started getting longer and I relocated it to a prime windowsill spot, it steadied itself (previously propped up with chopsticks) and got bigger. Then one day a few weeks ago I actually squealed when I saw… baby aloes!!

Interestingly enough, both the Jew and the Aloe are descendants of plants I nurtured in college, both of which have families scattered far and wide since I was constantly giving starts away. They might even have relatives in south America since I smuggled cuttings in.


I don’t know what kind of plant this is but I have had it for years. For most of its life it shared a little two-sided planter with an African Violet, but I recently separated them and gave them both bigger homes, splitting this succulent from the growing baby it had produced. At first both parent and kid were a bit unhappy but I’ve been noticing new growth over the past several weeks, and then another, much louder cry of joy – the start of the first flower it has ever produced! I actually did a little dance.


The Lipstick plant is another one from college and has a delightful story. When Justin and I were living together in 2003-4, the Lipstick was struggling and, despite my many attentions, died. In the process of trying to nurse her with the lightest spot in the living room and ample water, a weed rooted itself and Justin, the life-loving hippie that he is, refused to let me throw it out. All summer the weed grew (of course we watered it), and just as it was bursting open into an obnoxious array of seed-spewing flowers which caused me to rip it out once and for all, I noticed the tiniest little shoot beneath it – the Lipstick plant, thanks to the best spot in the living room and regular watering, had come back. Nothing can kill her now.

My friends Jeremy and Adam cared for the Lipstick (and Jade, next) for years while I was gallivanting around, and I only just got them back when I moved into this apartment last October. Apparently they were as happy as I was at the reunion, because the Lipstick plant did the unthinkable – she flowered in the winter. And now, from June to August, despite a relative lack of sunlight, it has been flowering again. Lipstick plants produce the most gorgeous, oozy flowers and are not named by coincidence.


When I got the Jade back in October, it had had a rough go of things but was making a slow recovery (they’re slow in general). I took it home, gave it a shower and a new home, and willed it to thrive. A few weeks later, a tiny baby popped up (cue squealing) but suffered because it was below the rim of the pot and didn’t get any sunlight. I delicately moved it to a temporary home so it could get big enough to rejoin its parent, and it has been so adorable to watch grow. (For a picture of the parent, look back at the lily shot - it's quite big!)


I have had the Spider plant longer than any other. I can’t even remember where or how I got it, but I do know that first my mom and then my friends Brandi and David cared for it for years. It’s a strange situation asking for a plant back, especially after so much time has passed, so I generally consider caretakers the new owners unless they decide to return the plant to me unsolicited. Brandi and David were rearranging and didn’t have a good spot for it, so I happily reclaimed my old friend and gave it a high, sunny perch. Around the same time the succulent made a flower and the aloe made babies, the Spider – apparently not wanting to be outdone – upstaged them both by producing several shoots for future baby plants. Did I make an audible cry of exultation? You bet I did!

African Violets

Apparently, some people struggle to keep these admittedly finicky plants happy, but mine are in a constant state of flowering and always generate new leaves. I’ve had the big one for years (it of the former shared home with Succulent), the little purple one for slightly fewer years, and the little pink one was a gift from my siblings for my birthday. They’re all healthy and happy - in fact, I think they might get a little TOO much light, which can bleach their leaves.


It seems unfair to leave the Clover - my most faithful and constant plant – out of this list, like punishing a steady performer when rewarding someone who did something great once. I had always admired this plant when it belonged to my childhood friend Casey in college, and when he moved to Africa he left it to my care. In the 10 years I’ve known it it has never had a new home, never failed to produce new clovers when an old one is pulled out, and never stopped sending up new flower stalks. Even through its different homestays while I was away, it remained exactly the same. I love this little plant, opening and closing its triangular leaves every sunrise and sunset so quickly you can actually watch it happen. (Check it out in the Succulent picture.)

Plant Lover (me)

I really don't know where or when I started to find such joy in plants but my love of outdoor gardening is rooted in my origins as an indoor gardener - if you think this is a lot of plants, consider that when I moved out of my house in Madrona to go to Philadelphia in 2006 I had upwards of 50 plants. When I'm old I won't be the crazy cat lady, I'll be the nutty plant woman.


Katharine said...

I love how your apartment is filled with plants :) Do you have any watering tips for the aloe plant?

ElizaBeth said...

Yes - don't water it too often! In the summer not more frequently than once a week and only then when it's really hot; in the winter you can go 2-3 weeks. Also, this is a good tip for any plant: give it just a little water at first and then once it absorbs, water it a second time. This helps the soil absorb more water.