The spider plant ( Chlorophytum comosum) is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. You might consider them house “weeds”. They are excellent air cleaning plants and were sent to space because of that trait as well as their ease of cultivation.
Spider plants can be so much more than houseplants though. They can add texture and fill for container gardens. Use them instead of the traditional “spike” in the center of a pot. Spider plants can also be planted in the shade directly in the ground, where they make an excellent ground cover, or used as accent plants. The white variegated varieties nicely light up dark areas and can substitute for more expensive plants. They are also nice around shaded ponds. Spider plants can be treated as annuals and left to die in the winter or you can bring them inside before frost and save them for next year, enjoying them all winter long.
Spider plants, also called airplane plants, are native to Africa. They have narrow grass like leaves that form a clump. The name spider plant comes from the way the plant reproduces. It forms a long stem from the center of the plant and at the end of the stem new plantlets, often called “pups” form. The stems gracefully curve over the plant or dangle below it if the plant is suspended, like a spider on a strand of silk. The baby “spiders” have tiny nodules on the bottom that rapidly form roots once they hit either soil or water.
The spider plant also produces stems that are loaded with tiny white flowers. Flowers and plantlets are often found on the same stems. The flowers can form tiny; three section seed capsules, each with a hard black seed inside. New spider plants can be started from the seeds.
The roots of the spider plant are white and tuberous. They store water and also particles floating in the air. Many harmful chemicals that we are breathing in our homes are removed from the air during the process of photosynthesis and stored in the root system.
How to grow spider plants
If someone gives you a plantlet to start you can root it in water or in damp soil. They root very easily. Most people will purchase spider plants in hanging baskets. If you keep spider plants outside in the summer plantlets will often touch the ground and root. These can be detached from the mother plant and dug out to be potted.
Spider plants need to be in bright light indoors, but the light in a south or west window is often too strong for them. Outdoors the plants should be in a shady location. Spider plants will grow nicely where they get no natural light if the artificial light is strong enough. Spider plants prefer temperatures that most people find comfortable, 55-70 degrees, but they will survive temperatures down to freezing.
The spider plant stores water so it can last a few days longer than most houseplants between watering. However, the pot must be well draining, as the roots will rot if the plant is too wet. If the plant looks limp, you waited too long to water. Add water and it will probably recover.
The biggest problem with watering spider plants is that the roots rapidly fill a pot and the water you pour in seems to just pour right out the drainage hole. If this is happening you need to re-pot the spider plant in a slightly bigger pot. It can also happen when you have let the pot get too dry.
If the pot is too dry, try soaking the pot in the sink or tub filled with warm water that is just over the pot edge. After an hour so remove the plant from the water and let it drain. Spider plants also deflect water poured in the center of the plant; it runs down the leaves and off on to the floor inside. Outside the water would have been delivered to the plantlets growing out near the edge of the mother plant. Try to water the soil surface of potted plants and not pour water on the foliage.
Don’t over-feed spider plants. A little houseplant fertilizer every other month should do the trick. If you over fertilize the ends of the leaves often turn brown. This is from salt build up in the pot or from the salts and minerals in the water you use. Flushing the plant may help. That doesn’t mean giving your spider plant a ride in the toilet, rather it means pouring warm water on the pot many times and letting it drain out the bottom. Keep brown ends trimmed off to make the plant look nicer.
If the brown leaf tips worsen it may be time to re-pot your spider plant in fresh soil. Very dry air, as when the plant is near a heating duct, may also cause brown tips. If the tips of your spider plant leaves appear chewed off you probably have a house cat. Cats adore eating spider plants. They are not poisonous, but may give cats a slight high like catnip.
Spider plants tend to form the new plantlets and flowers in the fall and winter, as the days get shorter. A happy spider plant may reproduce itself all year round. You can remove the plantlets at any time to give to friends.
Varieties of spider plant
Believe it or not there are several color variations in spider plants. There are solid green plants, plants with a white stripe in the center or plants with white leaf edges. There are plants that have yellowish color in the stripes and plants whose leaves are almost white, except for narrow green edges. All are easy to grow.
Whether you use them as houseplants or attractive outside foliage plants, spider plants will reward you with their graceful form and easy growth characteristics.
Kim Willis lives near Clifford, Michigan on a small farm that she shares with her husband and numerous animals. She worked at the Lapeer County MSU Extension office for many years but is now retired. She is a freelance country and garden writer. Her book Complete Idiots Guide® to Country Living was published in November 2008. Her best selling chicken book, Raising Chickens for Dummies® was published in 2009. She also wrote Knacks Canning, Pickling and Preserving (2010) and Cooking with Beer (2012).