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Long-lived houseplants often become heirlooms

Boston ferns enjoy long lifespans because they can easily be divided if they become overcrowded. David Samson / Forum News Service1 / 3
Don Kinzler, Growing Together gardening columnist for The ForumMichael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
The Christmas cactus at Sacred Heart Convent in Fargo is over 100 years old. David Samson / Forum News Service3 / 3

The average lifespan of houseplants is difficult to determine because their birth and death dates are seldom recorded in plant obituaries. Longevity in houseplants is held in high esteem; for example, in 2014 a lady in Pittsburgh left a sizeable inheritance to her philodendron, so the 42-year-old companion plant would be well cared for after she was gone.

How long can houseplants live? The oldest currently living houseplant of record is located in the conservatory at London's Kew Gardens. The 242-year-old Eastern Cape cycad has been growing in a pot since 1775.

Most botanists agree there are no predetermined lifespans of indoor plants. Their longevity doesn't depend upon whether they drink and smoke, but rather on care and growing conditions, including light, humidity, watering, soil, insects and diseases. Theoretically, in the absence of adversity, most houseplants can live forever. That is, until we kill them.

Some plants lend themselves better to indoor conditions than others, and their growing habits contribute to long lives. The following houseplants tend to be long-lived, making them valuable heirloom plants to be passed from generation to generation.

• Christmas cactus: Becoming more elegant with age, these flowering plants are commonly passed along to children or grandchildren of the original owners.

• Jade plant: Members of the succulent group, they continue to grow into miniature trees, becoming larger as decades pass.

• Boston fern: The ease of dividing makes it easy to perpetuate ferns, even if they become crowded.

• Sanseveria snake plant: The sturdy plant simply keeps adding new sprouts to the clump's perimeter, becoming wider and taller with age.

• Rubber plant (Ficus elastica): The large-leaved tropical native has a tree-like nature, contributing to its long-lived tendency.

• Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina): Another tree-like houseplant that will live for many decades under proper conditions.

• English ivy: Because it's a tough outdoor vine in milder climates, it enjoys a long life indoors, if its susceptibility to spider mites or other pests is kept in check.

• Philodendron: The large family of plants includes vining members plus large-leaved tropical forms.

• Monstera: Nicknamed split-leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant with its huge rounded leaves, the plant becomes tropical-tree-like with age.

• Bird-of-paradise: The bird-shaped orange and blue flowers don't appear until plants average 20 years old, so patience is definitely a virtue.

• Aspidistra cast iron plant: This nearly indestructible plant gained its nickname during Victorian times when fumes from gas-fueled lights killed many indoor plants, but left this one untouched.

• Hoya: The trailing plants gets better with age, rewarding patience with fragrant flowers.

• Spider plant: This classic can be perpetuated by propagating 'spiders' or by rejuvenating an aging plant with a drastic cutback.

• ZZ plant: Thankfully, its name was shortened from Zamioculcas zamifolia. Although it was only introduced into the houseplant industry in 1996, it has all the characteristics of long-lived species.

• Cacti and succulents: The slow-and-steady growth of cacti species and succulents like aloe and haworthia encourages longevity.

Do you have an older-than-average houseplant? If so, I'd like to hear about it.

Email me the details at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com, and I'll compile the stories into a future article.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at " target="_blank">growingtogether.areavoices.com.