The Quest for Immortality… in Houseplants

I am plagued with very little natural light at home and very little natural light at work, so, through a many-years-long series of trial-and-error experiments, none of which were mad. NONE OF WHICH WERE MAD I TELL YOU.  I have divined a very VERY short list of the Absolutely Impossible to Kill NIGH-IMMORTAL HOUSEPLANTS.


Croton - this is a lovely plant that often has shades of red and yellow on the leaves.
Not to be confused with cubes of crunchy bread, or Cybermen. I can’t say much about it, but there was one that my mother got in a get well arrangement that hung around for months and months with very little care, so I expect they fall into the category of “thrives on neglect”.


ZZ Plant – it looks like a Cycad but it isn’t! I named mine Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander for obvious reasons (and also I name most of my plants after wizards. My [not very healthy] Hawthoria is named Howl.). Ok I’ll get botanical for a second.I really like Cycads, ever since I read The Island of the Colorblind by Oliver Sacks. So I sort of wanted a cycad. This is, as I said, not a cycad, but it is called ZZ which stands for Zamioculcas zamiifolia because it has leaves (foliage) that look so much like a Cycad of the genus Zamia – hence “zamiifolia“. And that’s how you decipher plant names, for the record. Anyway I give mine a good soak only once a month, and not much light, and it’s growing like gangbusters!


Snake Plant (also called Mother In Law’s Tongue) – several species of Sansevieria -  this thing “thrives on neglect” they say. And they are right! You can throw it in the dark corner and water it once every few months and it will probably still not die. My cat has knocked mine over twice, though, and attempted to bite the tough leaves. They also seem to have their own international society where they do… something. Most likely involving Death Eaters. I mean hey, it’s SNAKE PLANTS.


Dumb Cane – Dieffenbachia -  this one is so easy to grow you often see it in offices/get-well-soon planters. But don’t eat it! This one’s poisonous in a particularly painful way. Did you see the disgusting episode (or two) of House where the guy’s tongue was all swollen? Yeah don’t eat this. It has Calcium Oxalate crystals in it that form needle-like crystals right into the moisture in the tongue (throat, etc.). So does skunk cabbage and just about anything in Araceae. Don’t eat any of them. But I’m probably the only one around here that sticks wild plants in my mouth so I’m preaching to the choir. Since it is an arum it has flowers that look “like calla lilies”, with a spathe in the middle, and the ones in the office here have little red berries. Don’t eat those either.


Dracaena – these come in many forms and so I can’t tell you how to identify one, exactly. But some other person with a lot of time on his or her hands made a whole domain dedicated to them and so I shall link you.


All of these plants are easy to find anywhere from a nursery, to a hardware store, to a WalMart. So if you have no green in your thumb, take heart – some plants will grow anyway!


NOTE: If you Google “#1 houseplant” you will get Golden Pothos (Devil’s Ivy).

This is, in fact, living in my cubicle right now, but it isn’t mine – it’s the company’s plant. It was invading my cube so I cut a bunch off and made it into a “laurel wreath” to put on the IT guy’s head yesterday. So I will say it’s certainly another good, healthy plant, but I haven’t raised any myself to know how to care for it.



8 thoughts on “The Quest for Immortality… in Houseplants”

  1. My wife used to do much the same type of experimentation. But, now, she finally is able to keep things alive. With no help from her husband, let me tell you. There’s one cactus that we’ve had since we were married 14 years ago that I’ve tried to kill on numerous occasions. It’s now blooming.

    And I’ve been warned that if I do anything to it now… I may have my buds nipped… yep.

  2. True, they are listed as (often) containing “Croton oil” (such original naming conventions) that causes GI problems. Of course they didn’t say “in lizards” but, eh.

  3. Nice list. I too suffer from the “not enough light in the house to grow plants” syndrome. I just found a ZZ that wasn’t too over priced (seriously, why are they so expensive?) and I have high hopes for it given everything I’ve heard. I also have two devil’s ivy and I can tell you they can go ages without water and can live in very dark conditions. However, I think I may have found the minimum light limit for one. It was holding on, but I decided to be nice and move it to a slightly brighter area. The other plant that I’ve been surprised with is moth orchids. All my shady window sills are filled with them. I only water them every one or two weeks at best. Stop looking at me like that, those orchids are nigh immortal I tell you! People keep give me their orchids because they are afraid they’ll kill them. So, yeah, I’m rapidly running out of room for them. Anyone in the Portland, Oregon area want a free orchid? Btw, I’ve tried dracaena and thoroughly killed it within a month.

  4. hahaha… man, I agree. Devil’s ivy is IMPOSSIBLE to kill. But my bro-in-law got a weird weed from a cultivar carnivorous plant he ordered from Mexico. He said he tried to kill this weed, which was a succulent… so many times. And it never died. In fact, he showed me the thing… it had kerosene poured on it and was lit on fire. And the thing grew back! What’s more… it wasn’t half bad looking… We have no idea what it is still, and we took it to the atlanta botanical gardens, and the head guy there who is friends with my bro-in-law… he still doesn’t know what it is, I think. I’ll email him and try to find out if he’s learned anything yet… but that is the craziest plant I’ve ever known. If part of it is hurt… it buds new plants… sorta like how a planarian will behave if you cut it with a scalpel (I looove planarians, btw. If you ever drew one for me, I don’t want to think of how much I’d die. They are CUUUUTE ^3^ )

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