The Clivia That Refused to Die!

Clivias have the reputation of being tough, tolerant houseplants. I can certainly confirm that! Photo:

In February 1990, while my wife and I were leading a garden and nature tour of Costa Rica, the heating went out in our apartment. Since I live in a very cold climate, with temperatures down to -35˚C (-31˚F) in the winter, that was very bad news for my houseplant collection. No, it hadn’t been that cold while we were away, but still, it was -16˚C (3˚F) the day we arrived.

I don’t know how long the cold had lasted, but the minima-maxima thermometer showed -7˚C (19˚F) in my main plant room when we got home. We quickly got the furnace restarted, but it was too late for my plants. I had about 600 of them at the time and all looked dead and black. 

I stared dumbly at my devastated plants for a few minutes, then thought, “Well, you’d pretty much run out of space anyway. This will give you a chance to try some new plants.” And sure enough, within a year, I’d pretty much filled my home with plants again.

The Search for Survivors

I took no photos of the devastation, but this one will give you an idea of what frost can do to houseplants. Photo: lateonatura,

As for the mess that was once my plant collection, I soon cleaned up the dead leaves and threw out the most obviously dead ones, but I kept a number of pots around for a few months, hoping against hope. 

The so-called dead plant (Euphorbia platyclada) never really looks alive. Photo: Anthony Bassano,

Only one plant survived apparently unscathed: a euphorbia commonly called the dead plant (Euphorbia platyclada), since its flattened mottled brown stems and lack of leaves mean it never really looks alive. I assume it survived out of sheer stubbornness … and the fact that it was on an upper shelf, certainly a bit warmer than the rest of the room. 

Frozen clivias. Photo: Al M.,

Finally, a second plant did show signs of life: a big clivia (Clivia miniata). Although its leaves were toast and I had cut them off just above the ground, there seemed to be some green at soil level, so I gave it a chance. To my great surprise, about 6 weeks later, a one short flower stalk emerged with a cluster of bright orange flowers. Yes: a naked clivia! After blooming, the main plant promptly died … but soon two babies sprouted, one from either side of the dead mother. I potted them up individually … and still have them today, 30 years later, although they’re now huge plants bearing several flower stalks twice a year. 

I’m still amazed at the resilience of that plant, but then, some plants really are tougher than they seem, aren’t they?

For information on what to do if your tropical plants receive a touch of frost, read When a Houseplant Gets Frosted.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

5 comments on “The Clivia That Refused to Die!

  1. Oh my! I can not imagine it getting that cold inside! I can barely imagine it that cold ‘outside’!

  2. I love how resilient that plant was and that there is always HOPE!
    thanks for the blog!

  3. JP —
    Once again, you have given me hope. I was separating two clivia babies from their mother (sounds so cruel!), when the leaves broke away from the roots of the larger baby. I potted up the roots and I am hoping.

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