Houseplants Plant diseases

Black Leaves on Orange Spider Plant

Black lower leaves on an orange spider plant. Photo: M. Larose

Question: My houseplant (I don’t know the name) is not doing so well. Its lower leaves keep drying out and turning black. What to do?

M. Larose

Orange spider plant in a pot.
The orange spider plant. No one seems sure of its true botanical name, but it may be Chlorophytum orchidastrum ‘Fire Flash’. Photo: jaydeemahs.com

Answer: Your plant is a bit of a mystery plant. It’s been on the market for a few years now, but no one seems sure of its real name.

We do know that it’s a spider plant (Chlorophytum), but it certainly isn’t the classic spider plant (C. comosum) that generations of gardeners have come to know and love. It has noticeably wider leaves, bright orange petioles and there are no trailing stolons. Thus, it never produces “babies,” only a central rosette.

Among the names I’ve seen bandied about are Chlorophytum orchidastrumC. orchidantheroidesC. amaniense and C. filipendulum amaniense, plus it is certainly not a straight species, but a cultivated variety (cultivar) with improved orange coloration. Among the cultivar names I’m seeing are ‘Fire Flash’, ‘Mandarin Orange’ and ‘Green-Orange’.

Web page from Plants of the World online, showing Chlorophytum orchidastrum
File on Chlorophyllum orchidastrum. That sure looks like the plant in question! Ill.: plantsoftheworld online.org

My guess is that, when the smoke clears, the correct botanical name will probably turn out to be Chlorophytum orchidastrum, while the cultivar name seems likely to be ‘Fire Flash’. Certainly, the very serious Plants of the World online, run by the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, offers a file on a very similar plant under the name Chlorophytum orchidastrum, as the image above shows. You can see for yourself here.

Old Leaves Die: That’s Life!

The blackening of the lower leaves on this plant is natural: the oldest leaves, those at its base, quite simply die of old age and are replaced by younger ones at the top of the plant.

Greenish flowers on orange spider plant
The flower stalk of this species is quite inconspicuous, but will produce fertile seeds. Photo: gardentags.com

In fact, your plant looks very healthy overall; there is even a flower stalk in the center and normally an unhealthy plant doesn’t flower.

However, to keep the lower leaves alive longer, you can offer it the best possible conditions: medium to intense lighting with protection from direct summer sun, high atmospheric humidity during the winter months and potting soil that always remains just a bit moist.

Mineral Salt Buildup

Having said that, I nevertheless see that you have cut off the tips of several leaves, which makes me think there is another problem: a buildup of harmful mineral salts.

Leaf edges and tips “burned” by an accumulation of mineral salts
Leaf edges and tips “burned” by an accumulation of mineral salts. Photo: BlueBadbeeBadaBam, reddit.com

Like its cousin, the classic spider plant, the orange spider plant has trouble with tap water, which is often too rich in minerals—calcium, magnesium, iron, fluoride, chlorine, etc.—for its taste. Some people mistakenly believe that by letting water sit in a watering can overnight these minerals will evaporate, but in fact, that concentrates them instead and makes the situation a bit worse, although only marginally so.

Rain barrel to collect mineral-free water.
You’d do best to water this plant with rainwater. Photo: Benoit Rochon, Wikimedia Commons

If you can, water the orange spider plant with rainwater, dehumidifier water, or distilled water instead of tap water, as they contain few harmful minerals.

If you can’t, get into the habit of leaching the potting mix every 2 months or so. To do so, set the pot in the sink and pour a solution of fresh water and white vinegar (about 200 ml of vinegar per liter of water) over the potting soil and let it filter through. Then, allow the contaminated water that comes out of the pot’s drainage holes to flow down the drain: this helps dissolve the lime (calcium) that has accumulated in the soil.

Orange spider plant with black markings.
Repotting can also help reduce black markings. Photo: gracielehc, reddit.com

Another solution is to repot the plant at least once every two years, completely replacing the potting mix as you do so. That way you’ll remove the contaminated mix and replace it with fresh, largely mineral-free potting mix.

And finally, don’t fertilize this plant too heavily. The orange spider plant isn’t a very greedy one at any rate, so an all-purpose fertilizer applied at 1/8 of the recommended rate—and only during spring and summer—will be more than enough to meet its needs.

Finally, of course, do remove the blackening leaves at the base of your plant by pulling or cutting them off. That will immediately give it a prettier and healthier appearance.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. 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 is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden 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 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

2 comments on “Black Leaves on Orange Spider Plant

  1. Of course. I think that the black leaves of common spider plant are less prominent because healthy plants are so densely foliated with so many leaves, that the shriveled black leaves are obscured below.

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