Gardening Houseplants

The Geo: Possibly The Coolest Houseplant Ever!

The geo is absolutely unique. I mean, just look at those leaves, so dark and shiny and round! And it’s starting to become widely available.

I first heard about Geogenanthus ciliatus about a year ago . . . in someone else’s blog. Houseplant hobbyists have given it the name “geo” (much easier to pronounce than geogenanthus!) and it’s also appropriate, because it’s low-growing, forming a mound rarely more than 10 inches (25 cm) high, therefore low to the ground. So, geo, as in “close to the earth.”

a geo flower with 3 purple blue petals and white hairs.
A geo flower… and no, you won’t be seeing this at home. Only in the wild. Photo: Ricardo Elbay, iNaturalist.ca

The name Geogenanthus actually means “flowers from the ground” , as the blooms grow from the base of the plant, not the top as in most plants. And ciliatus means “surrounded by a fringe of hair.” That again refers to the flower, with 3 petals tipped in thin white hairs. Not that you’re likely to ever see this plant in bloom. It rarely blooms in culture. Even in the wild, it’s said to be a reluctant bloomer.

Geo as it grows in the wild, as a groundcover in shade
Geo as it grows in the wild, as a groundcover in shade. Photo: Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, iNaturalist.ca

It’s a groundcover plant from deep, dark tropical rainforests in Peru and Ecuador.

Geo really looks nothing like its relative, the inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina). Photo: Aphisithchampalod, depositphotos

It belongs to the spiderwort family (Commelinaceae), so is a close relative of the inch plant (various Tradescantia species, including T. zebrina, formerly Zebrina pendula), although, with its large, round leaves rather than small and pointed ones and its upright if short habit rather than creeping and trailing stems, doesn’t look much like any other spiderwort I’ve grown.

Seersucker plant with puckered, two-toned leaves
Seersucker plant (Geogenanthus poeppigii) is a close relation, but with smaller, puckered, two-toned leaves. Photo: Veroja, depositphotos

Except one: for years I grew a plant called the seersucker plant (Geogenanthus poeppigii, formerly G. undatus), with a similar if smaller habit and fairly round although ending in a point. Both shared purple leaf undersides. The top of this species is green with darker green stripes and has a puckered appearance; hence the common name seersucker plant. But I haven’t seen it available for a number of years.

Geo will form a mounding container plant from 6 to 24 inches (15 to 60 cm) wide over time. In the garden (in tropical climates, of course), use it as a groundcover for shady spots. You could also use it as an annual for shady conditions outdoors, either in the ground or in pots.

Geo Certainly Stands Out

Young geo leave: green, with red midvein.
New leaves are green with only a bit of purple coloration. They also show a red mid vein. Still, they are just as shiny as mature leaves: almost like mirrors! Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

Geo is striking in so many ways. The mirror shininess of the leaves, their smooth surface and . . . their extremely dark coloration. Deep, deep purple, nearly black on top; reddish purple underneath. New leaves are not as dark: purplish green, with a red vein in the center.

The purple-red stems are covered in short hairs. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

The plant produces short purple-red stems covered with short hairs. They’re upright or somewhat angled, formed of, at least near the top, rolled up leaf bases. There is usually one or two leaves per stem. New stems pop out of the ground regularly from wandering underground rhizomes, so the clump increases in size laterally.

Growing Your Geo

Think “rainforest floor” and you’ll best understand what this plant needs.

Light

It needs light, of course: every chlorophyllous plant does . . . but not that much. It grows in deep shade in the wild and will do so in gardens if you plant it outdoors. But most of us will grow it as a houseplant and that’s not quite the same thing. It will do fine in partial shade indoors. But do remember that there is much less light available indoors than outdoors, so a bit of dappled sun or even a few hours of direct early morning sun can’t hurt.

An east or north window would work fine (in the Northern Hemsiphere), but move it back from the more intense sun in a south or west window, or draw a sheer curtain between the plant and the sun in the middle of the day.

Besides natural light, geo grows wonderfully under fluorescent and LED lights . . . indeed, thrives quite a distance from the lamps.

Watering

Keep geo evenly moist. When the potting mix begins to feel dry to the touch, it’s time for a thorough watering with tepid water. Depending on conditions, and especially when the plant fills in, it might need watering more than once a week. And remember, conditions change over time, so you do have to keep an eye on it.

It will tolerate drying out to the point of wilting—which it will do very dramatically! —, but it’s not good for the plant and can kill it if you repeat too often.

Weather Icons

Temperature

It’s a tropical plant, growing at mid-level elevations. So, warmth is necessary at all times, but it doesn’t need extreme heat. Normal indoor temperatures will be fine, say 65 to 75 °F (18 to 25 °C). Especially avoid exposing it to temperatures below 50 °F (10 °C).

Weather Icons

Humidity

This is the plant’s weak point. It does love humid air and will thrive at 80% or even 90% humidity. That’s a bit much for homes! 60% should be enough. Well, barely enough for geo, but spot on for humans.

So, it would normally do fine indoors in the spring and summer, when humidity in most regions is highest. As fall moves in and especially when winter takes hold, air indoors tends to become excessively dry. A humidifier could well be necessary at that season. Or bag the plant (read Bag Delicate Houseplants for the Winter to learn more).

Don’t waste time spraying the plant in an effort to raise air humidity: it’s a total waste of time. Read why here: Horticultural Myth: Misting Your Houseplants.

Helpful Hint: One way I decide whether a houseplant website is put together by someone who really knows their stuff as opposed to someone who simply thinks they do is if the author recommends spraying plants to increase atmospheric humidity. To me, anyone recommending spraying is clearly spreading misinformation and therefore their site can’t be trusted!

Repotting

Geo is quite fast-growing and you may need to repot (and possibly divide) annually. You can use any regular well-aerated potting soil, including rinsed coco fiber. It’s best to repot in spring or early summer. Avoid fall and winter if you can.

Fertilizer

A good basic all-purpose fertilizer is all you need for this not-so-needy plant. Or whatever other fertilizer you happen to have on hand. Apply at half the recommended rate (or half as often) from spring until early fall. And if you don’t fertilize . . . well, your geo will probably do just fine!

Propagation

This plant is easy to divide in spring. You’ll discover when you repot it that it has tuberous rhizomes you can separate and repot. You can also take stem cuttings. Root them in moist potting mix under high humidity (under a transparent dome or inside a clear plastic bag) and warm temperatures.

Grooming

Remove yellowing or dead leaves. Give the plant a quarter turn in the same direction each week to ensure symmetrical growth.

Insects and Diseases

Geo is no more sensitive to pests and diseases than other indoor plants. In fact, it’s tougher than many. Still, always inspect plants before purchase and isolate them for at least a month once they arrive at your home. If you see a pest, identify it and look for an appropriate treatment.

Geo-Locating a Geo

Geo looks just great in my crowded office! Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

Geo is a new, trendy plant. So new, many garden centers have never even heard of it. You can expect to have trouble finding it and to have to pay a lot for a specimen. So, when I googled “Geogenanthus ciliatus Canada” (Canada, because I wanted a source in my country) . . . and my local hardware store popped up, I was speechless! And they sold it at a very reasonable price, too.

And do expect the price to come down soon: it’s so very easy to propagate!


So, check geo out. You will be able to find it, but the price can vary a lot. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy trying this very original plant.

Garden writer and blogger, author of more than 60 gardening books, the laidback gardener, Larry Hodgson, lives and gardens in Quebec City, Canada. The Laidback Gardener blog offers more than 2,500 articles to passionate home gardeners, always with the goal of demystifying gardening and making it easier for even novice gardeners. If you have a gardening question, enter it in Search: the answer is probably already there!

2 comments on “The Geo: Possibly The Coolest Houseplant Ever!

  1. That is so cool.

  2. An attractive plant. Looks like it would be more related to Pepperomia than Tradescantia with it’s rounded shiny leaves.

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