Garden Myth: Male Spider Plants Produce No Babies


Am I a boy or a girl? Source:,, montage:

You’d be surprised at how often I hear the following bit of useless horticultural information: that if a spider plant, also called airplane plant, (Chlorophytum comosum) produces no “babies” (plantlets), it must be a male. And that would seem logical, wouldn’t it, as don’t only female animals produce animal babies?

But that, of course, is nonsense. The sex of a plant has nothing to do with whether it produces offsets (babies). They’re a form of asexual reproduction: no exchange with any other plant is needed, male or female. And it just so happens that the spider plant, like the vast majority of plants, has “perfect” flowers, that is, bisexual ones. Both male and female organs are present and functional. It’s therefore hermaphroditic, both male and female.

The Real Reasons Why Spider Plants Produce No Babies


This spider plant is simply a bit too young to produce babies. It will in a month or so! Source:

If the spider plant produces no babies, therefore, it’s for some other reason. And that’s usually because it’s either too young (it usually needs to be about a year old before it will produce offsets) or it’s not getting the growing conditions it needs.

And that’s none too common.

It just so happens that a spider plant is an extremely easy plant to grow (indoors at least, outdoors, it needs a tropical climate). It will put up with irregular waterings, prolonged drought, little or no fertilizer and barely tolerable temperatures and yet will still produce at least a few babies on its famous hanging stems.

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This light-starved spider plant is just barely alive: it certainly doesn’t have enough energy to reproduce! Source: Ju-Lee,

So when a spider plant produces no babies, it’s almost always for one simple reason: it’s not getting enough light!

Remember that light is the only source of energy for green (photosynthetic) plants. For them, light is as important as food is for humans. Spider plants are incredibly tenacious and will hang on for years under low-light conditions, essentially half-starved all that time, but they will not bloom under those conditions … and for them, blooming is essential for baby-making.

Flower Stems Bear Baby Plants

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First the stem produces flowers, then “babies” appear. Source: Reaperman, Wikimedia Commons

You see, under even moderately good light, spider plants will produce arching flower stalks that bear tiny white flowers. None too showy and fairly short-lived, they may go unnoticed. However, even as flower buds appear, the flower stalk continues lengthening, now arching downward under the weight of little plantlets that form on it. These are the “babies” you’ve been expecting. The larger and the more numerous the plantlets, the more the stem droops, giving the plant its well-known trailing habit. But still, it needs to bloom before it will pop out babies … and that requires light.

In the wild (it’s a widely distributed groundcover in Sub-Saharan Africa), the spider plant, of course, grows on the ground and the arching stem soon touches the earth where the babies now root, resulting in more spider plants. Thus, the spider plant spreads more through asexual reproduction (rooted plantlets) than it does through sexual reproduction.

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Bright light means plenty of babies: it’s as simple as that! Source: Florian Wickem, Wikimedia Commons

In hanging baskets, it just keeps producing more and more hanging flower stems and even the baby plants in free fall begin to produce their own flower stems, causing the plant to cascade downward even further … and that is what makes the spider plant such a popular houseplant.

Light is Right

But for abundant babies, the spider plant needs good light. And for even a modest number of babies, at least moderate light. Under poor light, it will simply produce leaves.

So now that you know, move your “male” spider plants to a brighter spot and soon it will be a mommy!


How the Spider Plant Got Its Name

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In spite what you might think, the spider plant does not get its name from any supposed ressemblance to a spider. Source: &

I’ve always assumed the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) got its name from its hanging stems, ones that drip down like so many spider legs. Or possible from its rosette of arching leaves. Aren’t they vaguely spideresque? Or maybe because of its numerous somewhat spidery babies?

However, it turns out the plant’s appearance has nothing to do with its name.

Here’s what happened.

A Long, Long Time Ago, In Europe

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St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago) certainly looks quite similar to the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). Source:  Meneerke bloem, Wikimedia Commons

There is a European plant called Anthericum liliago that was widely believed to be an antidote to spider bites. This belief is a very ancient one found throughout the Mediterranean region, including Greece, Spain, Italy and France. In these countries, this plant is commonly called something that would translate as spider plant, for example, hierba contra la araña or hierba de la araña (Spanish), phalangère (Phalangium is a type of a type of spider), herbe à l’araignée or plante-araignée (French), etc.

As far as I can see, there is no association between A. liliago and spider bites in the English-speaking world. Instead, the plant usually goes under the common name St. Bernard’s lily. (No, I don’t know where that name comes from!)

Out of Africa

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The flowers of Chlorophytum comosum are very similar to those of Anthericum liliago, although borne on arching rather than upright stems. Source:  Daniel Villafruela, Wikimedia Commons

When Chlorophytum comosum, native to the forests of South and West Africa, was first formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg in 1794, he called it Anthericum comosum, considering it a close relative of St. Bernard’s lily (A liliago), southern Europe’s “spider plant”. And indeed, other than St. Bernard’s lily being a more upright grower, the two have a lot in common, including grasslike leaves and nearly identical small white flowers.

Both plants were later moved to a new genus, Phalangium (which, if you recall, is the name of a spider) by French botanists, again because of the believed spider-bite antidote status of what was now Phalangium liliago, thus reinforcing the  belief.

By the time our plant was moved to its current placement in Chlorophytum in 1862 (the St. Bernard lily was late put back into the genus Anthericum), Chlorophytum comosum was already being called spider plant (or the regional equivalent of the same) and that name has stuck ever since.

By the way, the name Chlorophytum has nothing to do with spiders: it simply means “green plant”.

So, your spider plant got its name from the supposed spider-bite cure properties of a close relative.

That said, I suggest you not try and apply spider plant juice on the wound the next time you are bitten by a venomous spider, but rather that you see a doctor!20180205A ENG & .jpg

15 Easy Houseplants for Beginners

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Start with easy houseplants before you move on to the more complicated ones. Source: Darlene Taylor, YouTube

Why do novice gardeners always seem to start with the most complicated houseplants? Gardenias, bonsais, carnivorous plants, living stones and, in fact, flowering plants in general (hibiscus, azaleas, etc.) are the ones even the most experienced gardeners often struggle to grow. Ideally, if you’re a beginning gardener, you’d start with easy plants, ones that can put up with both a bit of neglect and overly enthusiastic care.

Once you’ve successfully kept a few easy plants alive and in reasonably good shape for a year or so, consider your thumb to be getting green. Then you’ll be ready to move on to more difficult varieties.

The following 15 plants are about as close to unkillable as any plant could be and will succeed in almost all indoor conditions. In particular, they’ll tolerate low light and irregular waterings, always the leading causes of houseplant death, and will also put up with dry air, another major problem in many homes.

  1. Aspidistra or Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
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Aspidistra (Aspidistra elatior). Source:

This old-fashioned houseplant is back on the market. It gets the common name from its cast-iron constitution. Or maybe it’s slow growth is what gives the impression it’s made of cast iron. In fact, though, it does grow, only very slowly. An aspidistra looks rather like a giant clump of lily of the valley, but without the flowers. Its dark green leathery leaves are sometimes spotted or striped yellow or white. It’s very tolerant of low light and in fact, doesn’t much appreciate full sun.

  1. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
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Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Source:

This is an upright-growing plant with short, thick stems and fleshy lanceolate leaves, often marked with silver and sometimes, in newer cultivars, with pink or red instead. Its growth is extremely slow … but it tolerates all but the darkest corners! It may even bloom one day and produce attractive red berries … but that can take years! It’s best to consider it as being a foliage plant.

  1. Dieffenbachia or Dumbcane (Dieffenbachia)
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Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia). Source:

This is a strongly upright growing plant erect with a thick “trunk” and huge broad leaves usually spotted with white. When it reaches the ceiling (and it will over time), just cut off the top and reroot it as a cutting. A new stalk will also appear from the base of the mother plant. The name dumbcane refers to the fact that it’s toxic sap can render the chewer temporarily incapable of speech, but don’t ever chew on this plant, even as a joke: it’s poisonous! This is an old-time favorite, often found in dark churches and office hallways where it has apparently been growing since forever.

  1. Dracaena or Dragon Tree (Dracaena spp.)
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Dracaena (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’). Source:

There are several species of Dracaena, but the easiest to cultivate is the so-called corn plant (D. fragans), the one with a thick, woody trunk and large, arching, lanceolate leaves, sometimes with a yellowish band in the center. It does indeed look like a corn plant! D. deremensis, often just called dracaena, is similar and indeed, is now considered simply a variety of D. fragrans (yes, change your plant label!). Just as easy to grow as the original D. fragrans, it has narrower, darker green leaves, sometimes striped white or yellow.

  1. Dwarf Schefflera or Dwarf Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola, syn. Heptapleurum arboricola)
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Dwarf Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola). Source:

Much easier to grow than the other commonly grown schefflera, the one with larger leaves (S. actinophylla), the only truly dwarf thing about the dwarf schefflera is its leaves, as it can become quite a sizable indoor tree over time. It has dark green palmately compound leaves, definitely a bit umbrella like. In some cultivars, they are variegated with white, cream or yellow markings. Its branches tend to arch out at awkward angles: don’t hesitate to prune them back to stimulate denser, more attractive growth. A classic plant for banks and malls because of its indifference to neglect.

  1. False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis, syn. O. regnellii)
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False Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis). Source:

No, it’s not a true shamrock (Trifolium), but it does bear three leaflets, each triangular in form. They can be green or purple, often with a silver or pink mark. Oddly, they close up at night. This is probably the easiest houseplant to bloom and indeed, flowers quite readily and pretty much all year, with pink or white flowers. It’s very easy to grow and can go fully dormant if you neglect it long enough, then sprout anew from its underground rhizomes when you start to water again. That said, it’s certainly not maintenance-free, always needing a bit of grooming, as there always seem to be a few dried leaves or dead flowers to remove.

  1. Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata, syn. F. pandurata)
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Fiddleleaf Fig (Ficus lyrata). Source:

Probably the easiest of the many figs or ficuses sold as houseplants, it doesn’t drop its leaves when you move it like the more commonly grown weeping fig (Ficus benjamina). The large dark green leathery leaves are indeed fiddle-shaped, as the common name suggests. It becomes huge over time: don’t hesitate to cut it back when it goes too far.

  1. Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum, formerly P. scandens, P. cordatum and P. oxycardium)
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Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). Source:

This climbing aroid bears dark green heart-shaped leaves. Its shade tolerance is legendary: I know of plants over 50 years old that have not seen a single ray of direct sun since they were purchased! You can grow this plant up a trellis or moss stake or let it dangle attractively from a hanging basket. Note that this plant has gone through several botanical name changes over the years and is now Philodendron hederaceum. Let’s hope this name sticks!

  1. Hoya, Wax Plant or Porcelainflower (Hoya carnosa)
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Hoya (Hoya carnosa). Source: Yvan Leduc, Wikimedia Commons

The hoya is one of the few plants that blooms well even in the shade. On the other hand, the growth of this climbing plant is terribly slow: it can take 5 to 10 years before producing its first umbels of pink or white perfumed flowers, each with a darker crown in the center. In the meantime, fortunately, its foliage is attractive: thick and waxy, sometimes variegated or curiously twisted. It’s a climbing or hanging plant whose stems tend to get out of hand, so you may need to do a bit of pruning.

  1. Ponytail Palm or Elephant’s Foot (Beaucarnea recurvata)
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Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata). Source:

Succulent plant with a surprising tolerance of dark corners (most succulents require intense light). The trunk of this small tree is swollen at the base, like an elephant’s foot, while its long, narrow, often wavy leaves hang down like a pony tail, the source of its common names. It’s a tough, easy plant, but very slow growing.

  1. Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
20180126M Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen'.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’). Source:

Very similar in appearance and habit to the heartleaf philodendron, but with leaves not as distinctly heart-shaped and always streaked or marbled yellow or white. Like the philodendron, you can grow it either as a climber or a trailer.

  1. Snake Plant or Mother-in-law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
20180126I Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii'

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’). Source:

This succulent has long, leathery, lance-shaped, dark green leaves with gray mottling that rise from the soil in tight clumps. There are also both dwarf varieties (bird’s nest sansevierias) and cultivars with various kinds of leaf coloring, from entirely dark green to highly variegated. It’s one of the most shade-tolerant houseplants, although in fact it prefers intense sunlight.

  1. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
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Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’). Source:

Always popular, with a rosette of thin, arching, ribbon-like leaves often streaked with creamy white. It’s usually surrounded by countless “babies” on trailing umbilical cords (actually, stolons) and is popular as a hanging basket plant. It will tolerate most indoor conditions, but will stop producing plantlets if it doesn’t receive at least medium light.

  1. Syngonium or Arrowhead Vine (Sygonium)
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Syngonium (Syngonium podophyllum). Source:

Another obvious philodendron relative, just as resistant to low light. Young plants produce a compact rosette of arrow-shaped leaves sometimes marbled or streaked with cream, pink or red, but the plant completely changes its habit over time, developing long climbing or trailing stems and deeply cut leaves. You can prune it back to keep it in its juvenile appearance.

  1. ZZ Plant or Aroid Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
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ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Source:

This is plant is an aroid (as plants in the philodendron family are called), but it’s a very unusual one and it certainly couldn’t look less like a philodendron! Instead, it bears pinnate fronds with shiny leaflets and a distinctly swollen petiole, making it look like a palm or cycad, but without a trunk. It’s perfectly at ease in the shadiest spots and very tolerant of neglect.

Easy Peasy Plant Care


Caring for these 15 houseplants is pretty basic. Source:

Obviously, each of these plants has its preferences when it comes to growing conditions, but all of them are tolerant of a wide range of environments, from full sun to deep shade (with, I hope, at least some light: after all, the plants receive all their energy from the sun)! They also make great office plants, able to grow far from the nearest window, living strictly on light coming from ceiling fixtures. All are perfectly fine with normal indoor temperatures and will tolerate dry indoor air in winter … but most would still prefer good atmospheric humidity if you can supply it.

As for watering, simply apply the golden rule of watering: water deeply, enough to moisten the entire root ball, then allow the soil to dry before watering again. Really, caring for them couldn’t be easier!

You don’t even need to fertilize these plants! At least, not if you’re growing them in low light. Under good lighting, you can simply apply an all-purpose fertilizer at a quarter of the manufacturer’s recommended does from April to October.

And there you go! 15 houseplants that you can place almost anywhere indoors and that will decorate your home for decades. Practice using these very basic, hard-to-kill plants to build up your indoor gardening skills before you start experimenting with more complicated houseplants, such as flowering plants, bonsais, living stones and others.

Have fun!20180126A Darlene Taylor, YouTube

Houseplant Weeds


Kalanchoes (here K. daigremontiana) readily invade neighbouring pots and can be quite the pests!

You thought that by moving indoors to garden you were leaving the world of weeding behind? Well, think again. Like the weeds of our gardens and lawns, there are both weedy houseplants and houseplant weeds, plants that ready spread from pot to pot, seeking to take over the main plant’s space. And they really aren’t that rare. If you grow houseplants, you probably already know some of these plants already.

Guilty Parties

Here are a few of the plants that are often weeds indoors.



Baby plants crowd the kalanchoe’s leaf margin and readily come free.

Several kalanchoes (Kalanchoe daigremontiana, K. pinnata, K. laetivirens, etc.), all once formerly included in the genus Bryophyllum, have the curious habit of producing plantlets along the edge of their leaves. That is just soooo cute! And it gives you plenty of babies to share with your friends… but the babies readily “jump” into the neighboring pots and set up shop. They don’t actually jump, of course, but fall or get knocked free. Even so, when the pot next store fills up with the no-longer-quite-so-cute adolescent kalanchoes, there will be quite a bit of weeding to do.

Worse yet, kalanchoes are allelopathic: that is, they release toxic products that harm the plants whose pot they share. Thus, the desired plant grows less vigorously or may even die.

It’s better to put “jumping kalanchoes” in their place and not let them spread around indiscriminately!

Purple Shrimp Plant


Purple shrimp plant (Porphyrocoma pohliana)

This is a charming little houseplant in the Acanthaceae family with an as yet unresolved botanical name (Porphyrocoma pohliana and Justicia scheidweileri are on the short list). It’s certainly pretty enough, with shiny leaves highlighted by silver veins and a long-lasting red “cone” at its top from which the more ephemeral purple flowers appear.

This one just showed up in my plant collection one day, undoubtedly having hitched a ride in another plant’s pot. Now I find it all over the place.

Polka Dot Plant


Polka dot plant (Hypestes phyllostachya)

The polka dot plant or freckle face plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya), likewise in the Acanthaceae family, is a low-growing mound-forming plant with leaves dotted with spots and splotches in white, red or pink, sometimes to the point where there is little green visible, and likewise self-sows. The inconspicuous flowers often go sight unseen, but the baby plants that pop up here and there are much more readily visible.

Spider Plant


Flowers of the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Who doesn’t know the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) with its long arching stolons (in fact, flower stems) bearing baby plants? However, unlike the kalanchoe, the babies aren’t normally invasive unless they happen to touch a pot of moist potting soil, as they don’t break free on their own. Instead, it’s the fairly insignificant small white flowers that produce pods of small black seeds that lead to small spider plants popping up in neighboring pots. They’re helped along by the fact that most people grow spider plants in hanging baskets, so their seeds can readily drop into any pots below.

Do note that any seedlings produced are all green, never bearing the cream to white stripes typical of most spider plant cultivars.


Orange spider plant (Chlorophytum orchidantheroides)

C. comosum is not the only spider plant that self-sows a bit too vigorously. The orange spider plant, confusingly known by several names, including C. orchidantheroides, C. amaniense and C. orchidastrum, sometimes modified by the cultivar name ‘Fire Flash’, can also be invasive. Nothing like its grasslike cousin, it forms a rosette of fairly broad leaves with an orange petiole and midrib and does not produce hanging stems. Still it blooms readily and its seeds can jump from pot to pot.

The same also goes also for the large-leaved spider plant (C. macrophyllum), another rosette type with large green leaves. It is, in fact, the most invasive of the three.

Madagascar Jewel


Madagascar jewel (Euphorbia leuconeura)

Most of the succulent euphorbias (Euphorbia spp.) stay in the pots you planted them in, but there is one exception: Madagascar jewel (Euphorbia leuconeura), with an erect swollen stem, eventually quite treelike, and oblong leaves with white veins, at least on young plants. The flowers are insignificant, but produce a seed pod that “explodes” at maturity, launching seeds in all directions, up to 15 feet (5 m) from the mother plant.

You often find this euphorbia in plant exchanges: people who have one always have plenty of babies to give away!



Grendelion (Dorstenia foetida)

This truly bizarre (and frankly, none too pretty) succulent in the fig family, Dorstenia foetida, produces one or more uptight succulent stems with a bulbous base and intriguing flat shieldlike flowers looking vaguely like a green sunflower. It too launches its seeds everywhere.

Umbrella Palm


Umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolia)

Also called umbrella sedge and umbrella papyrus, the umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius) is a popular grasslike houseplant that grows best when left constantly soaking in water. It has a characteristic whorl of narrow leaves at its stem tips. Under good conditions it produces a profusion of pale green flowers that turn brown over time and these release light-as-air seeds that germinate in nearby pots, producing little plants that look just like tiny clumps of grass at first.

Artillery Plant


Artillery plant (Pilea microphylla)

The artillery plant or artillery fern, Pilea microphylla, is not a fern, but the arching stems bear tiny leaves and flowers so small that you can scarcely see them without a magnifying glass. That doesn’t prevent it from invading the pots of other plants through its extra-tiny seeds, though!

Creeping Woodsorrel


Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata)

This trifoliate plant with yellow flowers (Oxalis corniculata) is strictly a weed: no one would ever think of growing it on purpose. Even so, this small Eurasian weed somehow made its way into commercial greenhouses at some time in the distant past and is now a common houseplant weed worldwide, especially in pots of cactus and succulents. It isn’t too strict about C&S plants though, and will move in on any of your houseplants if you don’t ruthlessly yank it out before it produces seed.



Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)

Ferns produce lighter-than-air spores and therefore can travel through our homes on air currents. They can land anywhere, although most need moist conditions in order to sprout. They love my basement where I find them growing in many pots, especially in seed trays, where the high humidity is much to their liking. Among the species suffering from wanderlust are holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), ladder brake (Pteris vittata) and maidenhead ferns (Adiantum raddianum and others).

Whisk Broom


Whisk broom (Psilotum nudum)

This bizarre plant (Psilotum nudum) has no roots or leaves, only thin green upright branches that fork repeatedly and a creeping underground rhizome. Bunched together, the branches can be used as a small broom, whence the common name. Long classified as a fern ally, the whisk broom was recently determined to be a true fern, albeit a very primitive one. Its spores are carried about by moving air. Oddly, they germinate underground (most ferns germinate on the soil’s surface) and start their life as a parasite on soil fungus, a very unfernlike habit indeed.



Mosses in a flower pot

Yes, mosses also settle in our houseplant pots, most probably brought in from outdoors by the wind, as their spores are so small they can easily slip through window screens. Mosses mainly tend to appear in soil that is on the moist side, such as in pots of seedlings, but you’ll even find them in cactus pots.

Personally, I just let mosses grow: they create a nice green carpet that hides the soil from view and don’t harm their host. Terrarium lovers too enjoy mosses and often install various types in their miniature gardens.



Liverwort (Marchantia sp.)

Liverworts (Marchantia spp.) are closely related to mosses, but they’re much less welcome than mosses when they show up in pots. That’s because they form soil-hugging carpets so dense that the soil’s air circulation is compromised and that can lead to the pot’s main inhabitant to suffer from root rot. To get rid of liverworts, scrape off a ½ inch (1 cm) layer of potting mix and replace it with fresh soil. Be careful how you water, too, as the presence of liverworts often indicates overwatering.

If you grow houseplants, sooner or later you’re bound to find one or more of these invasive plants in your pots. It’s up to you to decide whether they are enemies to eliminate… or cute new plants that deserve their own pot!20170116a