Chlorophytum (2017)

PhotoBy Bob Williams (February 2017)

There is a benefit to having your spouse or significant other enjoy the same hobby that you do. For example, if you attend the club Christmas party, and your spouse says, “That’s a nice-looking plant,” you have a Christmas present to put near the tree. If it is a part of the auction, you are under pressure to actually win the plant. This past December, it was my lucky day – neither Pam nor Chris showed interest in my plant. Chlorophytum suffruticosum crest was mine to wrap and put under the tree.

The tricky part was finding care instructions. The genera Chlorophytum is not typically associated with succulent lovers. According to my research, there are over 150 species within Chlorophytum. Out of those, only two seem of interest to the succulent crowd: C. suffruticosum and C. orchidastrum. There also seems to be some debate as to which family Chlorophytum belongs. It is either part of the Anthericaceae family or the Liliaceae, depending on the source.

One interesting fact about the Chlorophytum species is that it contains one of the most popular plants sold. Many HSCSS members have probably had this plant at one time or another – C. comosum, the common spider plant.

Why my plant is associated with a spider plant is beyond me. According to the literature I read, the roots of chloropyhtums are thicker, and many species have tuberous roots. They are found in the tropical regions of southern Africa, India and into Australia. For most species, the flowers are small and white in color. These are some of the easiest plants to grow. However, when looking at my plant, I did not feel the recommended care would be the the same as for the spider plant.

C. suffruticosum is found in eastern and central Africa. The plant is not found in the rainforest regions, but in drier areas. Since it grows in dry regions, the base grows close to the ground, flat and knobby. The base of the plant can reach 18 inches across. I could not find any information as to how long the stems grow.

The leaves grow from the ends of the stems and can reach 15 inches long and 1 inch wide. They are similar to the leaves of the spider plant. The flowers are also similar to those of the spider plant. The flower stalks grow from the ends of the stems. The flowers are small (1.5 inches across) and white, and each stalk can have up to 25 flowers. Flowering can occur any time of the year, and the plant can flower multiple times during the year.

C. suffruticosum requires partial shade and a well-draining soil mix. The plants only need four or five hours of direct sunlight per day. The rest of the day, bright indirect light will do.

This plant’s watering requirements are different than for most of the succulents we are used to. You should not allow the soil to dry for a long period of time. If you do, the plant will lose its leaves. During the winter, a light watering is needed every 10 days to two weeks.

This plant is not cold-hardy and doesn’t like temperatures below 40 degrees. If subjected to colder temperatures for a longer time, the tubers tend to rot. The plants are propagated by seeds or cuttings.

This plant is not common on the market. C. orchidastrum can be found on eBay, but the C. suffruticosum I bought is like my wife, rare and one of a kind. Both to be treasured.