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What can You Do for Houseplants with Root Rot?

Now at the beginning of winter is among the most common times to overwater your houseplant and start to see signs of root rot. We may be spending more time being at home, cleaning the house, and decorating our living spaces. We want to take good care of our houseplants. We want to tend to them and give them water, right? Well, no. Here is what you can do for houseplants with root rot due to overwatering.

Temperatures, humidity levels, and light exposure are all dropping during this time. Most houseplants don’t actually go dormant during the winter. But they do slow their growth rate and nutrient absorption to conserve energy and match the environment during the winter season. The air may feel drier in your home with a forced-air furnace, but the warmer temperatures still mean water evaporates more quickly in the summer.

Does Your Houseplant Have Root Rot?

If you notice signs of yellowing or wilted growth shortly after you start watering a houseplant more frequently, there’s a good chance it’s a sign of root rot. Mild yellowing, browning, or wilted growth may have to do with slight imbalances in pH or insufficient nutrients. This could have to do with soil composition or too much or too little light exposure. Nevertheless, overwatering and root rot are among the most common problems with houseplants, especially during this time of year. Learn more about what root rot is exactly.

Treatment of Root Rot in Houseplants

The final step in identifying root rot is also the first step in helping your houseplant recover from rot. You need to remove the houseplant from the soil and wash as much of the soil off the roots as possible. You want just the roots, stems and foliage. You want to visualize as much of the roots as possible. What you’re looking for is color and consistency. Healthy roots for most every type of houseplant will be white and firm to the touch. Roots with rot will be brown and a little mushy. Like it’s decomposing. Look at the periphery of the root structure. The tips of the roots are where most rot problems start.

Once fungal spores have started to multiply and get a foothold, there’s little that can be done to save the affected part of the root. What can be done is to remove any and all significant fungal growth. After you’ve washed the roots completely clean, use sharp scissors or small pruning shears to cut off the damaged part of the root. Save as much of the healthy root as you can, but be sure to remove any part of the root that seems soft or brown. This is why it’s so important to treat root rot as soon as you suspect a problem. If the foliage above the affected root is yellow or damaged, remove it as well if you haven’t already.

Next, spray the roots down with a fungicide to make sure any remaining spores can’t start multiplying again. Put the houseplants aside in a safe place. You will need to throw away the old potting soil. Sanitize the pot with a diluted solution of bleach (1%), hydrogen peroxide (3%) or vinegar (5%), and then rinse with water. Use fresh potting mix to repot the plant.

Road to Recovery from Root Rot

You can apply some root growth stimulant when first repotting, but you don’t want to use fertilizer while the roots are regrowing. Fertilizer helps established roots deliver even more nutrients to the plant’s foliage and flowers, but it doesn’t help the roots themselves.

The most important thing to help your houseplant recover from root rot is avoid overwatering the houseplant without neglecting it altogether. Make sure you know whether that type of houseplant truly thrives on neglect or whether you just got overzealous. Be patient. The plant may not recover overnight or even after the first week, but if you follow these steps and you still have a decent amount of healthy roots to work with, your houseplant should rebound in a major way before too long.

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What You Need to Know about Bottom Watering Houseplants

Bottom watering houseplants is popular among some people, but if you don’t know why and how to water plants from the bottom, you could end up hurting the plant. The harm can happen primarily in one of two ways. Either the water doesn’t reach the top of the soil leaving it perpetually dried out, or the water sits in the bottom of the pot for too long causing root rot infiltrate the root extremities and spread up from there. At the same time, there can be solid reasons for choosing this strategy, at least some of time, for watering houseplants.

Why People Choose to Bottom Water Houseplants

  • Cold Water Spots: Some houseplants are susceptible to permanent cell damage from the thermal shock of cold water landing on their leaves. The tiny white scars that form are mostly harmless. One solution to avoid cold water spots is to water that is close to room temperature, but bottom watering also helps guard against this problem. Similarly, the minerals in hard tap water can leave a powdery mildew. Use filtered or purified water. If you bottom water with tap water, it’s a good idea to periodically measure the soil pH and amend the potting mix as needed for that houseplant.
  • Wet Feet and Rotting Crowns: Have you heard there are some houseplants that don’t like wet leaves? First, it’s important to know that these plants are, in fact, fine with their leaves getting wet. It’s the divots at the bottom of the leaves, known as the crown, that can suffer from rot when water collects in these areas for too long. If you notice a lot of water has fallen into these crowns during top watering, it’s not a bad idea to take a paper towel and soak some of it up. But another way to get around this problem is to bottom water these plants most of the time.
  • Convenience and Access: Even a houseplant with foliage that doesn’t mind getting wet can be difficult to water from the top, if the foliage and stems are crowding out access to the potting soil. Watering from the top may lead to runoff and make a small mess. Access may also be an issue with a tall wall shelf, where you can barely reach the plant to begin with. Why not just put the houseplant in a catchment pot and put a bunch of water in there for the roots to soak up? This is certainly an option, but to do it right, it may not be as convenient as you think. It’s simply too hard to get the water levels right where the plant can soak up enough water without exposing the bottoms of the root to rot.
  • Fungus Gnats and Moisture-Loving Pests: For some environments and for some plants, it may be beneficial to keep the top level of potting soil. To be clear, most houseplants pests thrive in lower humidity levels, but there are a few exceptions, and fungus gnats are by far the most common of these. Thus, if you live in a more humid climate and you’ve had trouble with fungus gnats in the past, you could try to moving to a mostly bottom watering technique as part of your gnat control and prevention measures.

Tips for Bottom Watering Houseplants

  • Rather than throw a bunch of water in a catchment pot indefinitely, use a removable catchment. You can then soak the houseplant in water for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the type and size of the plant, before removing the catchment and letting the roots breathe.
  • Get a fancy self-watering pot. We recommend the kind with separate reservoirs, overflow holes, and a wick to draw the water up to the top of the plant. Basic self-watering pots may also work, but you continue to run the risk of root rot.
  • When generally watering houseplants from the bottom, you might get out a water bottle and mist the top of your plants and soil. This will keep the top of the soil from drying out completely with minimal risk of rot.
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Find Out What Types of Houseplants Don’t Like Wet Leaves

Strange as it sounds, some houseplants don’t like wet leaves. Technically, their leaves are fine, but when the water pools in the “crown” at the bottom of their leaves, you can have problems. This is sometimes called plants with “wet feet.” Left in this state for too long, rot can take hold and slowly destroy that part of the plant. Larger areas of rot may also choke off nutrients and cause the foliage to die back.

How is this possible? Don’t plants get rained in the wild? Even tropical forest plants that like humid conditions in general can have leaves that don’t like being wet. The answer is a combination of factors. Water evaporates more quickly outside, and there’s a lot more airflow which also helps. Thus, rarely do you see large-scale problems with this type of water damage, but there’s nothing that says plants in the wild are immune from rot.

The other big problem with wet leaves occurs when using cold water. The thermal shock of cold water can disrupt photosynthetic activity and permanently damage the structure of palisade leaf cells. The result is white spots on the leaves that are harmless but close to permanent, like scars. Unless you are especially careless and use especially cold water, these spots won’t threaten the overall health of the plant.

Types of Houseplants that Don’t Like Wet Leaves

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does include the most popular houseplants that fit this profile. Moreover, some are more vulnerable to this type of water damage than others.

African Violets: These houseplants are particularly difficult to care for, but they do have a few eccentricities including not liking wet feet. More than just watering technique, it’s important to look at the foliage of your African violet. Individual plants may have especially tight crowns that need to be watched. This is also a plant that’s susceptible to cold water spots.

Orchids: Orchids are known for having large, broad leaves that are sensitive to both direct light and standing water. In nature, some types of orchids grow upside down reducing the likelihood that water gets trapped in the crown. At home, be mindful of water that runs down into the bottom of the leaves. Some people also use ice cubes to slowly release water but also to decrease the temperature during the winter to help stimulate new shoots and flowers.

Snake Plants: This houseplant is among the most susceptible to root rot from wet feet. Even misting can lead to enough moisture for rot to take hold. The good news is that snake plants don’t need water all that often, and they are otherwise among the most versatile plants with high tolerances for light exposure, humidity levels, and temperature.

Cape Primrose/Streps: This houseplant isn’t immune to root rot and wet feet, but it’s especially vulnerable to cold water spots and mineral stains. The cape primrose has broad leaves and a sprawling pattern that make a long-nosed watering can important for reaching the potting soil and keeping the leaves dry.

Pygmy Date Palm: Some houseplants are vulnerable to specific kinds of rot and fungal growth. The pygmy date palm is a good example. The pestalotiopsis fungus has a particular liking for these palms. They get a foothold with the leaves are wet, but can often beyond a chronic problem that houseplant owners have to continually treat with root rot.

Watering Tips for These Houseplants

One of the surest ways to make sure that leaves stay dry is by bottom watering the houseplant. Another basic, but effective, tool is the long-nosed watering can. Just because the potting soil is hard to see or get to and just because there’s some danger to the leaves, it’s still important for every part of the soil to receive enough water to release its nutrients.

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Why Now is the Best Time of Year for a New Houseplant

Spring is the best time of year for a new houseplant or repotting an existing one. The ample amounts of light provide extra energy that the houseplant can use to get established, whether it’s acclimating to a new pot or acclimating to a new spot. Giving houseplants the length of the growing season sets them up for the best chances of success. It’s also a great way to acknowledge the start of the spring season. It doesn’t have to be the official start at the equinox, either. Take care of your spring houseplant care, new plants, and repotting at the end of February or beginning of March. That way, you can get things a little dirty and then you can tackle your spring cleaning head-on.

Best Time of Year to Start a Houseplant from a Cutting

One exception to this rule is starting a houseplant from a cutting that will grow new roots. In this case, it may be better to wait till late spring or early summer in which the plant foliage is likely to be strongest. The cutting and new plant will still have the rest of the growing season to establish its roots and prepare for next winter, but weaker cutting may never get established at all. This is the big reason why it’s usually recommended to take at least 2-3 cuttings in anticipation that they may not all make it.

More Times of Year to Start a Houseplant

There is no wrong time of year. If you have a good spot and proper plant care, most plants will find their footing and start to thrive before too long. If you’re repotting or just bringing a houseplant home to a new spot, it’s not uncommon for plant foliage to show signs of distress. Often, this is just a sign that the houseplant is working to establish new roots, rather than grow new leaves. Before long, the foliage will bounce back and, in the right conditions, eclipse its former glory.

You can try to cheat a little by putting the houseplant in a sunnier window spot during the winter before moving it to more partial shade in the spring. (Of course, if the houseplant likes lots of strong light, it should have a sunnier spot on a permanent basis.) There are a couple different philosophies here. Many plants are well-suited to the seasonal changes of natural light that happen at moderate and higher latitudes. Now, if it’s a tropical plant in its natural habitat, these houseplants may be better adapted to more consistent amounts of light throughout the year. (Note, however, that many tropical plants are adapted to living in the shade of trees and don’t necessary like lots of direct sunlight.)

The type of houseplant matters for more than just modifying the light exposure. It’s easy to find sources that offer plants that can be grown indoors in the fall, but it’s also revealing that these houseplant lists are dominated by resilient, easy-care houseplants.

Best Time to Start Outdoor Plants

There is no wrong time to start a plant, and this is true of many outdoor plants as well. So long as the ground isn’t in a hard freeze—or we sometimes say until the first snow falls—you can put new plants in the ground. Certainly, in climates with hot dry summers, there’s an additional watering burden for getting outdoor plants established. When growing from seed, it’s often best to plant at the end of the growing season and wait till next year.

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Why and How to Clean Houseplants: Tips, Benefits & Types of Plants

Healthy houseplants are clean houseplants, or are they? Do you need to clean houseplants, and if so, how do you do it? The short answer is that it’s a good idea when done right but isn’t the most important part of houseplant care. Here is what else you should know about how to clean houseplants.

Is It Important to Clean Houseplants?

If you want houseplants that are as healthy and vibrant as possible, then a little light cleaning is a good idea. When a lot of dust builds up on leaves, the plants won’t be able to get the same amount of light and air that it needs for photosynthesis. Often, it boils down to houseplants that survive vs. houseplants that thrive. You can have houseplants for years and never bother to dust or clean their leaves, but if you want these plants to live their best lives with full foliage and flower growth, then yes it’s important to clean. The other reason why you should clean houseplants is that it provides an opportunity to closely inspect your houseplants for signs of pests or disease. Keep an eye out for weak growth, unusual spots, or discoloration.

How to Clean Your Houseplants

First, remove any dead, fallen growth from the soil and area surrounding the pot. Next, remove any diseased, discolored, or dead growth that’s still attached to the plant. Should this be necessary, it’s best to use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to help the plant repair itself and prepare for new growth.

Next, take a clean cloth and gently clean the remaining leaves. A light misting can facilitate this process, but we recommend wiping the leaves with a cloth afterward. Support the leaves with your hand to avoid damage during this process. For houseplants with leaves that don’t like to get wet, like the African violet, you can use a soft-bristle paintbrush or a plain toothbrush if you’re careful. Find more plant cleaning tips.

How NOT to Clean Your Houseplants

There are just a couple things you need to watch out for. You shouldn’t need to scrub or otherwise become abrasive when cleaning houseplant leaves. Simply get the dust or mildew off the leaf. Leaf shine is NOT the way to clean your houseplants. These oils, waxes, and polishes will make your leaves look glossy for a little while, but will clog pores in the leaves and reduce plant respiration. A healthy houseplant will be fine, but if anything, this type of leaf shine treatment is adding stress to your plant.

If you like the look of glossy foliage, we recommend a ZZ plant, schleffera, jade plant, peperomias, or other plants with waxy leaves. The only times we recommend using leaf shine are when you’re trying to impress someone short-term. Home stagers, for example, might use leaf shine on the few potted plants they’ve placed for an open house.

 

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What are the White Spots on My Houseplant?

White spots on houseplants are a common symptom among indoor plants in particular. Different problems can cause these white spots, some of them harmless and easy to fix. Quick, accurate identification of the underlying cause is crucial to know what, if anything, should be done. Fortunately, by considering the characteristics of the spots and your houseplant care habits, you can usually make an easy and confident diagnosis that points to one of the three potential causes.

Three Common Reasons for White Spots on Houseplants

  • Fungal Growth: These spots are a fungus that look like a thin coating or splatter of white powder. They are one of the biggest reasons we tell people to avoid excessive misting to try to raise the humidity level. More likely, you’ll just create the perfect conditions for this powdery mildew. This is one type of fungus that can tolerate the relatively dry air in most homes, but it doesn’t like a lot of light or air circulation. If you’re seeing these white spots in your low-light areas and full-shade houseplants, it’s a good bet this is your problem. Remove the current growth with a clean cloth, or just use your fingers. Use some type of fungicidal treatment, and then look for ways to increase air circulation like setting up a small fan.
  • Spider Mites, White Flies or Other Pest: Spider mites leave behind webbing designed to protect them from predators as they travel around the plant. However, many houseplant pests are also themselves white. Even common houseplant pests that are usually dark-colored, like aphids, have subtypes that are white. The white spots that are visible to the naked eye are only the full-size adults. Depending on the type of pest, the adults may or may not move. Whiteflies, as the name suggests, can fly around the plant and from plant to plant. Scale insects never move once they become adults. These insects can be removed, but some may not budge easily. You will also need to apply an insecticidal soap as well as follow-up treatments to control any eggs and larvae that may be waiting to create the next generation.
  • Cold-Water Spots: The third type of white spot on houseplants is a cold-water spot. If you have a habit of using water straight from the tap, the thermal shock of cold water can destroy palisade leaf cells and leave a white callous in its place. These cold-water spots are harmless but cannot be removed without cutting out the whole leaf. Avoid using cold water in the future, and they should cease to look like blemishes after a while. You can also try a bottom watering technique for these houseplants.

* Some people also claim that the minerals from hard tap water can accumulate and appear as white spots on leaves. We do recommend using some type of filtered or purified water for your houseplants, but we also recommend ruling out these other causes before assuming it’s mineral buildup that should be treated with a diluted vinegar solution.

White Spots in Potting Soil

Aside from leaves, white spots can also show up in your soil. The most common reason for this is also mold and fungal growth from too much misting and moisture in the top levels of soil. Known as saprophytic soil fungi, these white wispy spots are easy to remove and should respond well to fungicide and better potting soil management.

Other white spots could be a buildup of salt deposits. These types of mineral deposits look a lot different than wispy fungal growth and do not depend on organic material. Thus, even more than the soil, most people first notice these spots showing up on the edge and sides of their pot.

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National Houseplant Appreciation Day: Top 5 Reasons to Appreciate Indoor Plants

Today is National Houseplant Appreciation Day. It may not be the most important date on the calendar, but there’s nothing wrong with having an excuse to remind us to appreciate our plants. A lot of people have and enjoy houseplants, but they don’t stop and really think about why. Here our top 5 reasons for keeping and loving houseplants.

  1. They enhance mood and productivity. There is all kinds of research that houseplants have psychological benefits. Staring at a desk plant for as little as three minutes can reduce anxiety. Likewise, people who transplanted a houseplant showed suppressed autonomic nervous system activity. They’re also economical in terms of office décor and residential communities. The occupational benefits of houseplants apply to corporate offices, home offices, and pretty much everything in between.
  2. They are a feat of human ingenuity and a reminder of our evolutionary history. In some ways, growing houseplants in containers is unnatural. Plants grow in the ground where there is plenty of moisture and plenty of air. Yet, with specialized soil and pots with drainage holes, we make it work. Nowadays, it takes only a few minutes to learn about houseplant care, find and buy a plant, and get started. Yet this represents centuries of indoor plant cultivation and general horticultural knowledge, and that’s pretty cool.
  3. Houseplants demonstrate the resilience and adaptability of life in general. Of course, it’s not just human ingenuity that allows plants to grow and even thrive indoors. The plants themselves also deserve a lot of credit. Houseplants provide an opportunity for life to show off how adaptable it can be. Some plants take it even further. Ignore them until their leaves droop, and some houseplants will still bounce back.
  4. They are personal reminders of places we’ve been, people we’ve met, and things we’ve done. Maybe it was a gift from a best friend before saying goodbye. Maybe it was a travel souvenir from a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or maybe you brought a wild plant back home from an annual camping trip. Maybe it’s a memorial plant from the funeral ceremony of a loved one. There are as many ways for plants to be personal mementos as there are types of houseplants themselves.
  5. They give us an opportunity to explore and express our creativity. It’s one thing to put a plant and soil in a pot by a window and see what happens, but you can also do some pretty creative things with houseplants. Put an air plant inside a shell, and it looks just like a jellyfish. Build a living wall inside a shadowbox. Trim a houseplant into any number of carefully cultivated shapes. Matching pots and plants and placing them artfully when decorating your living space requires an active of personal creativity.
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Top 5 Houseplant Ideas for Your New Year’s Resolution

Getting and caring for a houseplant is a great New Year’s resolution in general. It’s realistic, sustainable, and provides long-lasting rewards. Even still, it will only work out if the resolution speaks to you on a personal level. Whether you’re already a houseplant enthusiast or just starting out, here are our top 5 houseplant ideas for the New Year.

  1. Overcome your reputation for having a black thumb.

If you tend to forget to water your houseplant, get one that thrives on neglect. Some houseplants are also better than others at telling you they need water. These are the big reasons why succulents are such a popular category of houseplant. Maybe what you need to do different is match the houseplant with the lighting conditions. You can’t put a low-light plant in an unfiltered window with southern exposure. You can’t put a sun-loving plant in the middle of a room with windows that have northern exposure. Be sure to use a potting mix that is formulated for your houseplant and a pot with good drainage, especially holes in the bottom and a saucer or catchment pot.

  1. Learn How to Compost Your Own Potting Soil.

It’s good for the environment and good for houseplants. Composting soil is similar to using a slow cooker in the kitchen. You can do things to activate and accelerate the composting process, but it still takes several months to go from food and lawn scraps to ready-to-use compost. You’ll also need to add some soil amendments and aerators to turn the compost into a potting mix for houseplants. This is one time we recommend testing the compost and final potting mix for relative acidity and alkalinity levels. You can use peat moss as aerator to increase the acidity level of the soil. Perlite or vermiculite are better choices to make the compost more alkaline.

  1. Propagate a New Houseplant from an Existing Plant.

Stop paying for every one of your houseplants. Get the extra sense of belonging and bonding that comes from propagating your own new houseplant. Expand your basic skill set with caring for houseplants. Start creating gift plants from the new cuttings, or trade with your friends and family who share your love of houseplants but have different types in their home. One of the easiest methods of propagation, you can also learn how to grow houseplants in water.

  1. Use a Houseplant for a Practical Household Chore.

Depending on the type, houseplants can be used for fragrance, medicine, or in the kitchen. There’s a good chance you already have at least one houseplant that fits into one of these categories. Aloe vera is a common ingredient in skin lotions. Jasmine, gardenias, and heliotropes are all popular choices for fragrance. Basil, rosemary, sage, and even dwarf citrus trees can all be cultivated as potted plants. Just be sure you know what you’re doing. Creating aloe vera gel on your own isn’t that difficult, but the outside part of the plant is actually a skin irritant that can make the problem worse.

  1. Get a Houseplant to Flower for the First Time.

There are lots of houseplants that are resilient enough to survive in challenging conditions but need extra help to blossom and show their flowers. Many low-light houseplants will have fine-looking foliage but won’t flower until they’re given a brighter spot. Other plants, like the Christmas cactus, require long periods without light to reset their growth cycle and produce flowers. The first idea some people have is to use fertilizer. This can help when done right, but if you use the wrong kind, the wrong amount, or at the wrong time, you could end up doing more harm than good. It may also simply be time to repot or add some fresh potting mix. Good houseplant care is essential, and this includes the watering schedule, but more often the culprit is sunlight—either too much or too little. As with so many things, you need to know what that particular type of houseplant wants.

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How Indoor Plants Increase Health and Happiness

You’ve probably heard the idea that houseplants can improve your health and productivity, but how much of this hype is real? Overall, a robust set of reputable studies suggest that indoor plants can increase mental health and cognitive performance in various ways. These positive effects are closely correlated with those observed by immersing people in natural settings. The great outdoors is good for you—as is the effort to bring a bit of this nature indoors with you.

Education is one of the best ways to get yourself to buy into indoor plants for health and productivity. Houseplants aren’t a cure for everything. Learn what is mostly hype and what it is about houseplants that seems to offer these benefits in study after study. Then, you can choose indoor plants that make the most sense for your home or office, while gaining new insights about how to optimize these spaces for health and productivity.

Productivity and Performance

Being outside—or even just the feeling of being outside—can cultivate that elusive quality of relaxed concentration, of effortless effort, of sustained productivity. Nowadays, office plants are almost universal fixtures or at least highly encouraged among the company’s workforce. This literature review from Psychology Today shows that there are widespread psychological benefits to natural settings and indoor plants. This includes better memory retention, concentration, and creativity, while reducing levels of stress, depression, and cognitive impairment.

The Truth about Plants and Indoor Air Quality

You don’t need to literally recreate a natural setting to get the health benefits of indoor plants—unless you’re trying to improve the indoor air quality. This is one area where the hype doesn’t live up to the science—in part because of a misunderstood NASA study that looked at the effect of plants on air quality in a closed environment like the international space station. Even in modern buildings, there is so much ventilation that you need to fill almost every square foot of space with plants to make a noticeable difference in indoor air quality.

Don’t Overlook Ornamental Value

People like things that look pretty. As part of their literature review on the benefits of houseplants, the Texas A&M Agriculture Extension found multiple studies that looked specifically at the benefits of having flowers in the home and office. Flowers were found to improve mood and reduce the risk of depression by helping people feel more secure and relaxed. You can achieve these benefits by replenishing cut flowers, but there’s a particular joy reserved for cultivating your own flowering houseplants, such as begonias. The blooms may not last forever, but some houseplants, like the prayer plant, have foliage with great ornamental value.

Staying Connected and Grounded

Decorating your home and workspace already provides many of these benefits, but the opportunity to care for houseplants offers its own rewards. It may not be quite the same as tending to an outdoor garden, but there is still something to be said for testing houseplant soil for moisture and pH levels. And don’t be afraid to take a moment and come up with some creative names for your plants. A connection to your indoor plants still won’t fix what’s wrong with your day, but it can soften the emotional consequences. And during times of self-isolation, caring for indoor plants can be a true life-saver.

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Alternate Names for the Wandering Jew Houseplant

Have you heard the news? The houseplant tradescantia zebrina is no longer called the Wandering Jew. A lot of people are still using this popular nickname, but there is also a groundswell of houseplant enthusiasts advocating for a different name. Not sure what the controversy is about? Not sure where you stand on the issue. Here is what you need to know about calling this popular houseplant a Wandering Jew and what alternate names you can use instead.

Why Do We Need a Different Name for the Wandering Jew Plant?

Some people don’t like using groups of people as mascots. They consider the very idea offensive, another way of objectifying people. The most common counterargument is that these mascots celebrate and/or remind us of peoples’ heritage and our shared humanity. So long as these mascots don’t denigrate the communities they claim to honor, what’s the harm? In our opinion, these factors must be considered on a case-by-case basis. More to this point, it’s a great opportunity to understand the history and myth of the Wandering Jew.

The Wandering Jew is NOT Moses: If you haven’t studied Jewish history, you might assume that the Wandering Jew is Moses and the other Jewish people who wandered in the desert for all those years. Don’t make this mistake. Not anymore. If nothing else, save yourself the embarrassment of being corrected by someone who knows the actual myth and history.

The Wandering Jew has Become a Deicidal Myth: All too commonly, the Wandering Jew is depicted as someone who taunted Jesus during the crucifixion and was then cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming. The myth of the Wandering Jew was first popularized in 13th Century Europe. Since that time, the story has been used as justification for violence and as part of a larger antisemitic trope in which people of Jewish faith and heritage are blamed for Jesus’ death. In fact, there is no historical evidence to support this myth. In 2011, the pope concurred that Jews were not responsible for the crucifixion.

Isaac was the Original Wandering Jew: Jewish scholars point to a different within their faith that could serve as the original Wandering Jew. Specifically, Isaac, the son of Abraham, became wealthy by raising crops in the land of the Philistines, who then cast Isaac out of their lands for his riches. In this version, Isaac started digging wells on his travels and increased his wealth even more. The Philistine lords then apologized and welcomed Isaac back in the hopes of currying favor.

Thus, if you’re going to continue to call your houseplant a Wandering Jew, then we recommend you help reclaim the nickname by framing the choice within the Jewish tradition.

Other Names for the Wandering Jew

  • Inch Plant: This is our favorite alternative. It keeps the relevance of a nickname that describes the plant’s rapid, sprawling growth. Typically, the leaf nodes and purple flowers are spaced an inch apart. It’s also sometimes said that during the growing season tradescantia zebrina can grow an inch and new leaf node every single week. Which is an exaggeration but not by much.
  • Wandering Dude: A simple variant of Wandering Jew, this nickname makes us wonder whether dude doesn’t indicate a type of person and makes for a poor mascot. Plus, we’re just not crazy about how it sounds. Still, it’s a common alternative.
  • Spiderwort: Tradescantia zebrina is, in fact, a spiderwort plant. The only problem is that there are several kinds of tradescantia, or spiderwort, plants. But if you’re looking for a polite way to describe this houseplant, you can say, “It’s a special kind of spiderwort plant.” Other popular types include the Amethyst Kiss, Concord Grape, Red Grape, and Sweet Kate.