Spider plants not such bad mothers after all

October 31, 2012
Shown above is the spider plant or aiplane plant.

In nature, some mothers aren't always as good as fairy tale moms.  Tasmanian devils give birth to as many as 50 pups, but the mother only has four teats so only four pups survive. Since male horses don't like competition, they will often kill a foal that isn't theirs. They won't do that, of course, to their own foals so a mother horse has to convince every male horse in the herd that the foal she is bearing is his. The mare does this by mating with every male in the herd, even if she is already pregnant.

However, there is one true bad mother in the plant world.  The plant that just shoots babies out all the time.  In Puerto Rico they call this plant, ”malamadre” or the “bad mother.”

We call it the airplane plant or the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum.)  Or even the helicopter plant because after the word helicopter entered our lexicon in the 1920s, some began to call this as the helicopter plant.  The dangling plantlets do look like hovering helicopters.

Bad mother or not, this plant deserves its humble designation as possibly the most popular houseplant. Malamadre plants are good at purifying the air in your home.  They are easy to grow, even easy to propagate and make more spider plants.

Your plant will send down stems with small, fully developed little plantlets on them. Check closely and you can see fleshy roots beginning to form on some of these baby plantlets. Carefully cup the baby plant and gently twist it off the stem being careful that you do not to break the roots off. pot it up and you have a baby spider plant.

A similar bad mother plant is the Strawberry begonia Saxifraga stolonifera (Saxifraga sarmentosa.)  It is also called the Strawberry Geranium though it is neither begonia nor geranium.  And you won’t get any strawberries from it; this is strictly for looks.

No wonder she too shoots out many baby plants.

This houseplant will bloom with tall wispy spikes of tiny, white flowers, but it is the showy clusters of leaves that are striking.  The hairy round leaves are marbled white on a background of olive green.  The undersides of the leaves are marbled with purple. Its best feature and the thing that earned it its nickname of strawberry begonia is the long runners with baby plantlets hanging from them, just like an edible strawberry plant.

Like the spider plant, you can simply break off baby strawberry begonia plants and set onto a moist potting soil.  They will root quickly.

Strawberry begonia likes cool temperatures.  They aren't hardy, so if you have them outdoors bring them indoors before a killing frost. They like bright light.  Keep it well watered but not soggy.  Feed once a month with a diluted organic houseplant food or fish emulsion.

Both the Malamadre Spider Plant and the Strawberry Begonia are great as hanging baskets where they can drape freely.

Thanks to bad mothers like the malamadre spider plant and the ill-named strawberry Begonia, you will have many healthy babies to keep, to swap, or best to just give away.

Free houseplants all around.  Not such a bad mother after all.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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