To mimic its tropical home, give Pandan Grass lots of warmth and humidity

January 29, 2020

Chillicothe, Missouri, might not be famous now, but just wait. Seems the sleepy town made history in 1928 when the Chillicothe Baking Company used a state-of-the-art machine to slice bread and sell the pre-sliced loaves to the public.

The aroma of fresh bread is one of many flavors people find in a traditional Southeast Asian plant grown for its long, narrow leaves that, when crushed, give off a delicious fragrance similar to vanilla or hints of coconut, or to some, the smell of fresh bread.

You can grow Pandan Grass (Pandanus amaryllifolius) as a flavorful houseplant. The chopped leaves give added flavor to rice dishes, especially desserts such as rice pudding.

Along with the strappy leaves, this plant grows woody air roots that grow out of the soil and help anchor the plant.

Pandanus grows best in bright, dappled sunlight, so find a sunny window or give it some extra light from grow lights. In the summer, you can put the plants out on a patio or porch. Be careful the leaves do not get scorched.

Mature plants are very drought-tolerant so are a good choice for forgetful gardeners who may skip a watering or two and still keep the plant healthy. Of course, regular watering will give you the healthiest plants, but it is nice to know they are forgiving.

Indoors in the winter the plants will grow slowly, if at all, so you can cut back on watering without harming the plant.

To mimic its tropical home, give Pandan Grass lots of warmth and humidity. You can mist the foliage daily with water. This plant is only hardy in USDA zones 8-11, so always avoid frost or low temperatures.

Avoid any place in your house with cold drafts or in front of heaters. They can grow well even with temperatures down to 55 F. Very few pests attack this easy-going houseplant although you may find the occasional aphid, spider mite or mealybug.

Pot up your Pandan Grass in rich potting soil full of nutrients. You can add a bit of sand to the mix to be sure the soil drains well.

During spring and summer when the plant is actively growing, feed it regularly with an organic liquid fertilizer.

Pandan rarely if ever blooms, and when it does, the flowers are sterile and will not set seed.

These plants naturally form clumps of several plants growing from the base of the original Pandan Grass. As the plants age you will notice small suckers, or plantlets, growing from the original mother plant. You can let the plants form a clump or colony, or you can easily separate the new plants from the old. Carefully cut the new plant as close as possible to the original main stem. Dust the new plant with rooting hormone and pot it up.

Mature plants only need to be repotted when absolutely necessary, often after several years.

Repotting just before growth starts in the spring is best. Because the plant has small spines, always wear gloves when handling Pandan Grass.

Pandanus amaryllifolius leaves serve double duty as a spice and medicine. Leaves are used in traditional or folk medicine to relieve stomach cramps. Some gardeners soak the leaves in warm coconut oil and use it as a poultice to relieve arthritis pain. Add finely chopped leaves to a bath for a relaxing soak.

Grow your own Pandan Grass plant and you will have a beautiful three-foot-tall houseplant with handsome green leaves year round. Best of all, it is one houseplant you can actually eat.

It's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

  • 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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