This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
I had no idea about house plants being family heirlooms until I joined house plant groups. Apparently, it’s pretty common for people to inherit plants that have been going for a few generations.
I wouldn’t trust my mother with a fake plant (my dad’s good with plants but doesn’t have indoor ones for fear my mother will get them with her black thumbs) so I’m not going to be inheriting any plants from her unless you count dying Ficus benjaminas that are waaaay past saving by the time they come to me.
How old is the oldest house plant?
I was prepared to be disappointed here, because when I was researching this terrarium article I discovered that the world’s oldest terrarium was created in the 1960s. I assumed earlier. Big disappoint.
I have mixed feelings re. the world’s oldest house plant. It’s an eastern cape giant cyad (basically a massive palm) that’s been at Kew gardens since 1775, but I’m assuming it wasn’t grown from seed there.
I looked up ‘world’s second oldest house plant’ because…I dunno I don’t feel like plants that are METRES tall count as house plants. Nothing. Also, I feel like being kept in a botanical garden rather than on someone’s living room windowsill is cheating a bit.
There are regular Facebook and Reddit posts about Hoya growing to over 100 years, so we’ll just assume that the world’s oldest ‘proper’ house plant is over a hundred. And probs a hoya.
Can house plants technically live forever?
Yes, some can, especially if you skate over some of the details.
We have a bit of a Ship of Theseus situation here (I’ve mentioned this twice in the last couple of weeks, after three years of never mentioning it at all, which is odd).
(Or Scone of Stone for any Pratchett fans out there).
Imagine you have a hoya. You want it to grow a bit fuller, so you propagate it. Then the mother plant dies. If it’s in the same pot, is it the same plant?
Clearly, the answer is yes AND YET I can see why some people would be like ‘NO, THAT’S CHEATING BUT I CAN’T ARTICULATE WHY’.
Living things need reasons to die. They don’t die of old age. They die OF something, be it heart failure, cancer, or whatever. It just so happens that if a 90-year-old person dies peacefully in their sleep, there’s no reason to hold an autopsy. But they didn’t die because they were old.
Some plants DO die. They flower, spread their seed, and then die. Their seed takes over (we could argue that it’s the same plant, but I’m not my parents so we can discount that for now).
But there’s stuff you can do to stop that from happening (e.g. cutting flowers of coriander – I cannot think of another one), so you can keep them alive for longer. How long? No idea.
It tends to be plants that hail from places that have a cold winter that die and either regrow or grow from previously spread seeds the following spring.
Plants that live in the tropics have no reason to die. They just keep on going until something changes in their habit, something eats them, or some sod digs them up to sell to idiots like us.
Which house plants live the longest?
I think it’s important to distinguish between HOUSE plants and wild plants that have, er, tamed. For example, rubber trees live a long time and get VERY big, but we’d struggle to cohabit with a literal tree 20 metres tall (unless you’re all living in MUCH bigger houses than I).
Let’s also not include hard-to-care for house plants. Let’s just…not. It’s not fair. Imagaine inheriting something like a peace lily. Nightmare. They’re 100% FINE for years and then you wake up one morning and they’re crispy all over.
Someone out there is claiming spider plants live for hundreds of years. HOW COME MINE DIE IN A MONTH THEN?? RIDDLE ME THAT, SUCKER’.
So, looking to start a family heirloom plant? Here are my recommendations:
OBVIOUSLY. They’re hard to kill. What more do you need?
I dunno, they seem popular! Don’t overwater them and give them decent light, and you’re golden.
- A big philodendron
I’m rather attached to my Golden Dragon, Smaug, but something like a Silver Sword or Subhastatum would be nice. I love the idea of giving someone a HUGE plant with a twisted trunk and bit of age to it.
Plants that can be dramatically trimmed back are always a good shout.
- Christmas cactus
Traditional, innit? I don’t have one, but I can attest to their care. My mother has one (the sole survivor), so they’re clearly into a bit of sadomasochism.
- String of hearts
Oh my god, I accidentally typed string of pearls at first. Can you imagine? That would be in the ’10 house plants to gift to your enemies’ article.
That was a joke, but actually I quite like that idea. I could post it on the r/justnoMIL subreddit and get a million pageviews overnight.
How can I keep house plants alive for longer?
I mean…just take care of them well.
If the plant in question is already very old, then just have a look at where it was living previously and copy its original care routine. If it’s had a few owners, chances are it’s not picky.
If you have a new plant you want to leave to your offspring, I’m assuming you already know the importance of light, watering, feeding, humidity, yada yada yada. If you don’t, research it carefully (or leave me a comment with the name of the plant and I’ll research it, probs not that carefully) and do the care.
Think about what usually kills your plants. If the answer is ‘me’ (YOU, not me. I only kill my own plants) perhaps consider leaving a nice necklace as an heirloom.
My answer would be thrips. I always have them, because I can’t get rid of them all. I just keep them under control (as much as I can). So if I wanted a plant to NOT get thrips specifically, I’d isolate it or keep it under a cloche or something.
If your thing is overwatering, er, stop it. Get some chunkier soil. Keep it hydroponically. Move somewhere with no indoor plumbing.
Underwaterer? Put it somewhere where you’ll remember to water it. Or get something that doesn’t like much water. Or keep it hydroponically. Hydroponics for the win, it would seem.
This is a special plant. Look after it well so your future offspring will also have to worry about it.