Planet Houseplant’s Guide to Axillary Buds

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An axillary bud is the point on a plant where the new growth is going to come from. Sometimes you can the axillary bud on a node, but it won’t activate unless it’s its ‘turn.

For example, Monstera typically only produce one growth point at once, but if you look at older nodes, you can see a little bump where, if you decided to propagate, a new growth point would emerge.

How to find an axillary bud

It varies from plant to plant. On Monstera, they’re usually quite difficult to see in newer growth, though you can see them in the older stems.

Some plants have really obvious axillary roots, like Philodendron Florida green, others won’t show up at all until the plant has been propped all the roots gear up to grow.

What does an axillary bud look like?

They vary, depending on the plant. At their smallest, they look like a verrry slight bump. At their biggest, they look suspiciously like a new leaf is growing.

Here’s what the axillary buds look like on my aging variegated alocasia amazonica corm:

alocasia axillary buds

The enormous one of my Florida green that ALWAYS makes me think another grow point is coming.

philodendron florida green axillary buds

If you want to find the axillary bud on your Monstera, remember that Monstera tend to have a front and a back. The aerial roots go at the back, and the growth goes at the front. Therefore, if you look for an aerial root, it’s usually at about the same height on the other side of the stem.

Here’s a Monstera:

Whilst, the axillary bud isn’t too obvious, you can find it if you know what you’re looking for. However, on newer growth, you can barely see it:

Something is going to happen at the pale part where I’ve circled. Could be an aerial root, could be an axillary bud.

I have a big Ficus tineke, and I wanted it to branch so I nipped off the growth point. Every node down the stem activated, so I saw axillary buds above each leaf.

I really need to dust these guys more

Then there’s a brief race as one node asserts dominace by taking all of the energy, and the axillary buds go back into hiding. I don’t know if the axillary bud actually gets absorbed by the plant or if it’s just in hiding, but there’s no trace of them now.

What’s the role of an axillary bud?

The function of an axillary bud is to produce new growth. Plants can produce multiple axillary buds if required, because it’s important for survival. If the growth point snaps, rots, or gets eaten, it needs a backup plan.

Nodes can keep producing axillary over and over again, and as long as the plant is still well rooted, it won’t run out.

Some plants can have two growth points at once, as evidenced by the rubber plant above. Look at her now!

Rubber plants are trees, so it makes more sense for them to branch, because it gives them more stabililty. Vines like Monstera have no need to branch, because they want to climb up to the light as quickly as possible.

Are axillary buds the same as apical buds?

An apical bud is what we’d refer to as the growth point. Axillary buds are spares – they’re not fully developed growth points yet, but they can be activated when called upon.

For example, if you chopped and propped a plant, one of the axillary buds on the original plant (not the cutting you’ve taken) will be activated and will start to produce new growth. Once it starts growing, it’s no longer an axillary bud, it’s an apical bud.

Also, so panic if, when rooting the cutting you took, the apical bud stops growing. If something happens to the top growth, another node will swoop in and take its place, and sometimes during propagation a new node will start growing and the original apical bud will have to give up. it’s all to do with who has the most (naturally occurring) rooting hormone. It’s USUALLY the apical bud, but during propagation it can all go a bit haywire.

There’s no way of knowing which of the axillary buds will become the apical bud.

If you’ve ever propagated a wet stick, you’ll know that all the nodes can root and put out growth. Over time one node will dominate and take all the rooting hormone, and the new nodes will stop producing new growth. This happened on my Thai Constellation. I had a couple of new growth points but the plants basically abandoned them:

The thing with the white circle is a growth point (the other two circles are a root and a dying growth point).

What I should have done here was chopped and propped, but I didn’t. When you’re propping wet sticks and you notice one leaf start to grow faster than the others, that’s a great time to chop up the nodes and get more plants.

Can plants have multiple axillary buds per node?

It depends on the plant – Alocasia corms can have loads. Most plants that produce axillary buds on the nodes only have one axillary bud at once.

There’s a bit of a common misconception that each node can only activate one axillary node. This isn’t true – if you keep chopping and propping the plant can keep producing axillary buds. It’s just more likely to select another node.

There’s a lot of panic about spent nodes when buying plants online. I have a full article on spent nodes, but the upshot is that just becasue you can see your node has been propped before, doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t grow another axillary node. Chances are, it was propped when it was still a full, rooted plant.

Plants are surprisingly resilient if looked after properly.

Final thoughts

Axillary buds are just spare, undeveloped growth points that are ready to take over as the apical bud if anything happens to the current one. It’s a structure designed to stop plants from dying if they get eaten by a capybara.

Often, the new growth is the most delicious, so if plants don’t have a plan B up their sleeve, they won’t last very long.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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