houseplant lifespan question

squidy(8a)July 14, 2011

Okay, so I read the life span of a pothos is 10 years or so. Weather this is accurate or not I don't really care. My question is this: I keep taking cutting off of it. Does that start the life span thing over? Like for example if I get a baby pothos and grow it for 5 years, then take a cutting, should I expect the cutting to live for 5 more years, or 10?

I'm interested in how this applies to all plants, not just pothos. (In case the answer is different for different ones..)

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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Whatever website you were reading, don't visit it again. That's garbage. Pothos can live for a lot longer than 10 years. You can expect your cuttings or mature plants to live until YOU kill them or they succumb to some disease or pests. I can't think of any common houseplants I've had to which this wouldn't apply, although my experience is not that vast in numbers of different types plants - I've had around 50 different species over the years. Will be interesting to hear what some of the real experts have to say.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 9:34AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Consider the cutting a new plant to be a clone of the mother plant. Its life starts when you take the cutting and it develops some proper roots.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:30PM
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My mom has a christmas cactus that I got while working part-time in a flower shop as a senior in HS. That's been, ummmm... 34 years. :)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 11:44PM
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dellis326 (Danny)

Non-annual plants don't have a defined lifespan. Many species of cactus can live a hundred or more years, some of the bigger species can live several hundred. Many plants can live for decades until they reproduce and they die, agave's are well known for this. Pothos and other vining aroids can live for decades if not over a century.

Aging in plants often is more an issue of the growing conditions or disease control then anything else. Most people will grow a tomato plant for the summer but under the right conditions they can live for several years producing fruit. Pineapples grown in the field fruit and die in a 1 to 1-1/2 years but as a house plant they can live for years not fruiting.

Your Epipremnum aureum (pothos) if growing in the wild can grow 20 meters up a tree and grow leaves as large as a meter long with pinnate leaves looking something like a monsteria, that takes a very long time to happen.

If you take a cutting from your pothos, consider it a new plant. As the vine gets longer the lower leaves will drop but the isn't a sign of it dieing. Unless it is dieing already there isn't any need to take cuttings to extend it's life, only to make more plants and who can say anything bad about that.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 9:41AM
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I agree with the above posters. Where did you read a Pothos will only live 10 years?

There are many people who have posted plant photos that were handed down from generation to generation.

One woman here on GW had a Christmas Cactus a little over 100-years-old. It was given to her by her mother, her mother got it from her mother, etc.

Regarding Pothos. My kitchen shelves attached to cabinets face north. These shelves are on either side of one shady north window. Because very few plants would thrive in this spot, I've kept Pothos, in water, 15-20 years. I have cut them back, otherwise I wouldn't be able to wash dishes, etc,' but the main Pothos is alive and well.

My oldest plant is a green Spider Plant purchased, 1972/3. The next two oldest are Crown of thorns, started from a cutting in 1982, and a Clivia sown from seeds, 1982.

If you found this info on a Yahoo chat, go back an tell the 'author' or 'original poster' they're wrong. LOL. Toni

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 2:11PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

dellis, I'm going to 'tweak' your comment about non-annual plants not having a defined lifespan, if that's ok. Most DO have an expected range and it can be useful information when it comes to...landscape design and urban forestry (for a couple of examples).

We learn which perennials are short-lived and long-lived and plan (and planT accordingly). Sometimes, the decline of woody plants can be attributed to their natural old age...which makes decisions for removal a whole lot easier. Trees become more fragile and susceptible to failure in their senescence...just like we do. If a Quercus nigra of around 50 years old begins to decline, I can confidently explain to the customer that his tree is simply in the last stages of its natural and expected life span of 50 to 60 years. If, however, a Quercus virginiana of about 50 years old begins to exhibit the same symptoms of decline, I'd be hot on the trail of problem solving. That species can live for several hundred years, so at 50 would still be considered a youngster.

So, aging can very much be attributed to environment, certainly. But lifespan is very much a genetic characteristic, as well, and part of the genome blueprint.

Anyway, this really isn't pertinent to the poster's question, but is an interesting topic nonetheless.

Toni, I wonder if I might be the person you are talking about with the old Xmas cactus. I inherited one from my mother-in-law who received it from her mother. It was absurdly huge! I'd guess that hundreds of progeny live on all over the country, but the original mother plant finally died when I moved to a place without nearly enough light...or space! I had to have two people come over and help me root prune that huge thing every year.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 3:11PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

So Rhizo, If it's a TRUE CC rather than a TC, any chance a piece of it might like to come live in NYC???

Sorry Dori, Sometimes I am a BAD girl -- but I just couldn't resist.

Hi Squidy,

It's a good lesson one in can't believe everything one hears or reads, online is no different in that respect.

Yes, interesting discussion indeed.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 4:24PM
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I don't know where I read the 10 year thing, just some site I clicked on while Googling.

"Consider the cutting a new plant to be a clone of the mother plant. Its life starts when you take the cutting and it develops some proper roots."

I feel like I should say: this confused me at first because one of the major problems with cloning animals is that the new creature will age prematurely.
But I guess the general meaning I'm hearing from you guys is that taking a cutting will restart the clock, however long it may be, yes? That's all I was really wondering. And I guess I'm also hearing that plant life spans are not as pertinent as animal life spans.

Also thank you Rhizo, that was actually really interesting, I don't mind wandering topics.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 9:12PM
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dellis326 (Danny)

rhizo_1; I stand "Tweaked", I was primarily thinking of plants often used as house plants but I wasn't clear and I'm glad you pointed that out.

Unlike a number of people here, I have no problem if I'm shown I'm wrong about something and gives me an example so I have the opportunity to learn something I didn't know before.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 7:25AM
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Squidy, in reference to your question/concern about cloning. Plants can reproduce sexually and asexually, cuttings falling under the latter obviously. Humans and other animals can only reproduce sexually. Cloning is NOT natural, and in my opinion should not be done on any humans or other animals. With that said, you won't have any premature aging from a plant cutting.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 10:44PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Squidy, you might be interested to know that the huge majority of houseplants, fruit trees, roses, ornamental shrubs, trees, bramble crops, grapes, poinsettias, and more are ALL produced vegetatively by one means or another. They're all clones of the long gone parent plant.

You can be assured of the fact that of these new plants are in no way inferior to the parent plant.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 12:16AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Joe - plants don't age chronologically like we do, except to the extent that as humans we use chronological measures (months/years) to define their age. They age ontogenetically, going through roughly the same life stages we go through - embryonic, juvenile, adolescent (intermediate in plants), and (sexually) mature are the stages.

Plants produced vegetatively by cuttings and layerings retain the ontogenetic age of the parent plant in their tissues, so they actually do 'age faster' in a sense, and a good case could be made for the fact that the clock isn't set all the way back to '0'. Though I wouldn't exactly use the term 'premature aging' to define it, I will say that in most plants where the cuttings were taken from intermediate or sexually mature portions of the plant, the clone is very fast to flower and fruit in compared to the maturing process had the materially been sexually propagated. E/g., it can take up to 25 years for hawthorn trees to flower from seedlings, but usually only a few years for cuttings of sexually mature wood. So, to that extent there is an ontogenetic age offset in some forms of vegetatively propagated material, though I would be hesitant to say that it has a measurable impact on the o/a lifespan.

Squidy - In most cases, it's very highly unusual for the perennials we grow as houseplants to die of 'old age' (almost never). They die of dysfunction related to strain caused by organs that are unable to operate properly, or by mechanical injury/mutilation, or by energy depletion and the ensuing infection/starvation. Houseplants usually succumb to maladies directly related to our inability to provide the cultural conditions conducive to good vitality over the long term. As a result, we see root dysfunction, diseases and insect infestations of the weakened plants that far more often than not bring them up short of their potential lifespans while they are still relative youngsters.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 9:03PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Another fascinating lesson from Al - possibly somehow related to Bill Nye the science guy. Similar teaching styles, anyway. Thanks!!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 11:16AM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

This example has "grown" since this discussion started...

I've had a heart-leaf Philodendron vine for 15 years. Up until this summer, it always made leaves that were about 2" from tip to petiole junction. (There's a good pun there, somewhere, I just can't come up with it.) This summer it started making leaves that are about 5 1/2", a sign of maturity or the onset of maturity, I'm not clear on that. The tips I've removed as cuttings that have the larger leaves continue making larger leaves. The new tips that the roots of the cuttings have produced have leaves that are almost as big as those on the original cutting portion, at least twice as big as the older, smaller leaves from the mama.

I have a book called Variegated Plants; An Encyclopedia of Patterned Foliage by Susan Conder. On pg. 13 she says,

"Variegated plants originate naturally as random seedlings, or as sports - mutant variegated shoots on otherwise plain green plants. Some, such as Abutilon pictum 'Thompsonii', are virus-induced, in the same way that the streaked colours of 'Bizarre' tulips result from a harmless virus. (sic...) Yellow and white variegations are caused by imperfect or absent chloroplasts, the granule-like plastids within a cell which contain chlorophyll."

So this explains why variegated plants sometimes produce new plain green growth. But there isn't enough info in the book to understand if the commonly propagated/sold variegated tropicals are sports or viral. The book doesn't go into that, and it's focused on outdoor gardening. But IF they are mostly sports (which can only be propagated vegetatively,) does it not seem logical to say that most old-school variegated houseplants are technically hundreds of years old?

rhizo, your comments about trees' lifespans makes me wonder... Are (most) trees just totally different types of plants that DO have an expected lifespan while tropical entities like pothos and Philodendron just can't be described that way? Then there are the redwood trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum)to consider, which can live thousands of years and scientists are starting to think they keep growing indefinitely until lightning or a chainsaw kills them. I'm left thinking some types of plants have an average, measurable lifespan and some don't.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 12:35PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Your last sentence is exactly right. Some plants have a recognized life span, irrespective of any environmental factors or other influences.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 2:44PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

A quick review of the second paragraph in my post above will reveal that cuttings tend to retain the growth phase of the material they are taken from. Your cuttings, taken from sexually mature parts of the plant retain the ontogenetic age of the parent material, so are sexually mature. If your plant was to produce a basal sprout, regardless of the plants age,and you severed/rooted it, you would have to wait for the basal sprout to move through the growth phases before the leaf form changes; this, because the basal part of the plant is ontogenetically youngest and the cutting would retain the more juvenile growth phase of the plant part from which it was taken.

Most of the variegated houseplants we would grow are chimeral or pigmentary in nature, but a few (Abutilon) might be viral, and several are commonly the result of reflection (mostly the gray variegates).

Trees have an expected life span for a couple of reasons. The first is, we know how fast they usually grow, and the second is, we know the limits of the tree's ability to move water and nutrients to distal parts of the tree. Trees genetically programmed to grow slowly and with the ability to move water efficiently to distal parts grow oldest.

Trees die from mechanical injury, dysfunction, or energy depletion, but not old age, per se. Aging in animals is measured in the rate of cellular autolysis (breakdown):cell restoration. Trees are much different because they can't regenerate cells in the same spatial planes, so we look to the ratio between the volume of living wood being walled off and the volume of living wood with cells being generated. To understand this concept, you would need to be somewhat familiar with how trees compartmentalize injuries. A tree must be generating more cells than it is losing through compartmentalization, shedding, and mechanical disruption every growing period, or it is dying.

In situ trees usually die from energy depletion, which is often resultant of mechanical injury. The ratio of dynamic mass to non-living mass and infected mass is important to survival. Young trees are nearly all dynamic mass and have a very strong 'will to live'. Old trees exhibit a much lower % of dynamic mass & exhibit a reduced ability to resist mechanical injury, stress, and strain.

Trees don't often die as a result of mechanical injury, dysfunction, or energy depletion alone; these processes start them along the road to death. After a certain point, the trend is irreversible, dysfunction systemic, and there will be a wide variety of agents using energy stored by the host.

In consideration of the above, we can see why bonsai trees are able to survive for centuries, where their counterparts in the landscape are only able to survive for a fraction of the time a bonsai can. This plays directly on the ratio of dynamic mass & the number of cells being generated, vs static mass & the trees inability to regenerate.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 3:40PM
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I have a Shefflera over 25 years old. Did a major pruning back on it about 5 years ago and it came back nicely.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 1:50PM
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Pothos can live forever and are quite hard to kill. Odds are it'll get you first. They get pretty strong with their vines.

I wouldn't recommend sleeping in the same room where you keep it.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2011 at 9:50AM
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Rhizo, no, I didn't know you had an old CC. It's not a secret, so guess I can name the person.
Billy Rae. Her CC was either 104 or 106 years old.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2011 at 3:39PM
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