Gardeners can be tough on houseplants. When driven indoors for the winter, we lavish them with attention, but nearly forget about them when spring comes around and beckons us back outdoors.
We need something pretty enough to tempt us, and durable enough to survive both our initial over-attention and later neglect: Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is a good place to start.
These plants perform well in nearly any light conditions, from the dim spaces furthest from a north-facing window to the bright light just out of the reach of southern sunbeams. They will even do quite well in an interior room with no windows, as long as they receive several hours of artificial light — regular florescent bulbs are fine, no fancy grow-lights required.
Foliage is deep green and glossy, forming graceful fountains as each individual leaf comes up from the soil, with no branching stems. You may also find forms with variegated leaves or golden new growth.
The peace lily is in the arum family. Its blooms appear to be a large, single flower atop a slender stalk. In fact, it is a cluster of small, true flowers in a candle-like column (the spadix), which is shielded by a broad white leaf-like spathe.
Flowers are always white, and gracefully turn green as they age. Each blossom is large and distinctive, so even though they are not always borne profusely, the display is quite effective. Remove the spent flower stalks at the base, to keep the plants tidy.
Though their color palette is limited, peace lilies are available in a wide range of sizes, from petite table top varieties to large floor plants.
I rarely find them tagged with a variety in a retail display, so it can be difficult to seek out a particular form by name. However, but the flower size and plant height you see in the store will remain pretty much the same over time, though plants will grow fuller and wider.
The smallest plants are ideal for desktop display, larger terrariums and dish gardens. Medium size varieties are best on their own. I like to set the plain grower’s pot inside a larger, decorative ceramic pot that does not have any drainage holes, to dress up the plant and protect table surfaces.
These small and mid-size plants are usually the heavier flower producers. Generally sold in bloom, the plant may take a rest after you’ve had it for a while. This is normal. If you get anxious for another crop of blooms, however, try moving it to a brighter spot. Don’t fertilize until the plant is putting on new growth of leaves or flowers.
Larger floor plant varieties have bold leaves that may stand two feet above the pot. Some of the older forms were grown mainly for their foliage, and rarely, if ever flower. If flowers are important, select a plant in bloom. Flowers are proportional to the foliage, and may reach four to five feet tall.
Peace lilies are resilient plants and rarely bothered with pests. While they are happiest with consistently moist soil, they bounce back quickly if you find them wilting. Prevent (or treat) browning on the leaf tips by taking the plant to the sink or tub once a month or so, and water thoroughly to rinse the soil.
As an added bonus, peace lilies are one of the top ten houseplants for improving air quality in the home. Not only do they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, they also act as filters to remove toxins from the air.
A beautiful, tough plant that provides both aesthetic and practical value — what more could you ask for?