Please help me ID and care for this plant
November 30, 2008 6:33 PM   Subscribe

What kind of plant is this, and how am I supposed to take care of it?

The thing in the bottom of the pot is some kind of spider plant; I've had no problems with him. It's the tall guys that I need help with - I don't know what they are or what to do with them.

Right now they're in front of an east-facing window and get watered twice a week. When I took 'em home from Home Depot or wherever, the leaves were nice and green and solid. Currently they're somehow both crunchy and droopy, and have yellow discolorations all over them. This has happened before; I ended up chopping off all the leaves and they eventually came back nice and green before going to hell again.

So, can any greenthumbs on the green tell me how to properly take care of this guy?

posted by xbonesgt to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Looks like a corn plant.
posted by sanko at 6:47 PM on November 30, 2008

The biggest mistake most people make with indoor plants is too much sun and too much water. Watering twice a week might be too much, and/or the east-facing room might be cooking it. Is the soil drying out sufficiently before each watering? Is it getting enough drainage? I find I'm a lot better with clay/terracotta pots as they are very hard to over-water with as they breathe well. I'd say this is probably the problem, but I'd move it into a shadier location and maybe try watering it once a week instead, especially if the soil is even a little bit moist. Try spraying it instead of watering it every other time. Some Schultz's every other watering wouldn't hurt either.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:55 PM on November 30, 2008

That's a Dracaena of some sort - also known as a Corn plant, Ti Plant, or "lucky bamboo".

The twice-a-week watering is almost certainly too much. I'd soak it completely about once a week, and then let the soil dry completely before watering again. Also agree with jimmy that you might want less sun, but these can handle a reasonably sunny spot.
posted by mmoncur at 7:33 PM on November 30, 2008

That is a non-varigated Dracaena fragrans, commonly known as a corn plant. It doesn't grow corn, the common name is from the shape of the leaves and bare trunk, which bear a passing resemblance to a stalk of corn. It's very hardy indoors, tolerating a wide range of medium to bright lighting conditions, however it takes a while to adapt to being moved to a new lighting profile. It will also sunburn easily if kept too close to a sunny window, which might be the cause of your brown spots.

Is the yellow discoloration right down the center of the leaves? if yes, you've got the variegated Massangeana variety. D. Frangrans Massangeana grown in low light often put out only green leaves. If the yellow markings are random, then it's a symptom of overwatering.
posted by jamaro at 7:47 PM on November 30, 2008

It's one of the Dracaena family. Tropical plant. Wants a moist humid environment and a warmish room. Don't overwater, just keep the soil moist.
posted by reflecked at 7:52 PM on November 30, 2008

Agree with the ID of "Mass Cane," or D. fragrans Massangeana. Possibly some chlorosis going on (giving you discolored, droopy leaves). Back off on the watering. You may want to check and see if the root ball smells bad. This requires unpotting it, knocking off some of the dirt and (since you're there already) visually inspecting the roots. Are they mushy and nasty-looking? Cut off the rot and repot in a different medium. Potting soil might be too water-retentive. Wash the pot, too. Opportunistic fungal infections can kill a plant.

Great brief guide here.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:12 PM on November 30, 2008

thanks guys, but I'm not sure that I have a corn plant. According to the Wikipedia entry that reflecked posted, corn plants have white flowers, which I don't believe I've seen on this plant.

A friend of mine just suggested that it might be a yucca plant, and this does indeed look pretty similar to mine when it was healthy. Is that a possibility?
posted by xbonesgt at 8:35 PM on November 30, 2008

And regardless of the species, thanks for the heads-ups on overwatering, everyone. Maybe I've just been lucky that all my other plants thrive on the same watering schedule...
posted by xbonesgt at 8:36 PM on November 30, 2008

It's entirely possible that your plant has always been too unhappy to flower, which is why you've never seen a flower.

Take it from the hive mind. You do not have a yucca growing in your apartment. You probably do have a dracena of some sort.
posted by purpleclover at 8:40 PM on November 30, 2008

Heh, I was going to say dracaena then second guessed myself and didn't. But looing at mine yup, dracaena. I have a very happy specimen which looks lovely and hasn't flowered in the ten years it's been with me so that doesn't mean anything. They only flower when they're in the perfect conditions. I've always seen them called Dragon Plants btw, to give you something else to google.

You are 100% definitely watering it way too much. If it was drying out too much the leaves would go hard and darken so you're not going in that direction, and limpness in an otherwise stiff plant is a classic too much water sign. Don't worry, people always get that round the wrong way and think the limpness means it needs more water exacerbating the problem. You may also be encouraging a fungal infection in there by now (as mentioned above) so make sure you take care of that, then it really dry out for a while and start again. I only water mine every ten-fourteen days and it's bone dry in between.

I also agree that it may be getting too much light depending on what the window is like. My dracaena never gets direct sunlight and has grown quite a lot (although slowly). If you can move it beside the window or put in a sheer curtain that could help. Right in front of a window can also be bad because of temperature extremes. The plant needs to be protected from cold draughts just as much as streaming hot sunshine, most house plants don't actually like windows right there. Try the water thing first though because that just involves not doing something so is easy to test.

Yucca was going to be my second choice because of the fatter stems. The leaves don't look right but they're messed up right now anyway. It doesn't actually matter in the end, yuccas hate over watering just as much or more than dracena and your options to care for it are the same. I had one once but it was in a humid room and died pretty quickly from a fungal infection where the leaves meet the stem because I was overwatering it.

Lastly, you may need to remove the other plant and give it it's own pot. If the little one needs more water then it won't be happy plus it may be taking nutrients away from the bigger plant. That would be my last resort if less water / less light don't help.
posted by shelleycat at 9:40 PM on November 30, 2008

By the way, as for flowering, most tropical plants flower under very specific conditions, and you're not likely to see it happen indoors unless you keep the plant very healthy for a few years. Most houseplants flower in the wild, but very few regularly flower when kept indoors.

And it's not a Yucca. Yucca leaves are very stiff and have sharp points, and I'm not aware of any species that forms "trunks" that size - the one you linked to is probably 6-10 feet tall. Dracaena leaves are softer, thinner, and tend to droop a bit just like yours.
posted by mmoncur at 10:47 PM on November 30, 2008

I wasn't going to repeat what everyone has said, but since you're still not convinced, here's one more vote for Dracaena. They are reluctant flowerers: they grow outdoors year-round in my location, in pots or right in the ground, and I have never seen my two big healthy plants flowers, after more than three years. So absence of flowering is no proof that it isn't dracaena.

How long have you had them? If it recently came home from Home Depot, it may just be adjusting to life in your living room.
posted by BinGregory at 10:53 PM on November 30, 2008

And it's not a Yucca. Yucca leaves are very stiff and have sharp points, and I'm not aware of any species that forms "trunks" that size - the one you linked to is probably 6-10 feet tall.

Spineless Yucca not only lack spines, they form trunks like the OP's plant. I'm inclined to think it's a dracaena, but the care for both is the same. Both yucca and dracaena hate being overwatered, and actually do best in east or west facing windows. They are tolerant of pretty harsh conditions, including temperature variation. They will be fine by a window, even if it's a bit drafty. The watering is the biggest issue, and from your pictures, is possible the poor condition of the plant has allowed a fungal or bacterial blight to take hold. It's possbile the plant may also have root rot, as the basal yellowing of the leaf is a sign. Buy some well draining soil mix (without any added fertilizers like the horrible Miracl-Gro crap), rinse all the soil off your plants roots with lukewarm water, and remove anything mushy. Then repot in new soil (and a new pot, or disinfect yours with boiling water) that's been moistened and allowed to drain. Do not water again until the top 2-3 inches of soil is dry. Buy some Neem Oil (I bought mine at a health food store) and use it according to directions. Wet the soil as well as the plant.

This may not save your plant, because I have a feeling it's too late. It doesn't hurt to try, though.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:19 PM on December 1, 2008

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