Mystery office plant
May 25, 2011 7:53 AM   Subscribe

What is this mystery plant, and how can it be saved?

My coworker has a potted plant that he got in a gift shop type place. It was doing okay for awhile but now it's turning brown and papery, and we can't figure out what it is or why it's slowly dying. Our office has large windows and is pretty bright most of the day. He's been watering the plant weekly. Can you identify it?

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posted by ghostbikes to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is that where it normally sits? It looks like it's right next to a vent of some kind - I'd make sure it's clear of any air conditioning system drafts.
posted by jardinier at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2011

Response by poster: Oh no, that's just near the window for the picture. it's usually on the opposite desk from a window (our office is in the corner of the building).
posted by ghostbikes at 7:59 AM on May 25, 2011

Best answer: generally dying at the tips/ends means over-watering..

That said, I don't know what type of plant this is.
posted by k5.user at 8:01 AM on May 25, 2011

Best answer: It's a bird's nest fern. Your office is too dry and possibly too bright for it. Try misting it to keep it happier.
posted by purpleclover at 8:02 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and the office is almost certainly too cold. (It would prefer jungley conditions: high humidity and 70-80 degrees F.)
posted by purpleclover at 8:04 AM on May 25, 2011

Response by poster: Awesome, thanks for the answers! my coworker wants to know, will it possibly bounce back if he starts misting it?

and I want to know... would a usb-powered coffee warmer like this make it warm and happy?
posted by ghostbikes at 8:09 AM on May 25, 2011

Best answer: Yes, that poor fern is dry and likely burned, but can totally bounce back. He should get a little spray bottle and while he's on the phone or thinking deep thoughts, he should spray it. (Like, regularly.) And it should be taken away from that window and that vent. Shade plant, hates dryness.

They'll likely be okay with the temperature if the other conditions are better.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:11 AM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hooray, thank you!
posted by ghostbikes at 8:16 AM on May 25, 2011

Okay, so I have no idea of if the USB coffee warmer is a good idea (I imagine it's too hot, but I have no data). But I really want you to try it and see if it works. It may (probably will?) kill your plant, but if it worked, that would be so cool!

Also, I have never personally killed a fern of any sort by overwatering. I suppose such a thing is possible, but it's never happened to me.
posted by purpleclover at 8:47 AM on May 25, 2011

Ferns can take a lot of moisture, yes. Sometimes, a plant can be compromised by poor drainage. The roots just sit in the muck and can't get free. It also looks like the pot may be a little big for it, so when you repot it, don't go any larger. What I would do (and I have to say that my thumbs are super-green!) is get a fresh bag of decent potting soil and a new pot, made of unglazed earthenware so it can sweat and breathe. It has to have a hole in the bottom. Get a small number of palm-sized or smaller rocks and put a layer on the bottom of the new pot to control the drainage and give the roots some breathing room. Pour in some new soil, take the plant out of the old pot and shake off most of the original soil, and replant it in the new pot, filling up the sides. Set the plant on a dish to catch the drainage.

I just did some googling and here is an article that says pretty much the same thing, but in more detail. This article also covers the watering method, which is really important :
posted by lakersfan1222 at 10:14 AM on May 25, 2011

That fern has more problems than just being dry. The brown, rotting looking midrib on the lower leaves is indicative of one problem; the burnt looking ends of the leaves is another. I think lakersfan has an important point: that fern looks like it is in a pot sitting in another pot, not allowing it to freely drain. Ferns need to be moist but well drained. One of the indicators of a buildup of salts (minerals or fertilizers) is the leaf burn pictured around the perimeter of the leaves. The midrib turning brown can be a sign of root rot (which is any of a number of fungal pathogens), which ferns are much more susceptible to when sitting in stagnant water. The burnt looking leaf edges can also be a sign of fungus

To solve these issues, the fern needs to be potted in an orchid mix (asplenium nidus is an epiphyte, and does not grow in soil in nature) in a pot with a seperate saucer for water to drain into. You can put gravel in the saucer, so that some slight humidity might be available, but if your office has AC it will probably be negligible. Water deeply over the sink, rinsing the entire plant, then put back in its saucer. Mist a few times per day. It might end up being okay, but this fern does noy tend to do well at all in low humidity situations. Even if you fix the watering issues it is very susceptible to leaf burn in low humidity. This leaf burning is worse than that, however.

Oh, and the office is almost certainly too cold. (It would prefer jungley conditions: high humidity and 70-80 degrees F.)

It should be fine as long as temps are above 65, which I imagine is not a problem in your office. They just don't grow as fast as when it's 70-90. Mine's outdoors, and we have maybe 3-4 months only of 70-80 degree days. It's also in full sun for 3-6 hours in the morning. Your office is unlikely to be too bright unless it is in direct sun. They prefer 200 to 400 footcandles of light- offices are usually under 50.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:01 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I suggest re-potting it. Put the new pot on a platter or shallow bowl of decorative marbles. Keep the the platter filled with water, but make sure the bottom of of the plant pot is not sitting in the water. The pot will drain into the platter. The water will evaporate and keep the plant moist, but the roots will not rot from sitting in water.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 6:02 PM on May 25, 2011

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