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Unlikely plant recovery stories

16 years ago

albert_135's story on the yellow-Sansevieria leaf thread ( made me think of this.

I'm looking for stories about plants that overcame seemingly insurmountable odds and survived. Think of the thread like a plant version of those shows Oprah does from time to time: the kid who's run over by a bus three or four times and walks away, or the multiple amputee quadriplegic with dyslexia who nevertheless became an Olympic swimmer. That kind of thing.

So, throw out your stories about the six-foot Ficus that caught fire and was reduced to a single leaf, which came back and is now the centerpiece of your plant collection, or the peace lily that was crushed by rocks but perked right up after a little water, or the Peperomia that got put in the freezer but shook it off.

I realize not everyone will have stories like this, as some people wouldn't bother to try to rehabilitate a plant that had been, say, doused in nail polish remover and then set on fire (something I actually did, once, a long time ago, though it was an accident), but for those who do, have at. I have a (not terribly impressive) story myself, which I'll post eventually.

Comments (16)

  • 16 years ago

    I just had something like this happen. I had bought a new plant, a Pilea, and left it sit on the stove after I did the dishes. I went to work, my darling boyfriend came home and turned on the stove to cook lunch while I was gone. Well the plant turned black and severely wilted due to 425 degree temps, and I thought it was dead for sure. I cut it back to nothing but roots and now 3 weeks later it's growing healthy new leaves. Sometimes plants are amazing! That poor plant that was set on fire-yikes! Did it make a recovery?


  • 16 years ago

    I didn't try to rehabilitate the plant I set on fire. Though, thinking about it now, it may well have come back: it was a Cryptanthus of some kind, and although acetone fires are big and impressive, they're also pretty short-term, because the heat evaporates and ignites the acetone pretty quickly. So the plant probably didn't even get that hot. As long as there was no acetone poisoning -- but why would there have been, since the acetone probably all ignited, right?

    Oh, well. Next time I accidentally set a plant on fire, I'll save it.

    My story, since I promised one:

    I had a small jade plant, probably about 8 inches tall, that I bought one summer when I was in school. and then left at home for my mother to take care of. Being newish at plants in general, and totally new to jades, I repotted it immediately, which it didn't need, and potted it in straight sand. Then I left it with my mom, to take care of while I went back to school: there was some kind of issue with being able to bring it school with me; I don't remember what it was.

    Well. So I have a greenish thumb, as did Mom's mom, but it totally skipped a generation, and Mom had better things to do than care for a jade plant, so it went without water or direct sunlight (there was an incandescent table lamp on it sometimes, when people remembered, though of course incandescents get really hot) for a *very* long time (maybe a couple years?), getting water only when people thought of it, which was not very often.

    Eventually, and I'm not sure how this happened, exactly, the decision was made to get rid of it, and it was set outside, to be dealt with later. And then, one December day after a snowfall, probably when I was home again for Christmas break (so at least six months after it was bought, and possibly a year and a half) I went outside and noticed this little pot full of snow.

    To make a long story only a *little* bit longer, the plant made a full recovery from months or maybe years without soil or any natural light at all, severe underwatering and heat, and inadequate water, and *then* it was repeatedly frozen and covered in snow. And it survived just fine for another five years after that experience, give or take, though it was never moved to soil, didn't get watered often enough, and only sometimes had sunlight, during that period. It would probably still be alive now, but its hard life started to show, so I pitched it. In retrospect, I bet some actual soil would have helped immensely.

    (I'm improving my jade plant karma now, by growing several of the same type and getting it right.)

  • 16 years ago

    Last winter I bought a lovely anthurium that didn't adapt well at all - every leaf but two died, and those were in very bad shape. When the weather turned warm this spring, I set it outside, mostly to get it out of the way until I could dump it and clean out the pot - but to my surprise, it started putting out new leaves. It's not only more lush than when I bought it, it's in full bloom.

  • 16 years ago

    Okay, okay, here's mine. A long time ago a guy I lived with had a huge yucca plant he cherished, but hadn't given it adequate light so he used this stainless steel pole with it for support. I hated this half dead yellowish tinged spikey leafed plant. One day my boyfriend really really really pissed me off, so in a passive aggressive way that was so pervasive in my younger years, I boiled up a kettle of water and dumped it in the pot. And I waited for the plant to die...and waited...and waited. The leaves turned greener and the stem became stronger! Well, it's will was so strong I rewarded it with better care and it did well for many years. Leaves didn't even brown at the tips. Boiling water. Yep.

  • 16 years ago

    Some plant clubs have 'dog shows' for the worst-looking plants people can bring. Bet some of them have stories to tell!
    My most unlikely plant recovery dates back to the year we got to live overseas. At that time my husband was hybridizing grapes and was growing them at three or four places besides here, and I had a few hundred houseplants and a yard. He prevailed on our oldest son to come down here and take care of the house and the dog and cat and the grapes, and I told him any of my plants he could save that was fine but I thought he really had too much to do and not to worry if some died. When I came home I found many plants doing just fine, and a pile of potting mix with rootballs attached. Happened to check this rather large pile and discovered one that looked like it had live roots, so I potted it up and watered it and wondered what would happen. It's Ficus aack I can't remember how to spell it--benendijickii? alli, and it got beautiful, and a couple times got frozen back and came back beautifully, and I think it deserves better care from now on!

  • 16 years ago

    OK so I got my hands on my grandmothers x-mas cactus and I took it from her house and this thing is 90+ years old and it had bearly any soil it weighted abouy 60 pounds and everybody and thier dog wanted a pieced of it. I took 13 plants out of this one and I delievered many pieces and kept many for my self. I ended up sticking 2 very large plants outside and forgeting about them. Well they turned white and died so I thought. They were in direct sun and no water except when it rained and up against a steel trailer house. My thought Goners. I went to empty the pots tonight and there was all new growth coming at the bottom. so I am sure that a TRUE x- mas cactus is impossible to kill just like my grandma told me. She got it from her grandmother and this thing has been split more times then my grandma can remember and she is 81. She does not remember a time in her life when it was not around so can not tell me how onld it reall is. All she can say is it was her grandmothers.

  • 16 years ago

    I've cut plants down to the soil lines and had them to bounce right back-especially philos etc.


  • 16 years ago

    Not so much a recovery, but a plant that refuses to die. At least 2 maybe 3 years ago I had a straggling echeveria which I chopped back. Left the clippings on the floor of the greenhouse on a pie plate. No soil no water nothing. Of course I never went back to pot up the clippings. They are still ALIVE and perky-looking with those little roots up and down the stems.

  • 16 years ago

    Well i had a lovely Aloe juvenna that was getting a good size and then e had a bad storm and I lost my greenhouse. All was wet and frosted and many turned to mush,including I thought this Aloe. It is quite frost tender and was already suffering from being too cold in the greenhouse. The storm was the last straw and I just thought,oh well its a goner. But now its all green again,happy on my kitchen windowsill watching the world go by.

  • 16 years ago

    NanW - that's amazing!

  • 16 years ago

    Mr. S How did you manage to 'accidentally' douse the plant with nail polish remove and set it on fire? [Inquiring minds who laughed at the mental picture this conjured -- like something from a Lucille Ball show -- want to know.]

    : )

  • 16 years ago

    We-ellll. . . .

    I was kind of a pyro at the time, with access to acetone (= cheap nail polish remover; the expensive kind is usually ethyl acetate) as the result of being a chemistry undergrad. This had previously been used to, for example, light flat tennis balls on fire and throw them out of my (4th-floor) dorm window, set brief but impressively large fires on the (ceramic-tiled) hallways, and so forth. I'm not saying any of this was a *good idea*, please note, but it seemed like one when I was however old I was (19? 20?).

    The dorm rooms had a sink in a corner, with a mirror above them. (I'm trying to recall whether it was just a mirror or a whole medicine cabinet, and drawing a blank.) For some reason, I had the plant sitting on the sink -- possibly I'd just watered it, possibly I'd run out of room for plants elsewhere in the room.

    If I'm remembering correctly, the idea was to spray acetone on the *mirror*, and then light it on fire, so the fire would be reflected and look bigger and brighter and so forth, but I didn't take flammable vapor and dripping into account, so I kind of lit the whole sink area on fire, including the plant. The whole thing only lasted a few seconds. I do not recall whether the fire looked bigger/brighter, because I realized midway through that I'd set my plant on fire and was distracted by that.

    Hence, accidentally lighting plants on fire. The incident scared me enough that I believe it was the end of the acetone period, though I was still a pyro for a couple years after.

    Hasten to reiterate: not actually a good idea. Your results may vary. Do not attempt.

  • 16 years ago

    LOL No, not the 'brightest' things to have done. *pun intended* I could foresee hall RA's & dorm management being quite unhappy with you

  • 16 years ago

    When I was a student (30 years ago) I was at the campus gerdeners depot and spotted an ancient dead aspidistra, covered in red spider mite in a big pot.
    They said I could have it.
    I washed the leaves and wiped off all the mites, washed the soil off, cut off the leaves and repotted it.
    It grew.
    I still have it, but this year it got red spider again, so I relegated it to th garden. I have cut off all the leaves again, and now new shoots are coming up. I needto repot it and bring it in for the winter soon.
    They do call it the cast iron plant....

  • 16 years ago

    "Unlikely plant recovery stories," eh? Setting a plant on fire sounds more like a "Houseplant Horror Story"!