As a fellow plant lover, it’s probably safe for me to assume you want to keep your greens thriving for as long as possible!
Sadly, not everything lasts forever, which is why keeping good care of your houseplants is vital. But with that in mind, do plants die of old age?
Some plants will stop growing once they’ve flowered, while others will keep on producing leaves and blooms for years to come! Technically, plants don’t die of old age – but, as you can imagine, the full answer is a little more complex!
Keep reading, and I’ll break down everything you need to know.
Can plants die of old age?
‘Dying of old age’ is a very ‘human’ way of looking at life! All living things expire for one reason or another, but plants simply won’t give up the ghost once they’ve reached a certain age. While species’ lifespans will vary from case to case, there’s no exact way to refer to a plant as ‘old’.
Most plants simply keep on growing providing conditions are optimal. For example, a dwarf banana plant can keep growing provided it has a large enough pot, access to nutritious soil, occasional watering, and lots of sunlight.
Outside, things are naturally going to be a little different. Plants that aren’t considered ‘hardy’ in the cold may need bringing inside, for example, if they’re to continue thriving.
What’s really interesting is that plants may actually live forever under the right conditions. Strange but true – your houseplant may outlive you yet for decades to come!
How can plants live ‘forever’?
It’s all about propagating. This means plants can effectively keep on growing and thriving with new stems, nodes, and roots.
One example of an endlessly propagating plant may be a tomato shrub – providing your crop has access to the warmth and nutrients it needs, you can keep harvesting fruit from season to season for years to come.
With specific plants, you can also take clippings and root in water or soil to produce whole new specimens! A great example is the spider plant. As this specimen grows, it produces ‘spiderettes’, which splinter off and can be gently clipped to grow entirely new plants elsewhere.
Within a relatively short space of time, you can double, triple and quadruple your spider plants simply by clipping off and finding new pots – they’ll live forever, providing you keep up the process!
Plants are also highly enviable in that they use cell division to keep looking young and staying healthy! Through senescence, plants can split and transform their cells as they die. Human cells, conversely, simply die – meaning we can’t refresh and rejuvenate the way plants can. If only!
This goes some way to explaining why plants don’t ‘age’, or ‘die of old age’. Some can persist for centuries before dying, with the oak tree being a great example!
In fact, there’s a bristlecone pine tree growing in the west of the US that’s said to be almost 5,000 years old!
Do annual plants die of old age?
Here’s where things get tricky, as while most plants don’t have set lifespans, annual flowers will – as their names suggest – typically only withstand a single growing season.
Annual plants don’t die of old age, again, as we know it. Instead, annual plants and flowers bloom once a year and scatter seeds before fading. You can take cuttings from annual plants if you’d like to bring them indoors over winter, which can keep the circle of life running.
Biennials are similar in that they will normally see two growing seasons or years out. However, the lifespans of both annuals and biennials are cut short thanks to the winter chill, not old age.
It’s entirely possible to keep annuals and biennials growing for longer, but it’s going to take a lot of effort (and quite a bit of luck!).
What are some of the oldest-living houseplants?
If you’re looking for a houseplant or two which will withstand decades of gorgeous growth, consider cast iron plants. These hardy growths can outlast human generations – with some estimations claiming they’ll see out a full century in the right conditions!
Other long-living houseplants include spider plants (as mentioned above), snake plants, agave, jade plants, and Christmas cacti. A good trick to follow is to look for plants that have minimal demands.
Succulents, for example, tend to weather years of growth simply with abundant sunlight and very occasional watering. It’s more delicate flowers and plants that tend to die off quicker.
Is my plant dying of old age?
Your houseplant probably isn’t dying of old age – if it’s starting to show signs of ill health, it may be that:
- It’s lacking water
- It needs fertilizer
- It’s not getting enough sunlight
- It’s struggling in a draft
- Its neighbor plants are stealing all its nutrients
- It’s shocked after getting transplanted or repotted (even moved slightly!)
The list goes on. Of course, some plants are hardier than others with regard to the above list, so do check growing requirements for your favorite plants.
What are some signs that a houseplant is dying?
Even though your houseplant likely isn’t dying due to age, there are still some key signs to look for that show it’s approaching the end of its life.
It’s not flowering
If your houseplant is a specimen that flowers constantly, it can be jarring to suddenly see it stop. This is generally a sign that it may be too sickly to produce any more blooms.
Its leaves and wilting and drying up
Wilting, drying leaves can indicate there are problems with watering, sunlight and/or nutrition. Generally, it’s good to look at leaves first as a key indicator of any imbalance in its diet or sunlight schedule. In some cases, you’ll be able to perk up your plant’s leaves again with a little nitrogen.
You may even find leaves are falling off completely. It’s not because of old age, but likely because your plant is either outgrowing its home, or it’s finding the temperature difficult to bear.
As always, check the ideal growing demands for your specific plant, as some fare better in humidity than others, for example.
Its leaves are changing color and are developing spots
Leaves changing color aren’t a sign of old age, but that you probably need to adjust your plant’s watering and sunlight schedule. It’s likely you’ll need to move it somewhere darker or lighter depending on the specimen, and you may even need to cut down on watering altogether in some cases.
Spotted leaves indicate a completely different state of affairs – it’s probably struggling with a fungus such as powdery mildew. If this is the case, you may need to clip leaves away and even change the soil.
Spots and holes in your leaves can also indicate pests are eating away at the foliage – which means either using an organic pest solution, or introducing pest predators such as ladybugs around your plants.
Is it easy to revive a dying houseplant?
Reviving a houseplant that’s dying isn’t an exact science, as it’ll depend on what your specific plant needs and what’s causing its illness. Sadly, it’s not always guaranteed that you can bring a plant back from the brink.
What you can do, however, is adjust your care routine. If its leaves are starting to discolor or crisp up, it’s probably worth changing its location, or making sure you water it more or less (depending on the species).
Do also consider adding a little nitrogen-rich fertilizer to its soil, too, to help perk the specimen up.
You may even need to completely repot your plant. This is likely a last resort as transplant shock can kill some specimens off completely. However, it’s a necessary move if your plant’s suffering from disease or pest attacks.
It’s also worth checking the roots of your plant if you suspect it’s reaching its final days. A mushy root system is an indication you’ve been watering your plant too much – whereas a dried set of roots, of course, means you’ll need more water. In both cases, you may even need to repot the plant.
Do plants have a lifespan?
Plants don’t have a set lifespan! They’re lucky in that they can keep propagating and dividing cells to live for longer, and to stay strong and healthy.
However, that doesn’t mean your houseplants are guaranteed to live forever, and you’re certainly going to need to care for it properly to enjoy many years of growth and greenery to come.
While some impressive trees in the wild have been with us for centuries, our houseplants are a little more dependent on us – meaning it’s always worth reading up on the perfect light levels, watering schedule and/or additional feeding needs.
Even if your plant seems like it’s dying out, you could still save it – why not follow the advice above and see how you get on?