Growing a "Peace Lily"
Common names: Spath, Spathe, "Peace Lily", Snow Flower
Don't be afraid to water
your "Peace Lily". They grow naturally in water!
All Peace Lily plants are
members of the genus Spathiphyllum. Many of us commonly grow
a Peace Lily in our
and regardless of the hybrid or species you grow the majority originated
went to South America in the 1800’s seeking new and interesting “house plants” for European growers. Although
there are quite a few species, only a few have been grown from the few
species that originated in Asia.
All Spathiphyllum species, as well as all the hundreds of hybrids
and cultivars are
members of the larger plant family known as Araceae, commonly called an
aroid. Aroids are easily recognized by the spathe and spadix
produced by these plants that is incorrectly called a flower.
Dr. Nancy Greig PhD, Curator of Entomology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science recently wrote to us and stated, "I am very familiar with Spathiphyllum friedrichsthalii in Costa Rica. It grows in open areas (large rainforest gaps and in swampy fields) in full sunlight, and usually in several inches of water. If you do a Google image search for Spathiphyllum friedrichsthalii you will see a “flickr” photo – that photo is of the “swamp” at La Selva Biological Station La Selva Biological Station in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica (ne quadrant). The people in the photo are standing on the boardwalk that leads through the swamp, which is flooded with several inches of water for most of the year, except at the height of the dry season The dominant plant in the swamp, as you’ll see in the photo is S. friedrichsthalii. S. friedrichsthalii is common in the deforested fields throughout the area."
those that don't believe the plants in this genus love water please take
a moment to look at one single photo. The photo of the plants Dr.
Nancy was referring to as standing in water can be seen here:
A good deal of the information below was derived from the scientific paper the SYNOPSIS OF THE GENUS SPATHIPHYLLUM (ARACEAE) IN COLOMBIA by Felipe Cardona as well as many other scientific documents along with personal communication with the authors noted.
The most likely used species to create the hybrids we grow appears to be one of several including Spathiphyllum wallisii , Spathiphyllum floribundum, Spathiphyllum friedrichsthalii or Spathiphyllum cannifolium which are among the most widespread species in Colombia and some other portions of South America. It is certainly possible Spathiphyllum friedrichsthalii , which is common to Costa Rica has also been used to create some hybrids. The spathe (flower) of Spathiphyllum floribundum and Spathiphyllum cannifolium are close matches to the spathe we observe on many of our hybrid houseplants. Spathiphyllum cannifolium appears restricted to the Amazon basin where it is known from practically all major tributaries of the Amazon basin, at least in Colombia. Within Colombia, Spathiphyllum cannifolium occurs at 200 to 1000 meters (660 feet to to 3,280 feet) in elevation, in tropical wet forest life zones and produces an inflorescence almost any time of the year.
Spathiphyllum minor is found in tropical wet rain forest at 200 to 300 meters elevation but normally flowers only in January. March. July, and September. At the same time Spathiphyllum perezii is a tropical wet rain forest species found at roughly the same elevation as Spathiphyllum cannifolium but blooms in May, July, and September. Spathiphyllum silvicola is found in both rain forests and tropical wet rain forests but blooms more erratically in January, February, July, September, October and December. Spathiphyllum lancaefolium grows in wet rain forest and produces inflorescences from July through October. As you can see, there is no set season of the year for a specific plant, especially a hybrid to bloom! All of this will be put into perspective as our discussion of the production of inflorescences continues. Please read once again where and how these species commonly grow in nature.
A complete list of all the accepted species of Spathiphyllum can be found near the bottom of this page. If a particular name is not on this list it is likely either a hybrid or a plant that has been reduced to a synonym of one of the accepted species' names.
Wet, damp or
The next time someone tells you your "Peace Lily" doesn't like water and should only be given a "drink" when it begins to "beg" suggest they take a trip to Ecuador where they commonly live in streams. I always advocate to "listen to Mother Nature, since her advice is best" and Mother Nature's advice is to keep your Spathiphyllum slightly damp at all times and grow it in bright light. However, it is very true that excess water in the soil can quickly cause the leaves to blacken, especially from the edges before they die. The cause and cure are explained below but be aware the same can happen when a plant is kept far too dry. These plants are water members of a genus that love water since they grow in a rain forest as well as in and along the margins of streams and rivers as can be seen in the photo (left).
The genus is well represented in the South American country of Colombia and is found from near sea level to approximately 1300 meters (4,200 plus feet). The genus is most common in lowland primary forests and is commonly associated with water and streams growing in large colonies that are interconnected by their rhizomes. The genus Spathiphyllum also grows in partially or periodically flooded forests sometimes in sites with relatively low light intensities. However, the assumption these plants will always prosper in low light needs further consideration and explanation. Consider all the scientific evidence as this article progresses.
An explanation of the terms rhizome, petiole and stem are in order since the terms also tells us something about how to plants survive and reproduce in nature.
A rhizome is simply a stem that runs across the surface of the ground and serves as the primary support or central axis of the plant (photo below). All or most of the plants in a colony are connected to some degree via their rhizomes. The terms stem and rhizome are poorly understood by plant growers so it is important you understand we are not discussing the support of any single leaf, correctly known as a petiole. Growers are commonly mislead into believing a leaf is supported by a "stem" but that assumption is incorrect. Leaves are divided into two primary parts and the two parts growing together are defined as a "leaf". The two parts are the petiole and the blade.
The stem is the base, central axis and main support of a plant normally divided into nodes and internodes. The nodes often produce roots, leaves its axils, and the interesting spathe "flower) which is supported on a stalk known as a peduncle. A node is the point where the plant produces its roots and hold buds which may also grow into shoots of various forms. The stem's roots then anchor the plant either to the ground, a tree or to a rock depending on the species and genus. In the case of the genus Spathiphyllum a stem may even spread as a repent rhizome creeping across the soil but is often just beneath the surface. Stems may either grow above ground, underground or partially above the soil.
paper he statedwho is the Curator of Botany at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO,
In the text the SYNOPSIS OF THE GENUS SPATHIPHYLLUM (ARACEAE) IN COLOMBIA, eighteen species of Spathiphyllum are known to exist in Colombia. Of those, Spathiphyllum cannifolium is “likely the most widespread species of the genus in Colombia. Spathiphyllum cannifolium appears restricted to the Amazon basin, where it is known from primarily all major tributaries of the Amazonas, Cacquetá, Vichada. Apaproris, and Guayabero Rivers. A large gap in distribution exists, however, in ihe central portion of the Colombian Orinoco and Caquetá valleys, likely due to poor collecting in the area. In Colombia, Spathiphyllum cannifolium occurs at 200 to 1000 meters elevation, in tropical wet forest life zones, and flowers all year round.”
On page 50 in his 1978 article published in the scientific journal Aroideana entitled The Genera of Araceae in the Northern Andes by Dr. Michael Madison formerly of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens he states, "Spathiphyllum includes 40 species of terrestrial herbs which usually are found in wet habitats." Since the date his article was published several new species have been described to science but the plants we normally grow are rarely species plants. The number of species has since been revised.
Again in Aroideana Volume 5, page 117 in an article by Robert White on West Panama he writes, "As we left the area we stopped at a sunny stream and found growing along its banks a small Spathiphyllum sp. with very dark green leathery leaves. The outside of its spathe was dark green and the inside was white, cut with fine lines of green." Aroideana is the journal of the International Aroid Society.
Practical experience quickly teaches a grower Spathiphyllum species and hybrids do best if kept slightly damp in fast draining soil. Not wet. Never dry. The explanation follows,
An important definition you need to understand: Autotrophic
Chlorophyll is the green pigment in every plant that captures sunlight to produce photosynthesis. Plants survive due to photosynthesis Plants draw in carbon dioxide through their leaves and utilizing a process known as being an autotroph they combine CO2 with water that enters the cells of the leaf as a result of rainfall. Autotrophs including Spathiphyllum create their own food by utilizing photosynthesis. If kept in very dim light you are deliberately starving the plants from the ability to produce their own natural sources of food. The process is also known in science as CO2 Fixation or the PCR Cycle (Photosynthetic Carbon Reduction) and in excessively dim light the process of photosynthesis can be switched off.
The process is completed through reduction (stripping away) of carbon dioxide by adding the hydrogen component of water (H2O) to create organic compounds. In biology the term reduction indicates the hydrogen is removed from the oxygen by specialized cells in the leaves. In green plants an autotroph converts physical energy from sun light into carbohydrates in the form of sugars. They may also form chemical energy by synthesizing complex organic compounds from simple inorganic materials in order to produce fats and proteins from light.
The products of photosynthesis produced in the leaf are both sugar and oxygen and the oxygen is given back to the environment while the carbohydrates are used to feed the plant's own growth. Home growers often recommend a Spathiphyllum for this very reason since they feel it will improve the oxygen level in a room.
Although home growers rarely understand or just ignore the need for brighter light and high humidity to grow their plants, stronger light and misting are important to healthy growth. The next time anyone tells you dim light helps this plant or misting is not important since the water evaporates too quickly, recommend they read up on "autotrophic" growth and photosynthesis. It should also be understood plants also need oxygen and draw it in through their roots as will be explained later in this article. For a detailed explanation of the process of CO2 reduction seek a copy of Photobiology of Higher Plants by Maurice S. McDonald in your local library.
my Peace Lily plant bloom all the time?
True, there are species such as Spathiphyllum cannifolium and Spathiphyllum floribundum that commonly produce inflorescences but there is no way to know for certain if the plant you are growing was bred from those species. The chances are high your plant was produced in a chemical soup and its parents were interbreed with many parent species. You are highly unlikely to be growing a true species. Breeders attempt to inbreed plants that tend to produce inflorescences more frequently but in time the plants often return to their in-built DNA coding and produce only on their specific natural schedule. When a breeder is trying to produce plants with spectacular leaves combined with frequent flowering, something has to be given up its natural genetic sequence. Many plants will forever attempt to return to the DNA of their natural parentage.
If you wish to make a specimen thrive and grow in your home a specimen prefers high humidity and constant moisture. A specimen should be kept in bright light but out of direct sunlight with a tray of pebbles filled with water beneath the pot to provide some humidity. Although few wild species produce an inflorescence year round if you wish to keep it producing inflorescences the plant should also be misted frequently. But there may be both a natural and a chemical cause once your plant begins to refuse to "bloom".
On a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden research greenhouse in December 2009 not one of the specimen plants of true Spathiphyllum species was producing an inflorescence! These species often bloom seasonally and December was not a part of their bloom season,
Hybridized Spathiphyllum commonly sold in garden and discount
centers can be seen with a cluster of open inflorescence virtually any
month of the year. Commercial growers use a chemical known as
gibberellic acid often sold as GA3 to induce the plants to produce
inflorescences in order to make them more saleable. Gibberellic acid is
a natural plant hormone and is used in agriculture to stimulate both
cell division and cell elongation that affects the leaves as well as the
stems of a plant.
Although GA3 can be purchased, the use of the chemical can be hazardous to the plant if you don't know the exact dose to use. In that case you must resort to the use of a good fertilizer but never use one in excess.
growing a species or a hybrid?
One of the more recent additions to the market include a "variegated" form of Spathiphyllum. Variegation is not a common event for these species in nature and is being created in the tissue culture laboratory by injecting a harmless virus known as the Colour Break Virus into the tissue culture mixture. In almost all cases the plant will eventually outgrow the injected virus and will return to the normal green form. This virus is the cause of all variegated plants and is now commonly in use since buyers will often pay extra for a variegated specimen without realizing the variegated colors will likely soon be lost.
Once you read what I attempt to explain
about the "Peace Lily" some will undoubtedly want to say the plants
in our homes are very different from the plants in the rain forest since
they are “house plants” and not wild. Some of literally attempted
to "laugh my explanations on this subject off internet plant discussion
sites". I don't wish to be unkind but all
house plants had to originate somewhere in the wild and just because you
move it into a home does not mean you have changed its genetic makeup!
Soil in the rain forest versus the soil you buy
Some years ago I coined a slogan for use in our atrium which you may have read at various places on the internet, "Much of what we believe is based on what we have yet to be taught. Listen to Mother Nature. Her advice is best." I trust you will read everything on this page with that in mind. People believe what they do about growing Spathiphyllum because someone that did not do good scientific research on the topic stated it somewhere and it has since been accepted by the majority of growers. Many growers prefer to do what is easiest for them, not what is best for the plant. As a result, many growers will defend what they have been taught without ever doing one bit of real research other than to accept commonly held beliefs on the internet.
Have you ever walked into a beautiful botanical garden and said to yourself you’d love to be able to grow plants this way in your home? The truth is you can easily do so provided you are willing to learn how they grow in nature and follow Mother Nature’s lead and that does not need to be difficult. Botanical garden staff members rely on botanists that have observed the same specimens in the wild to tell them what each species needs in order to prosper. At the same time, we typically want only one set of very simple rules requiring that we do little. The two photos just below are of our own Exotic Rainforest private garden in Northwest Arkansas. We have a motto which controls the way every plant is grown, "Listen to Mother Nature, her advice is best".
Advice given on the internet is often not based in science but in assumption. Although you are often told on internet discussion sites to water sparingly and buy a “rich” soil for your tropical plants the soil in the tropical rain forests are typically very nutrient poor and it rains often.
A great deal of litter falls to the ground where it is quickly broken down through natural decomposition via earthworms, insects including termites and fungi. Although we grow our plants in air-conditioned living rooms where there is little humidity, in the forest the heat and humidity encourage the further decomposition of the rain forest leaf litter. The shallow roots of very large trees then rapidly absorb almost all of this organic matter. As a result, most of the nutrients are contained in the trees rather than in the soil.
Most nutrients that manage to be absorbed into the soil are leached out by the frequent rainfall which leaves the soil infertile and acidic. Trees in the rain forest rarely grow deep roots as is common in North America. It is not uncommon for very large trees to fall in a storm but all the seedlings waiting for the patch of light that is left when a giant falls quickly replace them.
The topsoil layers may be only one to two inches (often less than centimeters) deep but provides only a limited amount of nutrition to the plants. The plant life is lush since the plants store the nutrients inside their own cells as well as produce them via photosynthesis rather than gathering them from the soil. Were you to step into a living rain forest you will find far more plants dangling from the trees than you will ever find growing in the soil. Plants in the forest have adapted to utilize the nutrients from their “brethren” in order to flourish and survive.
When plants decay, others rapidly absorb the nutrients left behind from the dead vegetative matter and reuse all of them. At the same time, we tend to “clean up” our plants and just throw the dead leaves in the trash rather than returning them to our compost for our soil mixtures! The fain forest is naturally poor in soil nutrition which is exactly why farmers that regularly destroy thousands and millions of rain forest acres can only use the rain forest soil for one or two years. Man often does not think things through logically and just reacts to opportunity. I fear that far too many plants end up in the trash for the same reasons rain forest farmers continue to destroy the plants in nature. We make too many "assumptions" and do little actual research, we just willingly believe what we are told and if the bad information is challenged some choose only to try to discredit the source rather than consider the science.
The rain forest soil is infertile because it averages eons in development and requires constantly being both replenished while those nutrients are quickly used again. Even in the forest there is not enough vegetative material falling to the ground or trees falling, burning and decomposing to make the soil rich enough to grow a crop! The constant rain washes minerals out of the soil that flows down the numerous rivers leaving soil both acidic and nutrient poor. When the soil is exposed to the heat and sunlight it is often turned into red clay in which little can grow. Many of the remaining minerals cannot be utilized so they become useless to plants. There are occasional fertile patches of soil in the rain forest, but they are rarely compacted and often scattered throughout the thick vegetation. It is a completely viable train of thought to believe species such as Spathiphyllum have been caused by their DNA to seek out streams and pools of water since the concentration of useable nutrition is found in the water as a result of decomposition and frequent rain!
The hot and humid conditions of the forest cause tropical rain forests to be an ideal environment for bacteria and other microorganisms and since they remain active throughout the year they quickly decompose matter on the forest floor. Yet, despite countless years of developing her plants to live with specific soil, rain and water conditions we want any plant we buy to suddenly ignore their DNA and yield to our demands for simple care by simply buying a “bag of soil” without regard to its contents and dumping it into a pot. These are rain forest plants and they love water! We must learn to adapt our growing style to meet our plant's needs, not ours.
However, as will soon be explained it is neither difficult nor expensive to create a rough duplication of the fast draining soil Nature creates for her plants.
So, what is the problem that causes our plants to die?
Some try to explain this simple method of growing the Peace Lily on plant forums but they are sometimes all but "laughed" off the page. I am unsure if people don't wish to believe what science explains or have simply made up their mind and don't want to learn anything other that what a friend or family member has regrettably explained incorrectly. Simply because a grower tells you they "know someone" that lost a beautiful Spathiphyllum due to too much light or over watering that does not indicate the plant actually died of too much water and light! Do your own research and don't restrict yourself to plant growing forums! We list many sources you can read on this page.
Long held beliefs are common in home horticulture and some become "old wife's tales that simply will not die. The photo near the top of this page is our artificial Ecuadorian river and almost all the plants along the back are Spathiphyllum. The top is filled with plants that grow along the banks of streams and rivers in South America as well as in shallow water while the plants at the bottom are all aquatic. Although difficult to see the tank contains two mated Angelfish and almost four dozen Neon Tetras.
No Tricks. Just Mother
For those tempted to say we must be using some "trick", some of the plants have been in our collection for five years or more and others were bought at a local home supply store. All the soil was removed and the plants are "potted" bare root in plastic boxes with suction cups holding them to the back of the aquarium, The boxes have numerous holes to allow the water to freely flow through the roots and the "medium" is nothing more than orchid bark along with fine pieces of charcoal. All the boxes now have roots hanging out the holes reaching the sand on the bottom of the tank.
According to the Royal Botanic Garden Kew (London) scientific website CATE Araceae, there are forty five natural species (excluding natural variations) http://www.cate-araceae.org/Spathiphyllum However, other qualified sources offer other numbers for the total species that exist. Science is constantly changing.
On top of that there are well over 200 hybridized varieties created by the hand of man, many sold as Spathiphyllum
'Clevelandii' or other made-up names. Like many others, Spathiphyllum 'Clevelandii' is a trade name
and not a species name. As a result it is almost impossible
to look at any specimen and accurately determine what the parent species
may have been.
For those that have already drawn the conclusion I am attempting to prove these species cannot live in shade, please read ths quote from the SYNOPSIS OF THE GENUS SPATHIPHYLLUM (ARACEAE) IN COLOMBIA, "Spathiphyllum species occur along river banks, on loose clay or sandy soils in shady areas. Such habitats are more common in the interAndean valleys below 13(K) m than on the rocky river banks of the Chocri region. More research on the ecology of the species and more extensive collecting, nevertheless, are necessary before a solid hypothesis can he formulated to explain the distribution of the genus in Colombia."
Obviously, these species can live in shade. Even though Spathiphyllum can and do tolerate poor conditions does not mean they prefer them. In nature it appears they prefer medium or bright indirect to direct light as well as adequate water and food. However, the genus is sometimes found in full shade as was also described by Dr. Croat in one of his treatments on the species Spathiphyllum dressleri. "Spathiphyllum dressleri ranges from Panama to Colombia and occurs in moist to wet forest, at 50 to 700 meters. The species is rare and is found in full shade in areas of tropical wet forest." Be sure and pay attention to the part about "moist to wet forest".
Full shade does not indicate a plant should be eternally stuck in a darkened corner of a room either. In the forest tropical plants are living beings that are capable of slowly transporting their colony to better conditions when their current placement becomes inhospitable. Those that can climb trees just climb higher but Spathiphyllum must use another method.
It is not uncommon for the forest canopy to encroach on bright to moderately bright light to the point the understory plants that live on the ground cannot gather enough light to survive. Since Spathiphyllum species spread as they reproduce and grow they simply begin to reproduce themselves away from the shade and each new growth shares its stored sunlight with neighboring plants via their underground connections. A colony of wild Spathiphyllum is one single giant organism composed of many individual plants.
If your plant is stuck in a dark corner it stays there until you choose to move it! The plant has no natural way to correct its poor growing conditions and once the light level is intolerably inadequate for the production of sufficient sugars in order to feed itself the plant simply runs out of options and cease to survive thus providing more compost to the forest floor to feed all the remaining plants. It happens all the time in nature, and too often in homes.
plants such as a Spathiphyllum know to seek brighter light, quite
simply their own DNA points them in that direction and in the case of
many climbing species towards a tree to climb. Many rain forest
plants need a tall tree tree so they can begin their climb toward the
light in order to attain adulthood and nature provides with with a
unique tool known as scotopism to seek dark shade in order to climb a
tree to brighter light. However, in the case of the "Peace Lily", the
species is a water loving terrestrial species and is rarely found
growing in trees.
Were you to borrow a very good light meter from a trained professional photographer and do the math you would learn the light level in a darkened corner of a living room is less than 5% (perhaps lower) than the bright light these species enjoy in nature. Ask a good photographer to help you understand the concept of light reduction when using a camera. Assuming a good camera has f/stops ranging from f/22 down to f/2.8 (a normal 6 f/stop range), every time you make a one stop adjustment you have lost 50% of the previous amount of measured light. If you have to use the f/22 reading in the sun which would be normal in most situations but must also use the f/2.8 setting in the living room (again normal), you have just lost more than 95% of the available light!
really water the plant or let is stay dry most of the time?
beautiful spathe. Is it really a flower?
When a “Peace Lily” is referred to as "flowering" the reference is truly
to the very small flowers (near microscopic) which are produced along
the spadix and have nothing to do with the spathe. The only connection is
both are produced during the plants sexual reproduction known as
anthesis. The spathes of different species do not look
alike and some look nothing like the common plant found in a home. Each species has a unique inflorescence which is one of the
main characteristics used to determine the species. Since the
majority of plants sold in the U.S. are hybrids the characteristics of
the inflorescence is likely a combination of both parent species.
bisexual inflorescence each tiny section which can be observed on the
spadix with a good magnifying glass is an individual flower consisting
of a central female structure with a stigma at its center and several
male flowers surrounding that stigma. These male flowers are
difficult to observe except during male anthesis when they are actually
producing pollen. The pollinator
of these species is thought be a small bee active only during daylight
hours but the thermogenesis of the species has never been documented.
Thermogenesis is a heat rise produced by the inflorescence that is used
to disperse a perfume-like pheromone in order to attract the pollinating
insect. Insects can also "see" the heat as a result of
problem of keeping your Peach Lily happy!
So why is the soil mixture important? If the roots of Spathiphyllum
species or hybrids don't have the ability to stretch, grow and move
freely in their soil they will rot. These plants need very loose porous
soil and you aren't ever going to find that in an off the shelf potting
mix. It isn't the water that causes the roots to rot it is the soggy,
sticky, thick, gummy soil growers normally plant them in!
The only way to allow the roots to absorb nutrients, breathe and poke
around easily in the soil is to make it possess a very porous
consistency with lots of easily reached regions that are never tightly
compacted. In the compost-filled silt of a Central American or tropical South American
stream or pond of standing water these plants can run their roots all
over the place. You can often reach into the water and feel only very loose
compost rather than thick gooey mud. For some reason people believe they
can just go buy "potting soil" and anything should grow in it but that
may well be the kiss of death to many tropical plants!
Here is the
secret most serious aroid growers already know!
Healthy growth is about the fast flow of water through the soil. The lack thereof causes a lack of oxygen, anerobic fermentation and saprophytes that turn into pathogens. Saprophytes are organisms including fungus or bacteria that grow on and draw nourishment from dead or decaying organic matter that often includes soggy wet soil. The pathogens attack the roots and cause them to rot so all of the advice to "slow down on the water" is really about how to control the pathogens.
The common advice on most garden websites is to allow a plant to dry between watering, however that is often not good advice. Here's why.
Anyone that has asthma knows the difficulty of getting air out and then drawing fresh oxygen back in. Even though plants release oxygen into the air through their leaves they draw fresh oxygen into the plant through their roots. A potted plant is much like your lungs and if you can't bring in fresh oxygen you will soon cease to live. Mud blocks the flow of oxygen. So you ask, how do these plants survive in the rain forest where some are observed growing in fairly rich boggy soil on the edges of rivers and streams? There are apparently an almost imperceptible water flow through the roots caused by the water flow of the stream. If you read earlier how jungle soil is made up, you also understand it is very porous and this allows the oxygen to still reach the roots. Mother Nature knows "tricks" we have yet to discover in our homes so we need to play close attention to what she does and duplicate her "style" as best possible.
As a result the top layer of a potted plant's soil should not be allowed to completely dry since that dry soil prevents the intake of fresh air! Remember, unlike jungle soil your pot is solid and no oxygen can enter though the walls as it would with only a tiny amount of water flow in th forest. Once the soil in a pot dries it creates a "blanket effect" to hold in the stale moisture and keep out fresh oxygen. Once the top layer dries the moist layer below cannot easily breathe in order to re-oxygenate the soil so it is possible to soon become anoxic (the lack of oxygen). Anoxia encourages saprophytic growth and leads to root rot,
The dry upper layer surrounded by very solid pot walls actually prevents the capillary effect of the wet surface evaporation when damp soil is exposed to air. When you pour water in the air inside the soil is displaced so the oxygenated air inside has left the pot. If the upper soil layer completely dries the "lungs" of the pot cannot work and can no longer continue to draw in another breath of fresh air including needed oxygen.
The entirety of the soil needs to remain evenly damp so the roots of the plant can continue to draw in fresh oxygen. Otherwise, root rot is likely to begin. Since most people don't want to bother with ever watering their plants, many people go into a garden store and purchase a very rich potting soil that stays soggy all the time. Despite the belief they are giving the plant a "rich" soil to make it thrive they may be dooming their Spathiphyllum specimen to death in anoxic mud. Plant species can literally drown in mucky soil with no air or water motion due to a lack of oxygen that leads to saprophytic growth!
Rather than using a soggy soil and watering only once a week (or less), use a soil that holds moisture well but drains quickly. With the help of botanical garden researchers we've learn to develop a soil mixture for most of our aroid species that works great. People who visit our artificial rain forest are often amazed at the size of many of our specimens that grow much faster and larger than they often do in a home since we water frequently.
A very interesting point was raised a few years ago by my friend Julius Boos (1946 to 2010) from Trinidad. Julius was known widely as an expert in aroid species having published many articles in scientific publications and journals such as Aroideana. Aroideana is the official publication of the International Aroid Society. You may find his quote of interest, "The blooms of Spathiphyllum cannifolium are reportedly used and cooked as an ingredient in curries in Surinam and northern South America. I got a recent record of the blooms and young leaves of Caladium bicolor being cooked and used as a food in Aruba and N. W. Trinidad, W.I. and the name used for them there was 'ca-chew'." So at least some of these plants are used for more purposes than simply as a house plant! Spathiphyllum cannifolium is a unique species of Spathiphyllum.
The hybridized Spathiphyllum ("Peace Lily") is tolerant of a fairly wide range of conditions and abuse for moderately long periods of time but if not potted properly as well as given adequate light will eventually simply give up and die. Even near death, the plant often recovers with little more than a regular watering and a pruning to remove the dead leaves and spathes provided it is given a minimal dose of fertilizer and good light. Although it will be close to dehydration and starvation the plant will tell you when it wants to be watered by beginning to droop its leaves.
If fertilized moderately and treated well a large number of very exquisite green spathes of the Spathiphyllum that is capable of turning white will grow. The lance shaped leaves normally reach 20 to 40cm (8 to 16 inches) in length and grow directly from the soil via the support of their petiole. However, there are numerous hybrids that can grow larger. All plants in the genus prefer medium to moderately bright light so long as it is near a window but protect it from cold and drafts! Spathiphyllum grows nicely under average room temperatures and can easily be propagated by dividing a few of the plant's rhizome clumps as a specimen begins to outgrow the pot.
On the subject of colored spathes, or supposed plants that produce a colorful spathe other than white I asked Dr. Croat on August 15, 2010 to comment. He responded, "Most species actually produce green spathes. Rather few are actually white but no other colors are involved." Just another myth to chalk up to all the others that can read on the internet.
Aroideana is the scientific journal of the International Aroid Society. http://www.aroid.org/
information on natural variation in aroid and other plant species please
visit this page:
Join the International Aroid Society: http://www.exoticrainforest.com/Join%20IAS.html
The currently accepted list of