Can Houseplants Live Forever


Elderly Man-chair-cane-table-houseplant-red planter

Forever certainly is a long time, and you wonder if it’s a lifespan that’s attainable for your houseplants. Maybe not forever, but at least the next several years. How long can you expect to have your houseplant? I think you might just be surprised by the answer.

Can houseplants live forever? No, but It’s certainly possible for houseplants to live for centuries. We found at least one Eastern Cape cycad houseplant that was documented to be potted back in 1775, and it’s still alive to this day. That makes it more than 242 years old!

Interested in seeing if your houseplants can survive that long as well? You’re in luck. In this article, we’ll talk more about houseplant lifespan, including what you can do to increase it. We’ll also provide a list of some hardy, durable houseplants with long lives that you can grow today.

How Long Do Houseplants Live?

When it comes to us people, we know what the expected lifespan is. We also know we could have our dogs for 10 years or so and our cats for close to 20 years. What about houseplants? Do they have a predetermined lifespan like that as well?

Not exactly. While houseplants can make their own food and provide an internal energy source for themselves, they need the help of people to stay alive. We must provide them nutrients, adequate sunlight, and water.

If you do that, who knows how long your houseplant can live? It can be decades or even hundreds of years in the case of the Eastern Cape cycad at the Kew Gardens conservatory in the United Kingdom.

That doesn’t necessarily mean houseplants are immortal. Any houseplant, no matter the species, can die. Given that the plant is a living thing, it’s a guarantee that it will die someday. The question becomes when that day is.

That’s all in your hands. Not to put too much pressure or responsibility on you, but your care can determine whether your houseplant lives one week or decades. It’s not unheard of for some people to write their houseplants into their will to ensure the plant will get a good home when the person cannot care for it any longer.

In fact, the Agweek article we linked you to in the intro tells a story of a woman who lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania whose houseplant was more than 40 years old. She did put the plant, a philodendron, in her will. She wanted it to keep getting the care it needed.

These Are the Houseplants with the Longest Lifespans

Now that you know that houseplants can pretty much live on forever, or at least close to it, you’re interested in growing your own plant and seeing if it can beat any sort of record. While the lifespan of a houseplant isn’t necessarily dependent on species, there are some durable indoor plants out there that are known for their longer lives.

These would all make great additions to your indoor garden, and many of them are familiar names that we’ve discussed on this blog before. Let’s talk more now about the houseplants that live the longest.

(As a caveat, we want to reiterate that the lifespan of a houseplant is not guaranteed. Only through your prolonged care can your indoor plant live a long, healthy, happy life.)

Succulents

It seems like succulents are everywhere these days. These fleshy houseplants have caught on with indoor and outdoor gardeners alike because they’re so easy to care for. As we’ve written about on this blog, succulents have a much more relaxed watering schedule compared to other houseplants. Since they’re used to growing in arid environments, they can survive for weeks without water.

From the visually appealing spiral aloe to burro’s tail and aloe vera, succulents add an undeniable appeal to your home or office. While it can vary from species to species, the shortest lifespan of a succulent is six years. Others can go on growing for several decades if you care for them well.

Cycads

The cycad or Cycadophyta looks a lot like a palm tree, but the leaves, which are evergreen, tend to be stiffer. Also, the trunk of a cycad is often much thicker than that of a palm. You can grow this houseplant indoors or outdoors. In the cooler weather, hold off on watering it, but otherwise, feed it water two times per week.

If you recall from earlier in this article, one of the longest-living indoor plants on record is a cycad, specifically an Eastern Cape cycad. It should come as no surprise that this plant has lived for more than 200 years considering the trees have an average lifespan of 1,000 years when grown natively!

Cacti

small cactus in a small ceramic planter that looks like a duck
Tiny cactus in a small ceramic planter that looks like a duck.

The most recognizable succulents are undoubtedly cacti. These Cactaceae family members have roughly 1,750 different species. They prefer water every couple of weeks and lots of sunlight, just like many species of succulents.

Unlike some other plants on this list, the cactus will have a longer life if you grow it outdoors. There, it can survive for anywhere from 10 to 200 years in the right conditions. That doesn’t mean you should stop enjoying cacti as houseplants, though. Instead, stick with the Christmas cactus, which has an average lifespan of 20 to 30 years even when grown indoors.

Table Palms

While it would be nice to grow a full-fledged palm tree in your home, it’s sadly not attainable. The table palm makes for a nice compromise. Now, you can get that tropical feel anytime in your home, office, or apartment without all the tree growth. This evergreen indoor plant can survive in either full or partial shade, giving it the type of versatility that’s great for beginner gardeners.

We couldn’t find out exactly how long the table palm lives specifically, but as a part of the Arecaceae family, it could be upwards of 100 years. In fact, unlike most houseplants, palm trees have a predetermined lifespan, with some dying at around 80 years old and others sticking around for 20 more years than that.

ZZ Plant

The ZZ plant also referred to as the Zanzibar gem or Zamioculcas, has been declared by some gardeners as unkillable. That’s not true, of course. As we’ve said, any and all houseplants can die, the ZZ plant included. It’s just hard to get it to that point.

For instance, this indoor plant can live with no water for a really long time, like upwards of four months. That has to do with the petiole and leaf water content, of which the former has 95 percent water and the latter 91 percent. The ZZ plant can even handle low lighting in a home or workplace with no ill effects.

Spider Plant

Is your hanging basket currently occupied by a spider plant or Chlorophytum comosum? If so, then make sure you take special care of this perennial. They don’t like soggy soil, as it’s a sign that you’re getting too close to overwatering the plant. Indirect light suits the spider plant well, as does soil that drains fast.

One of the biggest killers of spider plants is root rot. That’s why you should really get into the habit of touching the soil with your fingertips to determine if it’s time to water this houseplant. For your efforts, you could have an appealing hanging plant that survives for decades and decades.

Hoya

We’ve talked about the hoya before on this blog; in fact, it’s come up a few times. In case you missed it, the hoya is part of the genus Asclepias, which includes upwards of 300 tropical plant species. The hoya, in particular, grows in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, China, India, and other parts of Asia. It’s distinguishable for its small, rubbery-looking leaves.

Hoya is another one of those plants where no one’s quite sure how long it lives, but it can be a long time. If you want a sign so you can know whether your hoya is in for a long life, check to see if it’s flowering. The beautiful purple, pink, or white flowers that can sprout from your hoya are indicative of a healthy plant.

Aspidistra Cast Iron Plant

You know many other Asparagaceae family members, but we haven’t yet introduced you to the Aspidistra cast iron plant. Let’s change that. In Japan, this houseplant goes by names like baran or Haran. Other parts of the world call it the bar-room plant or cast iron plant. Its scientific name is the Aspidistra elatior.

Hailing from Taiwan and Japan, this houseplant can reach heights of two feet when it’s fully grown. The long, tall leaves bear some resemblance to the philodendron, but with a neater, cleaner appearance. The Aspidistra cast iron plant can handle neglect without dying on you, lending itself well to a surprisingly long life.

Bird of Paradise

Are you surprised to see the bird of paradise plant on this list? That’s fair. The Strelitzia, appropriately enough in the Strelitziaceae family, comes from South Africa. The plant itself isn’t particularly noteworthy for its looks. Rather, it’s the stunning flowers that make the bird of paradise so beloved. These flowers have long, pointy orange petals with hints of rich deep blue, neon pink, white, or sunshiny yellow.

You can plant your bird of paradise and wait for the flowers, then wait, and wait, and wait. You better have some patience, as bird of paradise plants will take their sweet time to sprout the lovely flowers, somewhere in the ballpark of 20 years!

Monstera

It’s been a moment since we’ve talked about the Swiss cheese plant or Monstera deliciosa, so let’s recap. This plant comes from southern Mexico and also grows in the Society Islands, the Ascension Island, Seychelles, and some parts of Hawaii. At first glance, you can almost mistake the monstera for a philodendron, but the rounded shape of the leaves sets these two houseplants apart.

How long can your monstera live? If you’ve heard five years as an average, don’t be fooled. That’s some misinformation going around. Like many other houseplants, monstera can live upwards of 40 years and more. It’s all about how well you care for this tropical houseplant, such as providing bright light.

Philodendron

The Araceae member philodendron has nearly 490 species according to 2015 data from the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, although it could be more or less. The main difference between the philodendron and the monstera is the shape of the former’s leaves, that distinct teardrop or heart shape. Philodendrons will jazz up a pot or a hanging basket, giving you plenty of options for filling your indoor garden.

As we said before, that Pennsylvania woman had her philodendron for four decades, long enough that she wrote it into her will. We’re sure that this houseplant can live even longer than that. Why not plant some yourself and see?

English Ivy

While the pothos vines only survive for around 10 years at their longest, that’s not the case with English ivy. There’s no preset lifespan, so with a consistent care routine, you can expect to have your Hedera helix for decades. That should give you plenty of time to enjoy its incredible growth, with the longest English ivy around 50 feet long!

One of the biggest deterrents to a long life for your English ivy comes in the form of insects such as spider mites. If you pour soft water into a spray bottle and mist the plant every week, the mites should stay away. You must also maintain relative moisture in your home or office for the ivy, even over the winter.

Weeping Fig

Known for its elegance, the weeping fig or Ficus benjamina is an evergreen that prefers rich soil that drains quickly. You can expect your weeping fig to stretch up to six feet tall, so make sure you set aside some space in your home or apartment for this houseplant.

Unlike some of the other plants on the list, the weeping fig won’t thrive in just any lighting. Instead, it needs mostly indirect light mixed with some direct light, preferably morning sun. You also have to water this plant often and maintain its moisture. When you do, the weeping fig sticks with you for years to come.

Snake Plant

As another Asparagaceae family member, you kind of had to expect to see the snake plant or Sansevieria trifasciata on this list. While its lighting requirements are pretty open-ended (indirect light is best, but low light won’t kill it, nor will sunlight), overwatering could cause your snake plant to die prematurely. Please be careful.

Admittedly, the average lifespan for the snake plant is between five and 10 years. That said, lots of indoor gardeners have had their snake plants for far longer, sometimes up to 25 years or more. That’s why good care matters so much for indoor plants.

What You Can Do to Increase the Lifespan of Any Houseplant?

The above houseplants are just a few examples of those with exceptionally long lives. Like we’ve said throughout this whole article, almost any plant will live for decades and even longer if you care for it well enough.

Here are the pillars of care you must incorporate into your plant’s life.  

Water on a Schedule

What that schedule will be varies depending on the houseplant in question. If it’s a cactus or a succulent we’re talking about, then you will want to water every few weeks. For most other houseplants, go no more than a couple of days without water.  

We recommend the fingertip test to see if your houseplant needs water. If the surface of the soil is moist, then you can probably skip a day or two. When the soil approaches dry, then it’s often time to water. You don’t want to let the soil get too bone dry nor waterlogged, as neither is good for your indoor plant.  

Fertilize a Few Times a Year

Through fertilizer, you can replenish your houseplant’s supply of nutrients. Whether you prefer store-bought fertilizer or you make your own at home, you only want to fertilize every three or four months or so. It can vary by plant, so read up on yours before applying fertilizer.

Provide the Necessary Lighting

Again, like with water quantities, the necessary lighting changes wildly from houseplant to houseplant. Some do well almost exclusively in bright sunlight while others can end up burnt if they get too much direct sun.

Almost no houseplant likes low light, although plenty will survive in dim conditions, sometimes for months at a time. Just know that you’re stifling your plant’s growth when you keep them in a low-light room for too long.

Check for Pests

Since houseplants naturally grow outdoors, sometimes they bring in with them things from the outdoors, such as pests and insects. Pretty much every houseplant is susceptible to bugs, but some species come with the risk of infestation.

If you’re growing a plant that attracts certain insects, take precautions. Make sure you use non-chemical means of ridding your plant of these unwanted visitors. Anything from soft water to salt to some essential oils will send bugs packing.

Provide Well-Draining Soil

Not every houseplant even needs soil, but of all that do, it must be well-draining. Sure, some houseplants like richer soil, but not a single plant will do well if the soil doesn’t drain right away. Then water can get trapped in the soil, soaking through to the roots and possibly triggering root rot.

Upgrade the Pot When Necessary

Houseplants will rarely stay in the same pot their whole lives. That’s certainly true if you have a plant that lives for decades or longer. Here’s a post of ours about when it’s time to upgrade your houseplant’s pot. There’s no set time to do it, but if you notice the roots poking out of the drainage holes, that’s one pretty good indicator that you should upgrade.

Treat Issues Immediately

When you notice the leaves of your houseplant curl, the color turn brown, or the entire plant wilt, please don’t ignore what’s going on. It’s not good to take a “wait and see” approach, either. Most plant problems are easily fixable. It could be that you’re watering the houseplant too often or not giving it enough light.

Even if a more serious condition has afflicted your houseplant, by addressing the issue early, you have a better chance of saving your plant and prolonging its life.

Related Questions

Can houseplants die of old age?

When people and animals reach old age, their lives will often wind down and then end. Is the same true of houseplants? As we’ve shown in this article, houseplants don’t subscribe to the same predictable lifespan as mammals, at least not most plants. Their deaths can occur very young or very old depending on how well they’re taken care of. Thus, age doesn’t necessarily play a role in their deaths.

While houseplants can reach maturity or full growth, this does not indicate old age necessarily. It just means your plant won’t grow any bigger or taller than it has.

How do I know if my plant is dead?

Since we don’t see them “living,” it’s hard to tell if a houseplant is actually dead. It’s not like it has a heartbeat or a pulse. Well, it sort of does, in that the stems can be a sign of whether your indoor plant is well and truly done.

When the stems turn brittle or mushy, move on to the roots. If they’re in the same condition, then your houseplant has sadly died. You should throw it away and move on to your next houseplant, trying not to make the same mistakes again.  

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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