If you're looking for a houseplant that's definitely out of the ordinary, as well as easy to grow, the resurrection plant (Selaginella lepidophylla) is a great option. This unusual plant is a lycophyte—an ancient class of plants that are similar to ferns in that they do not reproduce by flowering and producing seeds. Instead, they reproduce asexually with spores. But that's not all that makes this plant so unique.
Resurrection plant, also called Rose of Jericho, can survive several years without water by drying up and going dormant. The plant appears dead, but provide water, and within a couple of hours it will begin to revive and turn green. Within a day or so, it will be fully unfurled, and "resurrected" into a green, fern-like plant. This remarkable feat, leading to its common name, is a survival mechanism Selaginella lepidophylla developed in the harsh conditions of its native habitat in the Chihuahuan Desert. When water is scarce, resurrection plants dry out and curl their fronds inwards into a ball shape.
The dormant plants travel the desert as tumbleweeds until they find water. Once exposed to moisture, the slow-growing plants rehydrate and unfurl their gorgeous, fern-like fronds. Although resurrection plants are native to very harsh desert conditions, they adapt well to growing indoors, and are most often grown as a houseplant.
Don't confuse resurrection plant (Selaginella lepidophylla) with resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) a plant that also goes dormant and then "resurrects" with exposure to water, but is native to the United States and grows outdoors extensively in the South, typically climbing trees like moss.
|Common Name||Resurrection plant, Rose of Jericho, false Rose of Jericho, stone flower, dinosaur plant|
|Botanical Name||Selaginella lepidophylla|
|Mature Size||2-6 in. tall, 3-6 in. wide|
|Soil Type||None needed|
|Native Area||North America|
Resurrection Plant Care
Resurrection plants are ferny plants in the spikemoss family. While few gardeners can recreate the rugged conditions of the resurrection plant's native desert in northern Mexico, the plants make easy, nearly fail-proof houseplants. They can be very long-lived if cared for properly. Some have been passed down through generations.
Often, resurrection plant is sold in its dormant state, which looks like a brown, dead ball of fern-like foliage. However, once watered, the plant will begin to unfurl and turn green, reaching full "resurrection" within a day or so. Drought tolerance is one of the unique features of resurrection plants. They can survive for up to seven years without water in dormancy and lose up to 95% of their moisture content without cell or tissue damage.
Resurrection plants thrive in plenty of light. Therefore, choose a location that receives bright, indirect light, such as a window with a southern or western exposure. Avoid locations with the scorching sun; it may be too much for a resurrection plant that has adapted to living indoors.
Soil is not a necessity for resurrection plants, but you can use it if you'd like. Resurrection plants will grow happily in a bowl of pebbles just barely covered with water as long as they are given some rest periods. Alternatively, after resurrection plants are rehydrated in water, they can be transferred to soil and grown as a healthy potted plant. Use a well-draining potting mix such as a mixture of one-part sand, one-part potting soil, and two-parts humus.
To rehydrate resurrection plants and keep them green, place the plant in a container filled with pebbles and water. The water should reach just above the pebbles so that the plants can rest securely on top without submerging in the water too much. Resurrection plants are sensitive to water quality, so it's best to use distilled water, rainwater, or tap water that's been left out overnight. Once placed in the water, it takes about three to four hours for a dried-out resurrection plant to begin unfurling. It will completely revive within a few days.
If keeping the plant in water, note that resurrection plants cannot survive in constant water and will rot if left in water for too long. Therefore, dedicate at least one day a week as a water-free rest day. Then, every couple of weeks, resurrection plants should be allowed to dry out completely.
Temperature and Humidity
Although resurrection plants are desert plants, they are sensitive to extreme temperature variations and should not be exposed to too hot or too cold temperatures. If you plant them outside, they do not survive extreme fluctuations in temperature. Do not keep them outside if the temperatures go lower than 65 F or higher than 85 F.
Generally, resurrection plants are happy in average room temperatures. However, avoid placing resurrection plants in locations next to drafty vents or windows.
As these plants are most often grown perched on a bowl of water and pebbles, humidity isn't usually a problem. However, if your plant starts to go dormant, you can increase humidity levels by misting it with distilled water occasionally.
Resurrection plants require very little fertilizing. Feed twice a year with a diluted water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. Dilute the fertilizer to 1/10 of the strength recommended for regular houseplants, and feed your resurrection plant once in early spring and once mid-summer.
Resurrection plants do not need regular pruning, but you can trim any dead ends that do not rehydrate with a pair of garden shears or snips.
Propagating Resurrection Plants
It is best to propagate this plant by division. Resurrection plants are sporophytes, which means that they do not produce seeds or flowers, but multiply through spores. Divide by taking cuttings from the plant in spring or late fall.
- Cut a section of plant large enough to include the full length of its fronds.
- Place the cutting on top of gravel or loose soil and apply water to initiate growth. You'll typically see the plant begin to grow within just a few days.
- You can then treat the new plant the same as its parent by placing it on a tray or bowl of water and gravel, or by putting it into well-drained potting soil.
This plant cannot tolerate extreme cold or heat. If you keep your resurrection plant outdoors in the summer, you can store it in its dormant state over the winter. To store it, bring it in from the cold and put it in a paper bag or a box in a cool, dry place where it won't get crushed. It will dry out and wait for you to revive it again in the spring. However, resurrection plants grown indoors don't require any special winter care.
Common Problems With Resurrection Plant
For the most part, resurrection plant is very easy to grow, and has few problems. However, as with any houseplant, there are a few things to watch out for.
Leaves Turning Black
If you notice your plant has blackened leaves, feels mushy, or has a sour smell, the likely problem is rot due to too much water. You can sometimes save the plant by trimming away the affected fronds, and reducing the amount of water in the plant's bowl or tray. There should be just enough water to barely cover the pebbles. You should also give the plant at least one day per week away from any water.
Leaves Turning Brown
It's the nature of resurrection plant to turn brown and curl up when it goes dormant due to lack of moisture. If your plant is looking curled, brown, and dry, and you don't plan on storing it, you can restore it by adding fresh water to its bowl, or by misting it regularly with distilled or purified water.
What's the difference between Rose of Jericho and false Rose of Jericho?
There are two plants with the common name of Rose of Jericho: Selaginella lepidophylla and Anastatica hierochuntica. Both species dry out and appear dead without water, but revive once exposed to moisture. However, they are distinct species that are native to two different continents. Anastatica is a member of the Brassicaceae family and comes from the arid regions in the Middle East and the Sahara Desert. Selaginella is native to Mexico and parts of the United States and is a part of the spikemoss (Selaginellaceae) family. To counteract the confusion, Selaginella lepidophylla is sometimes called false Rose of Jericho and Anastatica hierochuntica called true Rose of Jericho.
How long can a resurrection plant live without water?
This amazing plant can survive in its dormant state for years. However, most gardeners prefer to keep it exposed to moisture most of the time, in order to enjoy its fern-like appearance.
How long does it take resurrection plant to open up?
Most often, you'll purchase a resurrection plant in its dormant state. When exposed to moisture, you'll see the plant begin to unfurl its fronds within just a few hours. It can take a day or so for the plant to fully uncurl and become green, however.
Why isn't my resurrection plant turning green?
Most often, if your resurrection plant remains brown, the humidity is too low. Increase the humidity by misting the plant with distilled or purified water, or check that the bowl or tray the plant sits in has enough water to just cover the pebbles. If your plant remains completely dry and brown despite having enough water, it may simply be dead.