Also known as spathiphyllum.
Spathi = spathe; phyllum = leaf: spathe-like leaf.
Ma and I were in Ikea. Actually, we were trying to get out of Ikea, laden with new bed linen, various bits of furniture, and an assortment of kitchen equipment, but our eyes were caught by a small, lonely looking peace lily.
Do you have any plants for your new house, Ella?
No, actually I don't.
Well, I'll buy you this one; homes need plants.
That was four years ago, when Lily was just two leaves and six inches tall. Since then, she has moved home twice, been repotted three times, been split into four separate plants, and recently suffered the indignity of being stuffed into a box, loaded onto a van, driven 193 miles, then tipped onto her side and lost amongst a hundred other boxes for twenty four hours. She emerged relatively unscathed. When my Ma assured me that they were easy to look after, she wasn't wrong; using the word 'resilient' wouldn't have been unwarranted. This probably accounts for them being the second most popular houseplant in the UK. Well, that and their universal good looks.
Peace lilies originated in South America. There are over forty different varieties, but they share common features. Their oval, clearly veined leaves are a deep, glossy green which taper to a point. These leaves do not grow from stems, but rhizomes in the soil. Their elegant spathes, or single-petaled flowers, start pale green and tightly curled about the spadix before unfurling into creamy white blooms that resemble a sail. Some varieties can reach over six feet in height, but the majority will grow to somewhere between 18 inches and four feet, their width being roughly the same. That is unless they suffer from a magnesium deficiency, which will stunt growth. Before I split Lily into one larger and three smaller plants she had grown to roughly 18 inches in height, and was at least as wide. As far as I was concerned, she had become something monstrous and was on the verge of taking over the flat. Now, Lily and her offspring are taking over the world, one household at a time.
Lily's care routine is fairly simple: I water her nearly every day, I feed her with an organic houseplant feed every other month, and I wipe her leaves free from dust when I remember to. Peace lilies are susceptible to rotting roots, probably the only malaise that really affects them, so allowing the soil to dry out a little between waterings is a good idea. She will require more frequent watering throughout the summer. If you over-water a peace lily the tips of their leaves will turn brown, and of course they'll wilt if you under-water or neglect them. Despite peace lilies preferring bright, sunny conditions, they dislike direct sunlight because they suffer from sunburn. They also don't like it too windy, and prefer humid to arid. Lily is currently residing in the garden, and looking rather content there. However, come the autumn, she'll be brought inside again: she wouldn't cope with a frost or a temperature that dropped below 12 degrees Celsius.
Lily has given me a fairly constant stream of flowers over the past three-and-half years. Whenever they die off, I just pull them out gently, as I might any dead leaves. If Lily weren't such an abundant flowerer, she could be encouraged to bloom by keeping her in slightly dimmed conditions for a few days. Of course this shouldn't be done for a protracted period, we don't want to inhibit photosynthesis.
Lily's prolific growth has necessitated repotting, and also being split into smaller plants, which was remarkably easy. Both of these activities should be undertaken in the spring. All peace lilies prefer well-drained soil (it's that root-rot thing), so make sure that the bottom of your pot has a covering of gravel or shards of broken pot, and use a good quality household compost. When repotting, gently remove the plant from its too-small home and shake off any excess soil. Embed it into a well of soil in the new pot, and then top up with more soil. Don't forget to water it in. If you need to split the plant into smaller versions of itself, gently untangle the roots until you're able to separate the leaves into reasonably-sized new plants. Not having a central stem from which the leaves grow means that this isn't difficult, you just have to be careful. You probably wouldn't want anything smaller than a group of ten or twelve leaves. Then continue the repotting process as before. Lily always looks unhappy for about twelve hours after being repotted or split, but it's a fairly traumatic experience, moving house or having children, so it's to be expected.
There has been research to suggest that peace lilies help to reduce the levels of benzene and formaldehyde in the atmosphere, along with the standard plant-like benefits of re-oxygenation and re-ionisation. Of course, the number of plants that you'd need in order to have a significant impact on the air quality of your house would probably be greater than your available floorspace, but they certainly do more good than harm and at the very least look attractive.
If you're looking for an ideal easy-care plant — perhaps for a student, or as a house-warming gift — I would readily recommend a peace lily. I wouldn't be without Lily now.
And who says things from Ikea don't last?
For SharQ, and LittleLily.
A lily by any other name would smell as sweet:
- The Royal Horticultural Society's Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers, ed. Christopher Brickell (London, 1989).