JoAnne Skelly: Immortality - in the garden!

Definitions of immortal include "living or lasting forever" or "lasting a long time; enduring." A reader recently commented on my column about holiday plants saying she had a Christmas cactus that is more than 40 years old. A tree in Sweden is said to be growing on a rootstock that is 9,550 years old. A downed bristlecone pine in California was proven to be 4,768 years old when its rings were counted.

The plant kingdom has the seeming ability to stay forever young through vegetative propagation. In the Swedish example above, the same genetic rootstock has lived for thousands of years, producing new plants. Weeds, particularly invasive ones, reproduce from underground roots, starting new plants year after year and living for what seems an eternity when you try to battle them. By giving African violet starts or cuttings of other houseplants, you play a role in continuing a plant's ability to "last forever." When you share a piece of a plant from your yard with a friend, you are sharing plant immortality. However, in the old pine example, the tree just lived a long time without further progation.

In my yard, I have 12-foot lilacs that began as twigs in a bucket of water given me by a friend 20 years ago. My iris and rhubarb plants were root-piece gifts and have also been around 20 years. I have a jade plant in the house that was a cutting from my uncle's plant. Vegetative propagation is plant immortality.

I hadn't thought of it that way until I recently read Dr. Chalker-Scott's blog called the "Garden Professors." On Dec. 4 she wrote about plant immortality. One of the comments in the blog was "Now, instead of saying mint has ravaged my yard, I can just claim it's IMMORTAL..." Another blogger wrote there's a "quaking aspen clone in Utah's Fishlake National Forest that some estimate to be anywhere from 80,000 to ONE MILLION years old!"

I'm not much of a blogger, but I'm a big fan of Chalker-Scott's research-based knowledge of horticulture, so now I've bookmarked the site to read her and her colleagues discussion about plants. If you are interested in a good conversation about plants, try their blog at

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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