Root Awakening: Spikemoss difficult to grow in an apartment


Spikemoss difficult to grow in an apartment

My plant is dying (below). I water it twice a week and place it near the window where there is no direct sunlight. But it dries out at the bottom. What should I do?

Vivienne Lew

The plant is a type of spikemoss, botanically classified in the genus Selaginella. It can be difficult to grow in an apartment.

It does not like to be exposed to direct sunlight. Place it where it can be exposed to four to six hours of filtered sunlight daily. Plants tend to decline if there is insufficient sunlight.


This plant dries out easily and must not be grown in a windy location. It likes high humidity and does best when there are other plants grown around it to keep the surrounding humidity high.

However, it is important not to place the other plants too close, as sunlight will not be able to reach the spikemoss, especially its bottom.

The soil should be kept moist, but should not be soggy.


Tip: Tapeworm plant can be an educational tool

Homalocladium platycladum has common names such as Centipede plant, Tapeworm plant and Ribbonbush - derived from the appearance of its flattened, jointed stems.

When grown under full sun, its stems are usually devoid of leaves and take on a yellow-golden colour. Under shadier conditions, the stems turn green and small leaves may appear at the joints.

Due to its characteristics, this plant is a good candidate to grow in a "Plant Zoo", where plants are named after animals. Children who visit these gardens can guess why the plant has been named as such.

This plant is easily propagated via stem cuttings and prefers to be grown in moist and well-drained soil.


Cook Jack Bean's young pods thoroughly before eating

My son brought home a seed from school as part of his science project. We planted it and the seed has since grown into a 0.5m-tall plant (above, left) with large pea pods (above, right). What is this plant and can the peas be eaten?

Kenny Lim

The large pod is from a plant commonly called the Jack Bean. Your plant has white seeds and is likely the species Canavalia ensiformis.

The young pods and immature seeds can be eaten, but they must be thoroughly cooked to destroy the toxins in them.


Wind stem around frame to train growth

The branches and leaves of my kaffir lime plant grows horizontally (above). Even though I cut them, they regrow the same way. How do I make them grow upwards?

Mabel Chan

I suppose you are living in an apartment.

In an apartment garden - whether it is in the balcony or corridor - sunlight comes from only one direction. So it is not unusual to find plants reaching out for sunlight, causing them to grow in one direction.

Some gardeners rotate their plants periodically to ensure they develop a more natural growth habit.

The kaffir lime plant is a slow-growing plant and should not be pruned excessively. Regeneration can take some time.

If pruning is preferred, cut the stem back to a portion that is still green and above the node, which will allow new growth to emerge.

Avoid cutting back until you hit the old, woody portion which may not produce new growth.

Instead of pruning your plant, you may want to train its stem around a circular frame made of wire mesh. The bare, lower part of the stem can be wound around the frame if it is pliable enough.

You can use stretchable fabric twines to tie the stem to the wire mesh.

Avoid using wires or cable ties as these will cut into the stem as it grows and thickens over time.


Staghorn fern lacks sufficient sunlight

The tips of my Staghorn fern's leaves are turning brown (above). Is this normal? These are new leaves that grew after the previous ones died. The plant is kept in the shade without direct sunlight. Anita Jalleh The Staghorn fern generally likes more sunlight compared with many other fern types.

The symptoms point to a lack of sufficient sunlight for it to grow well. These plants grow naturally on branches of trees where they are exposed to some direct or filtered sunlight, and have ample air circulation around them.

If you are growing a Staghorn fern in an apartment balcony or corridor, ensure it gets at least four hours of direct sunlight.

If you are growing it in an outdoor garden, plant it in an area with filtered sunlight.

In both cases, ensure air circulation is good. But the fern must not be exposed to constant winds, which can dry it out.

• Answers by Dr Wilson Wong, a certified practising horticulturist and founder of Green Culture Singapore ( He is also an NParks-certified park manager.

• Have a gardening query? E-mail it with clear, high-resolution pictures of at least 1MB, if any, and your full name to

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Root Awakening'. Print Edition | Subscribe