by Kaushik Venkatesh
In the rush to get home from college after our final exams, my roommate and I left our lucky “money plant” alone on the windowsill for three long, sunny, and dry months. We came back to school to a shriveled vine with a measly three leaves hanging on by a thread. We decided to give the plant a shot and threw in some water. Within a matter of days, our trusty friend had sprung back to life! I was fascinated.
Known as the “money plant” to some and the “Devil’s Ivy” to others, Epipremnum aureum has decorated every Indian household I’ve seen growing up, sometimes sprawling covering entire walls in ivy green. Until recently, I’ve only known this plant as the “money plant,” so called because of centuries of Indian tradition and lore that see this plant as auspicious and will bring prosperity to any household that shelters it.
This past summer, I learned why its second name “Devil’s Ivy” is so fitting and gained a newfound appreciation for the plant. Indeed, E. aureum is an interesting plant of numerous salubrious properties and remarkable hardiness. A NASA study back in 1989 found that the money plant was extremely effective in removing formaldehyde, nicotine, benzene, and trichloroethylene in indoor environments. Of these, formaldehyde is most common (and is a potential human carcinogen), found in various household products such pressed woods, foam insulation, paints, etc. This process, as we learned in my Plant Biology class this past semester, is called phytoremediation or the ability of a plant to mitigate pollution of the air, water, and soil. Such indoor plants are able to remove volatile gases through pores in leaves (stomata). However, the particular mechanism by which E. aureum purifies the toxins is not well understood. As I continued researching this unassuming plant that had been my childhood companion, I found out that the money plant could be used (and had been used in India for centuries) for a variety of medicinal purposes – warding off fungi, bacteria, inflammation, cancer, oxidative stress, and even termites when planted in the earth!
These various discoveries have led me to think that the ancient Indians who came up with the money plant tradition were onto something. Even if it doesn't necessarily guarantee prosperity and whatnot, the money plant seems so have a myriad of benefits independent of any cultural or superstitious beliefs. Though I don't expect myself or anyone reading this to start concocting their own biomedicines from money plant extracts, it’s still fascinating to realize that such a versatile and usable plant has been sitting on my windowsill for all these years.
For anyone looking to add this plant to their personal greenhouse, the money plant is incredibly easy to propagate and care for. All you need is a stem or leaf cutting of someone else’s plant, a pot, and little bit of water – and voila! You now have a robust, air-purifying, culturally-significant plant of your own. The money plant is native to tropical habitats, particularly around South Asia, which makes sense in light of its roots (pun intended) in South Asian culture. For those reasons, it grows most optimally around room temperature and requires frequent watering during the growing season but less so during the winter. You only need to water them occasionally too, because a dried out top soil is actually optimal for their growth.
Money plants are notoriously hard to kill, so if you’re just starting out with your own plant love story, it's a great beginner plant. It also means that you can go on vacation without worrying about watering it – maybe even summer break, but I can’t make any promises that your money plant will be as much of a trooper as mine.
Kaushik recently graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Major in Biology. He is 20 years old and from Northern Virginia. His trusty money plant will hopefully follow him in the near future as he obtains a Masters in Business Administration before returning to medical school.
Photo credit: Mokkie [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]