Of all the species found in the genus Spathiphyllum, all but three are found only in the New World Neotropics. The remaining three species are found in the Philippine and Molucca Islands, New Guinea, Palau, New Britain, and the Solomon Islands, while all the rest are found from tropical Mexico through Central and South America. The hybrids sold today originated from specimens gathered by collectors who went to South America in the 1800’s seeking new and interesting “house plants” for European growers. Spathiphyllum wallisii was discovered in the late 19th century growing wild in Central America, and is one of approximately 40 species of flowering plants in the family Araceae or arum family, which also includes Anthurium and Philodendron. These plants are members of a genus that loves water since they grow wild in the rain forests and commonly grow in and along the margins of streams and rivers; forming large colonies that are interconnected by their rhizomes. The genus also favours partially or periodically flooded forests, sometimes in sites with relatively low light intensities. The plants can naturally withstand abuse because in their natural habitat, they must survive through the dry season, which at times requires them to survive when little water is available.
The dark-green, glossy leaves are strongly veined and arch away from the plant's base, making the peace lily an attractive foliage plant even when it’s not in bloom, but when in bloom, usually in early summer, it is truly lovely. What we call its flowers are actually pale green spathes, which turn white as they open. Spathes are large sheathing bracts enclosing the flower spadix of certain plants. The spadix is a spike of minute flowers closely arranged around a fleshy axis and a characteristic of arum lilies.
Peace lilies in full bloom are sold in garden centres virtually all year round because growers use a chemical known as gibberellic acid to induce the plants to bloom, regardless of the season. Gibberellic acid is a natural plant hormone and is used in agriculture to stimulate both cell division and cell elongation that affects the leaves as well as the stems of a plant. A number of cultivars, are commercially available, all of which are essentially quite similar. Apart from one peace lily which produces a green flower and another that has variegated leaves, they all produce large green leaves and white flowers. Some have smaller leaves and an abundance of small flowers, while others produce large, glossier leaves and fewer, but much larger flowers.
Peace lilies are used extensively as potted plants in shopping malls and offices and are renowned for improving air quality indoors. They are also sold by florists and make excellent gifts.
In the Garden and Home:
Peace lilies can be planted out into the garden or containers in frost free regions of the country. Indoors, they are a decorators dream because their lush green foliage compliments most styles, adding freshness to almost any spot in the home, and the striking white flowers will liven up any colour scheme.
Of all the indoor flowering plants, peace lilies are one of the easiest to care for, because they tolerate average indoor conditions better than many house plants. However, most indoor plants are killed by either too much water, too little water or too much fertiliser and peace lilies are no different. Give this plant the right position indoors, water and feed correctly, and you will have a winner.
Although peace lilies are known to survive in darker spots in the home and do not like direct sunlight, they will bloom better if given bright, filtered natural light. Peace lilies thrive in fertile, well-drained soil and their fertiliser requirements are quite low, but in order to encourage blooms they must be fed with weakened solutions of liquid fertiliser (follow the instructions for indoor plants) every four to six weeks in summer. Leaves with brown spots may be the result of over-fertilization (concentration could be too high).
Although peace lilies growing in the wild love water, when potted they prefer an evenly moist soil which drains well, and is never allowed to dry out completely. To simulate the dry season in their natural habitat, water potted plants less frequently in winter. Generally, in summer, watering your peace lily once a week should be sufficient. However, when the plant is grown in low light levels or cooler temperatures water requirements will be less. With brighter light levels or warmer temperatures and during periods of rapid growth, water requirements will increase. Test the soil before watering by sticking your finger into the potting soil up to the first knuckle and if the soil is still moist, don’t water. Over-watering may cause leaves to turn yellow and under-watering may cause plants to wilt and the leaf edges to turn yellow or brown. If your plant does wilt badly, it will quickly recover if the pot is soaked in in a bucket of water for a while.
These tropical plants love humidity, so if you live in a dry climate, creating a humid environment is beneficial to the plant. To do this, place the pot in a drip tray filled with small pebbles and water. The water will slowly evaporate and create more moisture in the air surrounding the plant, and the pebbles will ensure that the pot is not standing in the water, which can cause root rot. Mist spraying the leaves with water regularly will also help tremendously, and is especially important in dry climates and in air conditioned rooms. Always use tepid water when watering or misting, and this is especially important during cold weather. Keep the leaves dust-free by wiping them with a damp cloth or by washing them down with a soft spray of water in the bath or sink. Unattractive leaves can be removed by following the leaf stem to the base of the plant and cutting it off at soil level. Spent blooms are removed in the same way.
Peace lilies should be re-potted when the root growth has filled the container. To help the roots to retain soil and prevent root tearing, re-pot the plant when the soil is somewhat moist. Select a container about one to two sizes bigger than the current one. Cover the drainage holes in your new pot with crocks or pebbles and lay down a layer of fresh potting soil. When placing the peace lily in its new pot, keep the plant at the same depth as it was in the old pot while filling with fresh soil around the plant. Gently press the soil down until the plant is firmly planted. Water well and wait a couple of weeks before feeding again.
Peace lilies will grow outdoors in warmer climates, thriving in moist, humid, frost free regions. In these regions they must be sited in semi-shade and protected from strong sunlight and strong winds. Exposure to direct light may cause yellowing leaves with a burnt appearance. Ensure that the soil is rich and drains well.
Peace Lilies are good candidates for hydroponics (a method of growing plants without soil) but are susceptible to chlorine damage in tap water, so allow the water to stand awhile before watering to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Distilled water and rainwater can also be used.
You can create new peace lily plants by dividing them. Propagate by removing the plant from its container and gently shaking off the excess soil while gently teasing the sections apart. A sharp knife can be used to cut through some sections if necessary. Ensure that each divided section has sufficient roots. Re-pot into small pots to start off, using a rich, well-drained potting soil.
Problems, Pests & Diseases:
Without natural predators around, all house plants can succumb to insect problems, but these are very minimal with peace lilies. They can be susceptible to insects like aphids, black scale, spider mites and mealy bugs. Insect problems can be taken care of with insecticides, insecticidal soap or by washing the plant with water.
Many gardeners and growers attribute the death of peace lilies to excessive watering, but although this may often be the case, the main reason for the demise of most plants is a combination of poor soil that is kept soggy, poor light conditions, near constant neglect and a lack of nutrients, or at the other extreme, an overdose of fertiliser. Overwatering may cause leaves to turn yellow and under watering may cause plants to wilt and the leaf edges to turn yellow or brown. Root rot, leaf spot and bacterial soft rot can occur in peace lilies, but are usually the result of improper care and bad drainage
If you are feeding your plant but it still does not bloom well, you need to move it to a location with bright, filtered light. Older plants may also just need to be re-potted or divided. This is one of the few plants that bloom’s better after dividing it.
If the leaves become shrivelled and dry, the humidity is too low; and if the leaf tips start to brown, it can be a result of direct sun, over-fertilising or under-watering.
True lilies from the Liliaceae family are much more toxic to cats and dogs than the peace lily, which is not a true lily and is only mildly toxic to humans and animals when ingested. The Peace Lily contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin irritation, a burning sensation in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and nausea, so keep it away from children and pets who may play with or chew on it.