Why you should only grow Devils Ivy as an indoor pot plant

Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen'Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen'Epipremnum aureum remains a popular houseplant because it’s beautiful and incredibly easy to grow, and the reason it was given the name "Devil's Ivy" is because it’s considered impossible to kill! In subtropical and tropical gardens outside its natural range this plant has naturalised itself and has been classified as invasive in many countries. For this reason its best to keep it confined in pots indoors or on the patio. Read more below about Devils Ivy, and how to care for it indoors.

Description, history and interesting facts about Devils Ivy

Epipremnum aureum originates from the forests of the island of Moorea, a volcanic island that is one of the most strikingly beautiful in French Polynesia. It forms part of The Society Islands, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean that includes the major islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora and Huahine.

Click here to see Google images of the island of Moorea

Epipremnum aureum is a species in the Arum family Araceae, one of the largest plant families. It is commonly referred to as Devil's Ivy, Silver Vine, Golden Pothos, Ceylon Creeper, Solomon Islands Ivy, and Taro Vine. In its natural forest environment this evergreen tropical climber can grow up to 20m long and produces very large glossy leaves which emerge a lovely green and mature into stunning variegations of yellow or creamy-white.  

As a juvenile the leaves are only several centimetres long and entire, with no indentations or holes, and the plant forms modest terrestrial colonies in the shade of the forest floor. As it matures it produces clasping roots arising from nodes and internodes, and prolific feeding roots, allowing it to adhere to the trunks of trees and climb to great heights in the canopy. The higher it grows the more light the plants receive, and the bigger the leaves become, maturing into oval to heart-shaped, pinnate leaves up to 90cm long with holes along the midrib. On mature specimens, a number of erect flower stalks appear together, each with a cream spathe marked with purple, surrounding the spadix.

Click here to see Google images of Epipremnum aureum

Cultivars of Devils Ivy

Today we are spoilt for choice with striking cultivars of devils ivy available in gorgeous variegations of green, cream, gold and white. Devils ivy is available from many online and retail stores, and because it is a favourite for aquariums, is also sold at aquatic pet shops.

Epipremnum aureum ‘Jade’ is a solid dark green type which does well in low light areas.
Click here to see Google images of 'Jade'

Epipremnum aureum is the regular green and golden form, and is also commonly called the ‘Golden Pothos’.
Click here to see Google images of ‘aureum’

Epipremnum aureum ‘Marble Queen’ has stark white variegated foliage with speckles of dark green colouring.
Click here to see Google images  of ‘Marble Queen’

Epipremnum aureum ‘Goldilocks’ is a stunning lime-yellow colour and is also known as ‘Neon’.
Click here to see Google images  of ‘Goldilocks’

Epipremnum aureum ‘Pearls and Jade’ is named for its striking green and white variegations.
Click here to see Google images of ‘Pearls and Jade’

Epipremnum aureum ‘Manjula’ with its lovely white and green variegations is one of the most sought after variegated plants, and it's no surprise why this rare plant is also called the ‘happy leaf’.
Click here to see Google images of ‘Manjula’

Is Devils Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) an invasive plant?

In the Arum family, to which devils ivy belongs, about 19 species are listed globally as invasive, and following the release of imported plants, devils ivy was widely planted in subtropical and tropical gardens of the world, but sadly, it flourished outside its natural range and naturalised itself.

Today it can be found as an unwanted guest in tropical and sub-tropical forests worldwide, including South Africa, Australia, South and Southeast Asia, and the West Indies, causing severe ecological damage in some cases.

Is Devils Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) an invasive plant in South Africa?

Due to the global invasive status of Epipremnum aureum, devils ivy has come under the spotlight in South Africa, where it is known to have has escaped garden cultivation and was detected growing wild in subtropical regions of the country, and especially in KwaZulu-Natal. This resulted in an evaluation of the species by the South African National Biodiversity Institute's Invasive Species Programme, which is responsible for detecting new invasions, and coordinating the eradication of high risk species.

One criterion commonly used to infer the status of a species as an invasion risk is evidence that it has a history of being invasive elsewhere, and especially under similar climatic conditions. Epipremnum aureum is regarded as a species of considerable concern because it has invaded several tropical and subtropical forests in Asia and the new world.

In South Africa it was spotted invading forest margins in Southbroom and Durban, and this is most concerning because we know that devils ivy is causing severe ecological disruptions in Sri Lanka, where it completely overtakes the indigenous plants growing on the forest floor and also clamours up high with its aerial roots.

Because it is able to spread and become established in dense monocultures on the ground, and climb up trees and telephone poles, devils ivy could easily invade our waterways or boggy areas, indigenous forests and green belts. And even if you live in suburbia, it may skip the garden fence and escape.

It rarely flowers in the wild, and is mainly dispersed by rooting effortlessly from cuttings and detached pieces of stem, so do not dispose of the plant with your municipal garbage, as it will grow and root on garbage dumps and landfills, which may encroach on natural areas. 

Although studies undertaken by the South African National Biodiversity Institute's Invasive Species Programme concentrated only on KwaZulu-Natal, it is highly likely that there may be a high risk of invasion in the Eastern Cape, southern Cape and parts of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo regions. Epipremnum aureum also has a high probability of expanding its current range in KZN, primarily along the coast into neighbouring countries on Africa's eastern seaboard. Therefore, the Invasive Species Programme concluded that containment would be a viable strategy for managing Epipremnum aureum in South Africa.

Although this tropical species will not survive outdoors in very cold regions, and is therefore mainly a threat in our warmer, coastal, and frost free regions, it was proposed that Epipremnum aureum be listed as category 3 under the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA). If it is eventually listed as invasive under this category, devils ivy will no longer be allowed to be sold or propagated in South Africa. Current garden plantings may remain, and naturalized populations will need to be managed.

Personally I believe as proud South Africans who cherish our beautiful country we should take action as soon as we are aware of such invasive plants. Why wait for it to become legally enforced - are we not responsible gardeners after all? I love this plant but feel strongly that it should only be sold and used as an indoor pot plant. I would be delighted if plant growers sold it with a label, warning consumers of the dangers of planting it outdoors. This could be a clever strategy for marketers with a conscience, as the younger generation of gardeners, who feel very strongly about this subject, would appreciate the honesty.

The impact of invasive species on our ecosystems is an interesting topic, and a great opportunity for educators to inform our children of their dangers. Be hands on and give them group projects to see how many wild populations of invasive plants they can spot, and then arrange an outing where they can help to eradicate the plants.

Let me know how you feel about this sensitive subject by contacting me here. 

How to use Devils Ivy in the Home or Patio

Because devils ivy is an extremely easy to grow houseplant with long trailing or climbing stems that can grow up to 2.5m long indoors, giving a tropical vibe to any space, it became wildly popular all over social media.

A variety of plant sizes and containers are sold, from small starter plants to large specimens. Its ease of growth makes it a good choice for offices and shopping malls, and it looks fantastic cascading down from hanging baskets or tall pots, and is just as enchanting climbing up a support like a moss pole.

It can tolerate a variety of conditions, but to really bring out the variegations its best placed in a bright spot, and as a container plant, it generally retains its smaller juvenile leaf shape, but if it is gown under optimal conditions indoors or in a greenhouse it can grow quite large and will produce much bigger leaves.

An added bonus is that devils ivy is listed as one of the top ten best air purifying plants – it’s great at filtering indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde and benzene from the air.

How to grow Devils Ivy in Water or an Aquarium

Devils ivy grows effortlessly in water, but cannot be fully emerged in an aquarium. Rather place the plant above the water and allow the roots to grow into the water. This is beneficial both for the plant and the aquarium as it absorbs many nitrates and uses them for growth.

In fact, this plant will not only provide excellent biological filtration for your aquarium, and lovely long roots for your fish to swim around and hide in, it also looks so lush and tropical growing outside of the tank. Devils ivy is also generally considered safe for aquarium snails, as long as the leaves are kept above the waterline to prevent them from rotting.

Epipremnum aureum Epipremnum aureum How to Grow and Care for Devils Ivy indoors?

Caring for your devils ivy is extremely easy if you understand its needs, and once you bring it home its extremely important to find a place that both you and your new houseplant loves!

How much Light does Devils Ivy require?

It does best in bright indirect light indoors, and the more light the plant gets, the more pronounced its leaf markings become. Avoid too much direct sunlight which may scorch the leaves. Devils ivy is a resilient plant that will also tolerate lower light levels, but in very low light the variegated cultivars will become almost entirely green. The solid green type ‘Jade’ performs the best in low light conditions indoors.

What Temperature does Devils Ivy require?

Devils ivy loves warm environments and grows well in normal room temperatures, around 18 to 24°C. If kept a bit on the dry side it will take temperatures down to 10°C, but do not allow the temperature to drop below 10°C.  Avoid placing it in a room that has great fluctuations in temperature, as this makes it difficult for the plant to settle into its environment. Also, keep it away from cold draughts.

How much Humidity does Devils Ivy require?

Because it’s a tropical forest plant, devils ivy thrives in warmth and humidity, and although it can get by with normal or even dry air, if you want to make it feel truly at home, you can increase humidity levels. Devils ivy will grow well with normal humidity levels around 40% but will thrive if the humidity is raised to around 60%.

How to Create a Humid Environment for Devils Ivy?

If you live in a hot and dry region, investing in a humidifier would help a lot. Mist spraying the foliage down regularly with tepid water will add humidity around the foliage and also keep the plant clean and healthy.

Grouping your houseplants together also helps to create humidity, as lost water from one plant during the process of transpiration can be picked up by another plant. Adding a decorative bowl of water to the display also works well, as does filling the plants drip tray with water, and elevating the bottom of the pot by standing it on river sand or fine gravel to ensure that the pot is not standing in water.

Keep your devils ivy away from air conditioning units and other drying heat sources like heaters or fireplaces.

What Potting Soil does Devils Ivy require?

Devils ivy is not very fussy about the potting soil it grows in as long as it is light, aerated, well-draining, and nutrient-rich. Good quality potting soils work well and you can also mix in some cacti mix or orchid mix, perlite or palm peat to lighten it up further.

How much Water does Devils Ivy require?

Devil’s Ivy likes its topsoil to be dry between watering’s, and on average, during the summer growing season a weekly watering should suffice. If your plant is growing in a warm room with bright light, expect to water it more often than one growing in low light. And, as with the majority of houseplants, water less during the cold winter months.

If your tap water is of a good quality it should be fine to water your plants with, but like all indoor pot plants, devils ivy thrives on rainwater or filtered water, as tap water may contain too many chemicals such as chlorine that can affect your plant.

Signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves and black stems, while under watered plants will wilt as the potting soil dries out.

How to Fertilise Devils Ivy?

During the summer growth season, foliar feed monthly with a liquid fertiliser for leafy plants. Allow the plant to rest without food during the cold winter months.

How to Prune Devils Ivy?

If the vines grow too long you can selectively prune them back to a reasonable length, and pruning will quickly promote new growth. Pruning directly at the leaf nodes can help the plant to form more bushy foliage, and plants can even be cut back to 5cm from the soil line if necessary. However, the easiest way to get the desired bushy shape is simply to grow several plants in one pot. Rotate the pot occasionally to encourage even growth.

Since devil's ivy is poisonous, always wear gloves when working with the plant – especially when pruning and repotting.

How to Repot Devils Ivy?

Devil's ivy likes to be cramped and prefers to have its roots nice and tight in a pot. However, if it likes its environment it can grow very quickly and may need to be re-potted once every 12 to 18 months, and the best time to do this is in spring or early summer. Look for signs that it has outgrown its pot by checking for roots sticking out of the drainage holes. Stunted growth is also a sign that it needs fresh soil.

You may plant into a slightly larger pot, or you can simply take the plant out of its pot and gently tease all the old potting soil off the roots before replanting into the same pot, using fresh potting soil.  If the roots need pruning back a bit to fit into the original pot, you can do this, but then it would be wise to lightly prune the top of the plant as well.

Water well after repotting and keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy until the plant is fully re-established in its fresh soil. Misting the foliage down regularly will also help it perk up quicker.

Never plant devils ivy into a pot much larger than it already inhabits as this could kill the plant, or it will stop growing leaves and spend all its time just growing roots to fill up its new pot.

How to Propagate Devils Ivy?

This plant is easily propagated from cuttings of stems with leaves and aerial roots, or by air-layering. The vines will root in water, potting soil or vermiculite within 3 to 4 weeks and under warm temperatures buds can start to grow within 1 to 2 weeks. Plant into containers once the roots are well developed, and to grow a bushy plant its best to plant several rooted cuttings together in a single pot.

What Problems, Pests and Diseases affect Devils Ivy?

Healthy and well-cared for plants generally have very few problems but they can occasionally be affected by pests or diseases.  As with all houseplants, you should regularly and thoroughly inspect your plants for any infestations, and don’t forget to check the undersides of the leaves as this is where many pests hide. This will enable you to catch infestations early and before they become a larger problem down the line.

Why are the leaves of my Devils Ivy fading and losing their variegation?

Fading leaves that are losing their variegation indicate that the plant needs more light. Move it to a brighter spot, but be careful to avoid too much direct sunlight which can burn the foliage.

Why does my Devils Ivy have drooping leaves?

Drooping leaves are mainly caused by infrequent or insufficient watering, and a lack or humidity. Water more frequently and mist spray the foliage with water regularly.

Why are the leaves of my Devils Ivy turning yellow and dropping off?

Yellowing and dropping of leaves can be caused by overwatering, or by cold draughts which cause the plant to go into shock. Adjust your watering, check for any cold air currents and move the plant if necessary.

Why does my Devils Ivy have soft, limp leaves?

Green leaves that go limp and soft as if they are starting to rot, and then turn black, are a sign of overwatering, which can lead to root rot. Symptoms of root rot are brown or non-existent roots, and if you take your plant out of its pot and notice that root rot is present, take as many healthy cuttings as you can find to start a new plant before it dies. However, if you can still see white roots, remove the plant from its container and repot with fresh soil, or place it in a sieve or on a saucer to allow for good air circulation, and let the soil to dry out, before putting it back into its container.

Why are there brown patches on the leaves of my Devils Ivy?

If your plant is growing well and suddenly brown patches appear on the leaves, usually located in the centre of the leaf, this is likely a sign of an abrupt change from very high temperatures to moderate or low temperatures.

Why does my Devils Ivy have crispy, brown leaf tips?

If you are watering correctly, crispy, brown leaf tips are a sign of low humidity. Mist the plant often with tepid water or invest in a humidifier. However, blackening of the leaf margins can also be caused by overwatering, or excess fertiliser, resulting in a build-up of salts in the soil.

How to detect and control Mealybugs on Devils Ivy?

Mealybugs appear as white, cottony masses, frequently in the leaf axils or on the lower surfaces of leaves, and even in the roots. Mealybugs are common on indoor pot plants, and infected plants will show stunted growth, yellowing of the leaves, distorted plant tissue, and leaf drop.

Biogrow Neudosan; Biogrow Bioneem; Biogrow Pyrol; Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide; and Oleum, all work well for mealybugs.

Members can click here to read more about mealybugs

How to detect and control Scale Insects on Devils Ivy?

Scales are tiny parasitic insects that adhere to plants and live off the plant's sap. They look like bumps and are often mistaken for a disease. There are some 7,000 species, varying greatly in colour, shape and size. Scales often go unnoticed by the gardener, but they can do damage out of all proportion to their size. They can quickly infest leaves, twigs, branches and fruit, and are found all year round.

Biogrow Neudosan; Biogrow Bioneem; Biogrow Pyrol; Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide; and Oleum, all work well for scale insects.

Members can click here to read more about scale insects

How to detect and control Spider Mites on Devils Ivy?

Spider mites occasionally infest devils ivy but can easily be controlled with thorough cleaning and misting of the plants, together with frequent applications of insecticidal soaps. Populations can explode during hot, dry weather, and they lay their eggs on the undersides of the leaves where it is relatively dry, and are so minute that most people don't even see them. Signs of infestation are fine white spider webs on the plant, a mottled, silvery look to the top of the leaf, or a severe yellowing or bronze colour to the leaves, leaves dropping off, and leaf curl.

Biogrow ‘Bioneem’ comes from the Neem tree and is a great because it is used to control a wide range of insects, (up to 200 types) including red spider mites and mealybugs.

Members can click here to read more about spider mites

Is Devils Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) toxic for humans or pets?

Because it contains calcium oxalate, every part of this plant is poisonous to pets and humans if ingested in large quantities, so ensure that this houseplant is not nibbled on by any pets or young children. If it is, it can cause burning in the mouth and symptoms such as throwing up and stomach aches. Call a doctor or vet if you see any symptoms.

The sap may also be irritating to the skin, so always wear gloves when working with this plant, and especially when pruning and repotting.