Clusia orthoneura, or The Plant That Ate the Greenhouse

Clusia orthoneura flower

Half the fun of trading or giving away plant cuttings and divisions is seeing what other people can do with the same plants that I grow.  For the past ten years, I have been growing Clusia orthoneura, a strange epiphytic shrub from South America.  My plant resides in a 14″ terracotta bulb pan and is a semi-bonsai.  Every year, I put it outside for the summer, where its branches sprout aerial roots that reach the ground and dig in by the end of the summer.  Each autumn, I cut back those roots and much of the new foliage, so it will fit back into my greenhouse.  As a result, it remains almost the same size from year to year.

About five years ago, I rooted a small cutting and gave it to John Stanton, owner of the Orchid Trail nursery in Morrisville, NC.  John put the cutting in an 8″ diameter pot, and sat it on one of his greenhouse benches.  In the large commercial greenhouse, it wasn’t moved every year, and roots that grew down through the bench weren’t disturbed.  Also, John is an exceptionally good grower.

Earlier this week I stopped by the Orchid Trail in search of a particular slipper orchid species, and John showed me his Clusia.

The plant rises about six feet above the greenhouse bench and is equally wide.


Under the greenhouse bench, the roots resemble those of a mangrove or a strangler fig.


The pot is still visible, but most of the plant’s bulk completely bypasses it.  At this point, the pot could be cut away without bothering the plant at all.


It’s almost unrecognizable as the same species as the stunted little thing in my greenhouse.

5 thoughts on “Clusia orthoneura, or The Plant That Ate the Greenhouse

  1. Oh! That looks like it would be a problem. We have strangler fig in one of the greenhouses. I would like to get rid of it, but my colleague really likes it. It is crushing one of the posts that hold the roof up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi! I was lucky enough to get a piece of this plant from John a couple of months ago, and loved finding this article about where his massive mother plant came from when I was looking for rooting tips about the Clusia orthoneura. I am of course planning to use your method of growth since I don’t have a greenhouse. I was wondering if you can tell
    me the best way to root it? I’ve had it in water for two months and haven’t seen any change (except that it keeps growing new leaves!)….thanks in advance for any advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great! I’m glad to hear that it has traveled on to another grower.

      If you have some sphagnum moss, you might try that. I sometimes find that things which won’t root in water will root in moist sphagnum—maybe something about the greater aeration. I think that’s how I rooted the cutting I gave John, although the cutting may have had one or two aerial roots right from the start.

      Also, if worst comes to the worst and your cutting fails to root, I can certainly cut my mother plant again.


      1. Thank you so much for your response! I am trying that now, and am hopeful to see some roots soon. I really appreciate your quick help, and this strange and beautiful plant!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s