When friends drop by with cuttings of plants that I’ve been wanting to grow, some of them grow roots in a container of clean water while others simply sit there and rot. Why? I thought all plants can survive without roots and even grow new roots?
Air plants and aquatic plants never need roots to live as their leaves and stem directly absorb water and nutrients. Many vegetables, herbs, and houseplants easily survive without roots for a few days (or weeks) while they grow new roots in response to stress, wounding, or injury.
What plants can be easily propagated from cuttings? Here’s a list of some plants, herbs, and houseplants that survive without roots for a short while and naturally develop roots in water:
|Bok choy||Fennel||Chinese evergreen|
|Carrot greens||Garlic sprouts||English ivy|
|Cattail||Green onion||Jade plant|
|Lettuce||Lemongrass||Moses in the cradle|
|Water chestnut||Mint||Spider plant|
|Water spinach||Wasabi||Wandering Jew|
If, like me, you’re looking for indoor plants that you can easily grow by rooting cuttings in water, read on. This one’s for you.
FACTOID: Plants without roots include moss, liverwort, green algae and seaweed. They absorb water and minerals from the environment through their stems and leaves.
Many plants (not all, though) have a natural reaction to grow roots when they are stressed or wounded. In fact, new roots can grow not only from stems but also from leaves.
A plant cannot survive for long without its roots because it’s not anchored to the ground and it cannot absorb water and nutrients from the soil. However, a plant can grow new roots depending on root type, size, root buds, and if plants clone naturally.
For instance, if the main taproot or a large number of the side roots are cut off, the plant can die. Many plants reproduce via cuttings and can survive without any roots at all until new ones have formed.
Some plants grow new roots from a leaf or even a part of a leaf. Examples include African violet, begonia, kalanchoe (Bryophyllum), piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii), pepper elder (Peperomia obtusifolia), flame violet (Episcia cupreata), porcelain flower (Hoya carnosa), stonecrop, (sedum), and snake plant or sansevieria (Dracaena trifasciata).
Leaf veins: Some of the most common plants that can grow roots from leaf vein cuttings are Rex begonias, gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa), and temple bells (Smithiantha).
And that’s not all. Here are even more useful plants for your garden, kitchen, and indoor spaces – don’t worry if they lack roots – they will survive.
PRO TIP: Rooting hormones provide auxin, a natural hormone that promotes the growth of new roots. Dip the cut end of the plant and that’s it. Sit back and expect the new roots to show sooner than later.
There are many plants that can grow indoors even when they don’t have roots. Many herbs, vegetables, house plants, and flowering plants can grow new roots and thrive, even with only a little tap water and some light.
Many varieties of vegetables, herbs, decorative house plants, and even flowering plants can grow new roots when provided with some tap water and sunlight. This is great for those who like the convenience of a kitchen garden on hand, low grocery bill, and indoor oxygen that those with no garden space can enjoy.
PRO TIP: Use clear glass containers to see when hairlike roots are growing. Add water as necessary, but keep leaves out of water. If nothing shows after a week or so or if the plant starts to rot (the water smells), throw it out and try again.
Vegetable scraps from groceries can be regrown even when they don’t have roots. For a steady supply of food, indoor gardeners don’t buy vegetables all the time. Instead, they regrow kitchen leftovers and scraps from the supermarket’s vegetable section.
Beet greens or beet chard, the green leaves or tops of the beetroot plant (Beta vulgaris) has vitamin A and more iron than spinach. To regrow, place the bottom one-third part of the root cut side downward on any shallow container with water less than 1/4 inch of water. Place it where there is adequate sunlight. In a couple of days, new leaves begin to show. Change the water every other day.
Bok choy or Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa) is a green vegetable that is served raw in salads or cooked in soups or meat dishes. To regrow roots, cut the bottom 1/4 of the cabbage base and place it in a small bowl of water. Only the very bottom should be covered in water (too much water will start rotting). Change the water every day. In only 2 days under partial direct sunlight, young leaves and roots begin to grow.
Carrot Greens are the green leaves on the top of carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus) are highly nutritious add-ons to chutney, salads, chimichurri sauce, soup, or pesto. While the root can’t be regrown, the carrot greens produce new roots and regrow in a shallow container of water. Leave about half an inch of the carrot and the green leaves. Keep changing the water every other day and in a few days, tiny green leaves and new roots will appear.
Cattail: All parts of the cattail plant(Typha latifolia) are edible. While the roots can be boiled or roasted, the flower heads have a nutty taste when roasted. In addition, a thick and starchy middle stalk can be dried into flour.
Lettuce (Lactuca) is used in salads, sandwiches, soups, slaw, smoothies, or wraps. To regrow, save the end from a head of lettuce. In other words, cut the leaves at about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the bottom. Place that with the cut bottom facing down in a shallow dish with about 1/2 inch of water. Provide sunlight or grow lights and change the water every 2 days. Within a week, new roots will grow at the bottom of the stump.
Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is an ornamental plant that easily grows in containers. Its leaves and corms are edible and can be steamed, boiled, or baked.
Watercress: Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) leaves and sprouts are edible and harvested indoors all year round. A stem (with some top leaves) of watercress from the supermarket can grow roots in only a little water. Cut when it is about 4 inches tall; it will quickly regrow.
Water chestnut: One type, the Eleocharis dulcis, can be pickled, tinned, boiled, grilled, stir-fried, or served raw in noodles, rice, or pasta dishes. The other type, Trapa natans is also known as water caltrops or Jesuit nuts. Water chestnut plants are easy to root in water indoors.
Water Spinach: The tender shoots and roots of water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica), also known as water morning glory, water convolvulus, ong choy, kangkong, or Chinese watercress, are edible whether cooked or raw. After a week of sitting in water, stems (with some young top leaves) show new roots and leaves. Change the water every three days or so.
Herbs are either soft-stemmed plants or plants that provide parts (leaves, stems, etc.) for use in cuisine or aromatics. Here are 10 that can grow roots from a stem or a leaf with minimum input from their gardeners.
Celery (Apium graveolens) is an herb that is eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. The stalks, seeds, and leaves are used as spice or flavoring in soups, salads, and other dishes. To root celery, submerge the lower half of a 2-inch stalk (the root end) of a celery plant in water in a shallow glass jar or bowl. With sunlight and fresh, clean water every two days, the celery will grow small leaves from the center.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) looks like dill and can be regrown easily like celery. The fennel bulb adds a licorice flavor to recipes. To propagate., set a fennel bulb with the base facing down in a shallow container of clear water up to the level of the bulb. Expose to some sun and change the water every three days or so. In a few days, new green shoots begin to grow from the base.
Garlic Sprouts (Allium sativum) are great on baked potatoes, salads, dips, stir-frys, garnishes, and more. To produce sprouts, place garlic cloves in a little water in a glass dish. The cloves will begin to sprout after about two days or so of sunlight exposure. Top up the water as needed.
Green Onion (Allium fistulosum) is commonly known as scallion, long green onion, Japanese bunching onion, and spring onion is great for salads, pasta, noodles, and so many dishes. To propagate, take your leftover or scrap green onion roots, drop them pointing down in a glass with a little water, and change the water once every two days. When new roots and leaves grow, you’re good to go.
Lemongrass: The lemongrass plant (Cymbopogon) is also known as citronella grass, silky heads, and fever grass. This herb adds a lemon-mint zing to teas, soups, and other dishes. To root lemongrass in water, remove all older leaves from the lowest six inches of a stem, place it in water, and change the water every couple of days until the new roots grow long.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is used to flavor dishes as well as treat health conditions. It can grow new roots in a container with a little water. First, cut about 6 inches from the stem from a healthy oregano plant. Remove all leaves from the lower half of the stem. Add tap, mineral, or spring water (not distilled) to cover about 3 inches of the stem. Replace with clean water every three days until new roots start growing.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is an herb that blooms with blue flowers. It’s a natural air freshener that can be mixed with lemon and vanilla in drinks and dishes. To root rosemary in water, cut a 3-inch (or more) stem from a healthy rosemary plant, and remove all leaves and flowers from the part of the stem that will be in the water. Expose to indirect sunlight and refresh with clean tap water every two weeks until new roots begin to grow. Based on my experience, it’s hard to grow roots from a rosemary cutting. I suggest a bunch of rosemary stem together, and choose the ones that sprout new roots.
Wasabi: Also known as Japanese horseradish (Eutrema japonicum), all parts of the wasabi herb are edible. Its ground rhizome tastes like hot mustard or horseradish and is served as a paste with sushi. It is a popular condiment in Japanese cuisine.
Watermint (Mentha aquatica) is a fast-growing herb with slightly purple, dark green leaves that can be used in teas and to flavor salads. Cuttings will root even in just a cup of water.
PRO TIP: When cutting herbs, veggies, or houseplants for rooting, sanitize your hands and tools. Check out a sanitizer such as this one on Amazon.
House plants bring nature indoors, add oxygen to rooms, and decorate interior spaces in ways that soothe stressors and even relax the mind. Many indoor plants can sprout new roots to survive when their roots are lost.
There are dozens (if not hundreds) more plants that can grow new roots from cut leaves or stems. If your favorites are not here, let me know!
Arrowhead (Syngonium podophyllum) is a popular houseplant with shiny leaves and is also known as American evergreen, nephthytis, goosefoot, or African evergreen. A cutting can grow new roots in a glass of water under indirect sunlight.
Chinese evergreen: The broad leaves of the Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) make it a popular indoor plant on tabletops with partial sunlight or even in low light. To propagate, place some healthy, 6-inch stems in a container with some water. After a few weeks, it should root and grow. A few drops of liquid fertilizer every two weeks will help it thrive.
English ivy (Hedera helix) is a climbing plant that can grow indoors in water. To propagate, cut the stem above the triangular fold on the stem, between the leaves. Remove leaves from the lower part of the stem. Place the stem in a glass container and add about 2 inches of tap water. Place in a warm 65-80°F (18-27°C) and partially sunny area. Change the water every two days for 4-6 weeks or until new roots are about two inches long.
Jade plant: The jade plant (Crassula) has shiny, cactus-style leaves (succulents) that don’t need a lot of care, even if you are a beginner at indoor gardening. Rooting it in water is easy, particularly if the stem cut comes from a healthy mother plant. Remove the leaves from the last 3 inches of the cutting and add water. New roots should show in about a week or less.
Moses in the cradle (Tradescantia spathacea) is also known as cradle lily, Rhoeo discolor, boatlily, or oyster plant. To propagate from stem cuttings in water, cut a 4 to 6-inch (10-cm) stem section from a healthy plant. Remove the lower leaves and leave a few leaves on top. Place the stem cutting in a glass jar with an inch or two of tap water. Translucent roots begin to grow in a couple of weeks.
Philodendron: With more than 500 species of philodendron, the velvet leaf vine (philodendron Micans) and the heartleaf philodendron (philodendron Cordatum) need minimal care when grown in pots or hanging baskets. Remove the older leaves from a six-inch stem cut from a healthy philodendron plant. In about 2 weeks, it will root in a jar of tap water exposed to indirect sunlight. Change the water every couple of days.
Pothos: Pothos plants (Epipremnum aureum) only need minimal care, water, and partial sunlight. Its broad leaves are bright green and make great house plants. A healthy cutting will grow in water within a week or two. Remove the older leaves before rooting, but never do this when new roots and leaves begin to grow.
Spider plant: The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is well known for cleaning indoor air. Also known as ribbon plant, hen and chickens, or spider ivy, cuttings can grow new roots even within 7 to 10 days in only a glass of water. Spider plants can survive for a long time even in artificial light.
Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina) can take root in water between 65- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit, in indirect sunlight. Cut a healthy stem about 4 inches long from a healthy, mature plant, Remove the older leaves at the lower end, add water until the bottom leaf node (a small bump on the stem where a leaf grows) is covered, and refresh with clean water until new roots start to grow from the node in a week or even less.
African violet (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia) can grow indoors in tap water and partial sunlight. To propagate, choose a healthy, mature leaf with around 1 inch of petiole (the stalk from leaf and stem). Leave the leaf in the open air outside for about an hour, then place the leaf in a shallow bowl with a little water. Replace the water every two days until roots start to grow from the petiole
Begonia is an herb that produces orange, pink, red, yellow or white flowers. Of the 1,000 or more varieties, the Maculata Wightii blooms non-stop while Rex and Tuberous grow well in water. To propagate, keep the stems moist and cool until they are placed in a jar of water. Remove all leaves except the top ones from the stems. New roots begin to grow in about 4 weeks.
Coleus (Coleus scutellarioides) is a flowering plant that grows in soil or water with very little care. It grows in partial shade and in water indoors. To propagate use seeds (slower) or cuttings (faster). Cut a 5-inch stem from a healthy Coleus plant, remove the leaves but leave a few leaves at the top. Place the stem in a glass container with a little water. Keep the water from touching the leaves. Place the container near a window or where there is some indirect sunlight. New roots begin to grow in a week or two.
Impatiens or Busy Lizzy (Impatiens walleriana) grows varicolored flowers indoors, in shady places, even in partial sunlight. To root impatiens stems in water, cut the stem of a healthy plant, make sure there is at least one node and a few leaves at the top. Place the stem in water but make sure the water should not touch the leaves. Replace the water every three days. Place the plant in partial sunlight (not direct sunlight). New roots should begin to show in about three weeks.
Paperwhite: The fragrant, snowy-white flowers of paperwhite grow from bulbs that take root in a few inches of fresh water. Place the roots of the bulb down, and add water until only the roots are covered (too much water and the bulb will rot). New roots should grow in a few days.
Lotus: Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) roots, flowers, seeds, and leaves are edible. It can be grown indoors in a large container with clay soil covered by at least 4” to 18” (or more) of water. Rhizomes and cuttings can easily regrow new roots.
Lucky Bamboo: The lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is not bamboo. It grows indoors in soil or water and thrives best in partial sunlight. The flexible stem can be molded in different shapes. Place about 4 inches of stem cutting in clean water. Replace the water every couple of days. New leaves and roots should show within 2 weeks.
Can you revive dead plant roots? Yes, if the roots of the dying plant are still alive, and even better if the plant stem still has some green.
Does cutting roots kill a plant? You can prune (but not cut all) some roots in container plants when the roots are tightly packed in the pot and can’t get enough nutrition (the plant will eventually die). Proper root pruning can actually improve your plant’s growth and health.
Why do cuttings root faster when some leaves are removed? Cuttings with fewer leaves lose less water that leaves transpire (evaporate), so roots can grow more easily. Wounding by removing leaves also releases hormones (ethylene gas, auxin) that activate and increase the development of new roots.
Before you go, here’s a summary of the top takeaways:
Some plants don’t need roots: Algae, air plants, aquatic plants, and moss absorb water and nutrients without roots like most land plants do.
Some plants survive without roots until they grow new ones: Cut stems, tips, leaves, and even leaf veins can automatically grow roots as a result of damage, stress, or wounding.
Many herbs, vegetables, houseplants, and flowering plants can grow new roots. This article lists many of these that you can grow indoors with only a little water and some gentle sunshine.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed a review of plants that can survive without roots. Happy gardening!
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- “Auxin transport—shaping the plant” by J. Friml in Current Opinion in Plant Biology
- “Factors concerned in the rooting responses of isolated leaves” by F. G. Gregory & B. Samantarai in Journal of Experimental Botany,
- “Plant Propagation by Leaf, Cane, and Root Cuttings: Instructions for the Home Gardener” by the North Carolina State University Extension
- “Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings Instructions for the Home Gardener” by E. Evans & F. Blazich, North Carolina State University
- “Plants That Reproduce Through Leaves” by S. Russel in Sciencing
- “Propagation of selected culinary and ornamental herbs” by J. R. Schroeder & A. Le Duc in Horticultural Science
- ”Plant propagation by leaf and leaf-bud cuttings” by R. A. McNeilan & H. B. Lagerstedt
- “Propagating Foliage & Flowering Plants” Texas A&M Univeristy IN Aggie Horticulture
- “Rooting Cuttings in Water” by the Missouri Botanical Garden
- “Cuttings and transpiration ” by L. Rylott, et al in Science and Plants for Schools
- “What Makes Adventitious Roots?” by M. Gonin et al in Plants (Basel)