Why Do Spider Plants Have Thick, White Roots?

Spider plants are supremely easygoing houseplants – requiring little more than just regular watering approximately once a week, and repotting every year or two.

They tend to be such fuss-free indoor companions, in fact, that you might feel a sudden sense of shock when you look in your specimen’s pot and notice thick white protuberances in the potting soil. Rest assured – all is well in houseplant land.

Those thick white things you’re seeing are just the swollen roots of your houseplant – and yes, they are supposed to look like that!

A vertical photo of a hand holding long white roots of a pot bound spider plant. Green and white text run across the center and bottom of the frame.

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You may have observed these fleshy, white growths while repotting your houseplant, or perhaps you noticed them emerging from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, or coming out of the top of the growing medium.

While they look very different from the underground parts of many other houseplants, they are actually just tuberous roots.

However, I have to say that calling them “just roots” really doesn’t do them justice.

Also known as “spider ivy,” “airplane plant,” “St. Bernard’s lily,” or “ribbon plant,” these tubers are part of what makes Chlorophytum comosum one of the easiest houseplants to care for!

Would you like to learn more about this part of your plant’s anatomy?

Of course you would!

Keep reading and you’ll get to know the workings of your houseplant’s underground world, so to speak.

Here’s what I’ll cover:

We’re going to get up close and personal with the subterranean anatomical features of your spider plant.

But before we get started, if you want complete guidance to caring for these houseplants, be sure to read our article on growing and caring for spider plants.

What Should Spider Plant Roots Look Like?

I’ve heard a few horror stories about indoor gardeners seeing those large, white tuberous roots while repotting their specimens, assuming that there was something wrong with their plant and taking the drastic step of trimming off these storage organs before repotting.

Let me make it clear that there’s absolutely no reason to do that – and taking such brutal steps will possibly kill your specimen or at best, make it hard for it to recover from the ordeal.

A vertical close up of the foliage of a healthy spider plant.

Now that you know what not to do, let’s consider what you should see when you remove the pot from your specimen’s root ball.

When you unpot these houseplants, you’ll likely notice a couple of different types of roots running through the soil.

You’ll find small, thin ones called “feeders” – and this is the main type you’ll notice in younger specimens that are just becoming established.

A horizontal close up of the root ball and bottom of a spider plant. Through the bottom of the soil are many small, thin roots visible.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin.

These thin structures will look similar to the underground anatomy of many of your other houseplants.

But as C. comosum specimens settle into their potting medium and start to grow, they’ll soon start producing larger, tuberous roots as well – the type that indoor gardeners sometimes find so perplexing!

A horizontal closeup of the bottom of a root ball on a spider plant with a large white root poking out of the side of the soil.
Photo by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin.

These roots are long, white, and taper at both ends, thickening in the middle, and left to their own devices with sufficient space, can grow to be up to four inches wide and six inches long.

The Purpose of Thick Roots

These thick white organs are what make spider ivies such resilient houseplants – they are able to store water in these tubers, just as succulents store water in their leaves and stems.

A horizontal photo of a hand from the left of the frame holding up a pot bound houseplant, pictured in light sunshine.

These storage organs allow C. comosum to survive when water is sparse.

This adaptation allows the species to thrive in a variety of different habitats – which is why it has a widespread range in its native habitat. It can grow in many different environments, and is no fussy hothouse orchid.

Additionally, this ability to store water also allows C. comosum to survive the sometimes irregular visits of the bearer of the watering can! Because of this resilient adaptation, you’ll have to really neglect it to make your spider plant wilt.

However, water isn’t the only thing these tubers store – they also store nutrients for later use.

What to Do When Your Pot is Full of Roots?

If the tuberous roots gave you a surprise when you unpotted your houseplant, you should have gotten the message by now that all is well, and that this is part of the normal underground anatomy of C. comosum.

But if your plant’s pot is particularly full of these tubers, so much so that there’s barely any growing medium left in the container, you might be wondering what to do?

If you have unpotted your spider plant and see that the white roots are growing so thick that the specimen is pot bound, or if tubers are emerging from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot or out of the top of the growing medium, it’s time to consider a larger container!

A horizontal shot of a houseplant in a white pot lying on its side on a wooden table. There are many white, thick roots growing through the drainage holes at the bottom of  the pot.

These three scenarios, along with a more frequent need for water, indicate that it’s probably time to repot your specimen.

When transferring a pot bound root ball to a new container, massage the tubers a bit to try to loosen them up first.

This will allow the houseplant to spread into its new soil more easily, making the transition more successful.

And if you’d like more tips on repotting spider plants, be sure to read our article. (Coming soon!)

Rooting for Healthy Houseplants

So now you know – the thick white structures growing in the soil of your spider plant are simple tuberous roots.

These thickened storage organs help your houseplant survive spells of scant water availability, as well as keeping a backup supply of nutrients.

A horizontal shot of a pot bound root system of a spider plant lying on its side on a wooden slated table.

Were you worried when you noticed enlarged tubers in your houseplant’s potting soil? Are you relieved to learn that this part of the anatomy is completely normal? Let us know if you have any questions – just use the comments section, below!

And if you’re still not sure your spider plant’s underground parts look quite right – feel free to post a photo and explain your concern. We’d be happy to help!

Want to learn more about growing and caring for spider plants? You’ll find further informative articles right here:

Photo of author
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer, holds a Certificate in Native Plant Studies from the University of North Carolina Botanical Gardens, a Landscape for Life certificate through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles.

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