Wednesday, October 12, 2011

List: Plants Which Someone on the Internet has Said Bring Bad Luck

Someone visited PATSP last week via a Google search for "is euphorbia milii a bad luck plant," or something to that effect. Which is interesting. So I googled it myself, which brought me to this page, in which the author had received a question from someone wanting to know if her mother's recurrent, advanced cancer was related to the E. milii plants she'd grown "multiple varieties" of, and if so, whether she should destroy the plants.

Euphorbia milii.

So far, so heartbreaking, but the post attracted a comment confirming that the plant was terrible, and harbored bad spirits, and would kill entire families given half a chance to do so, as demonstrated by the sad (unconfirmable) case of someone (no name given) in the Middle East (country unspecified) who owned one, whose entire family died (by unspecified means), so then he was going to destroy the plant (because somehow he knew the plant was responsible?), but then another guy (likewise unnamed) saw the plant before it was destroyed and took a piece of it home with him to the Philippines. At which point the anecdote stopped because the comment-writer got distracted or something, but I assume s/he was going to go on to say that that person's whole family died horribly as well: s/he was very clear that E. milii was a bad, terrible, no good, evil, dangerous plant which should be eradicated from the face of the earth.1

Which is of course makes the situation that much worse, because now not only did the original questioner's mother have recurrent, advanced cancer, but I'm guessing her daughter also probably collected and destroyed her Euphorbia milii collection, which for all we know had been the woman's pride and joy for years.2

As if the plants were going to give her cancer again.

I did leave a comment, but I was about two years too late.


So that got me thinking about the concept of "bad luck" plants in general. I'd never heard of Euphorbia milii being bad luck before, much less harboring evil spirits, so I figured there were probably lots of other so-called "bad luck" plants I'd just not heard of before. So I googled. And boy, are there.

But first, let me just say -- the below is mostly pharmaceutical-grade bullshit. Plants don't contain or attract evil spirits; you're not going to change your life by buying, rearranging, or discarding them; they don't bring good or bad luck. Good stuff happens. Bad stuff happens. Because the good and bad stuff happens randomly, some people get more of it than others, but that doesn't have anything to do with what plants people grow. I mean, if having lucky bamboo nearby were actually lucky, then the people of Cameroon, where D. sanderiana is native, would be the wealthiest, happiest, longest-lived people in the world, yes? And yet.3

As has always been the case, the way to live a life of minimal unpleasantness is to be rich and powerful or related to someone who is. The plants you grow or don't grow are really not factors. (And anyway, if you're going to avoid everything on this list, you may as well just give up trying to grow plants, period.)

I've linked the sources for the various claims of bad luck, and either quoted or summarized the relevant parts. All quotations are [sic]. Sometimes I've added my own comments to the end.

Chlorophytum comosum.
"Am I the only who has herd this one before? If you own a spider plant you will be cursed with bad luck. So anyone herd this old tale or know someone who owned the plant and had bad luck until getting rid of it? Odd I can't seem to find anything online about the topic but I herd it from someone so I wondered what you all thought." (-PillsburyDoughboy)
My comment: the general consensus from the people who replied was that either 1) they're not bad luck, or 2) that they might be, but everybody really hoped they weren't.4

Hedera helix
Summary: ivy is bad luck inside but good outside. It's particularly bad to give it to someone who is ill.

My recollection is that this also said basically that ivy was bad luck inside the home.

Summary: unlucky as a gift, "a person who grows ivy will always be poor," only permissible indoors as Christmas decoration.
My comment: you may as well go ahead and take this as true, because Hedera are often lousy houseplants. It's not that they're unlucky, just that they're unsuited to indoor cultivation unless you have a cool, bright, moist home, which few of us do.

Aloe vera
"Some say that its bad luck to grow aloe vera plant at home, is it true?" (-ahelas_123)
My comment: the few people who replied said no, not bad luck.

Any and all thorny/spiky plants, especially cacti (probably also includes Pachypodium, Agaves, most Euphorbias, Pandanus veitchii, and pretty much anything else that could be worth growing). Shown: unidentified cactus.
Summary: thorny plants shouldn't go inside the home or close to one's front door, but you can plant as many as you like outside the house.

Summary: Friends of the author's suffered terrible catastrophes (unspecified) after putting cactus plants on their windowsills, because cacti send out "little slivers of bad energy" which accumulate like dust bunnies until something bad happens.6 Then the friends took the cacti away and the bad things stopped happening.

"many people say that cactuses are bad luck especially if you place it inside your home, but i don't believe in that stupid idea, whoever said that, well i'm so sorry but i really don't believe you... I really love plants, i have my collection of cactuses at home, i just love them, they're very nice to look at..." (-Cosepqueenie)
My comment: replies amounted to one person saying "well, you don't have to believe it, sweetie" and two bits of spam.

Summary: cacti are specifically believed to be bad luck in Hungary, apparently.

Bonsai specimens (Juniperus, Acer, etc.). Shown: Juniperus sp.
Summary: bonsai represent stunted growth and thereby make for bad symbolism. Or something.

"Overgrown" plants (?). Shown: Pilea depressa.
Summary: they give off bad vibes.7

Murraya paniculata.
"The Murraya is a silent, slow killer. Those flu symptoms that you have been experiencing are thanks to the innocent looking orange jasmine. Get rid of it NOW or face a lifetime of illness." (Anonymous PATSP commenter, whose family is apparently allergic to the plant, which is a very different thing from the plant being a "silent, slow killer."8)

Cordyline fruticosa, red cvv.
"Some people believe red ti plant invites bad luck."
My comment: the page also says that "Hawaiians think this plant is a charm against evil," which means that whether good things or bad things happen to you after buying a red ti plant, the page predicted that it would happen.

Summary: Cordyline is a low-maintenance and colorful plant which is often grown in Singaporean cemeteries, because it's low-maintenance and colorful. Consequently, people believe it to be bad luck, because if it isn't bad luck then what's it doing in all those cemeteries, with the dead people?

Codiaeum variegatum (croton).
Summary: Same as for Cordyline fruticosa: it's bad because it's grown in cemeteries; it's grown in cemeteries because it doesn't need a lot of tending.

Epipremnum aureum (pothos).
Summary: [every bad thing that's happened to five (?) different families over a period of several years] (-tablariddim)
The original questioner hasn't considered the possibility that bad things often happen in close proximity to pothos because everyfuckingbody has a pothos.

Night-blooming / night-fragrant plants, especially those with white flowers and/or heavy fragrance, e.g. Cereus peruvianus, Epiphyllum cvv., Cestrum nocturnum, Hoyas, Sansevieria trifasciata?, Peniocereus greggii. Shown: Hoya lacunosa.
Summary: Night-blooming plants are unlucky because in some cultures, suddenly detecting a flower's scent indicates the presence of spirits nearby. (See Musa and Ensete spp. below.) Also white is the color of death and mourning in these cultures too, so the fact that many night-opening flowers are also white just makes them that much scarier.
My comment: night-blooming flowers do tend to be fragrant or white or both, because both qualities make it easier for nocturnal pollinators to locate the flower.

Musa and Ensete spp. (bananas), Plumeria spp. (frangipani). Shown: Musa NOID.
Summary: Banana trees are believed to contain spirits called "Pontianaks" who are the ghosts of women who died in childbirth. Pontianaks appear in the form of beautiful women, "dig into the . . . stomach with long sharp fingernails," and eat "it" (presumably the stomach?). They also attack pregnant women, and announce their presence by the smell of jasmine or Plumeria, followed by a horrible stench. A pontianak can be controlled by tying a red thread around a banana tree and tying the other end to the foot of one's bed; it then has to do the bidding of whoever tied the thread or whoever sleeps in the bed or something like that. (Site wasn't specific.)

Chrysanthemum cvv. Shown: Chrysanthemum NOID.
Summary: Thought to attract the ghost of Okiku, who cries a lot, for reasons which vary according to the version of the story being told.

Summary: bad luck because of its association with funerals.

Bamboo varieties. Shown: Pogonantherum paniceum.
Summary: Contain evil spirits and/or ghosts.

Plumeria cvv. (frangipani)
Summary: the Thai word for Plumeria means sadness, so obviously it's bad luck. It's believed to house the ghosts of evil people. Plus there's the whole thing about smelling the fragrance when a pontianak is nearby.

Tradescantia zebrina cvv. (wandering jew)
Summary: the unluckiness of wandering jew is apparently a long-standing superstition in the U.S., though I'd never heard of it.9

Drosera spp.
Summary: Not a lot of information to go on, but is apparently unlucky for sheep in particular?

Any plant that blooms out of season. Shown: Aechmea fasciata.
Summary: plants blooming out of season were thought to be "touched by the devil."
I assume this would apply to plants that were chemically induced to bloom, so most store-bought Spathiphyllums, Schlumbergeras and bromeliads, would probably qualify. Also Euphorbia pulcherrima are usually induced to bloom a bit earlier than they normally would, in order to sell at Christmas, so they'd at least sort of count. (And we all know that poinsettias are touched by the devil regardless.) Probably lots of other things too.

No doubt I've missed some: it's difficult subject matter for a Google search, because one also runs into a lot of pages where people say they have bad luck with this plant or that plant, which is obviously different from having bad luck due to the plant. So let me know if you run into other examples.


1 The full comment, copied from the site:
shayne Says:
January 18th, 2010 at 10:58 am

yeah.. its true.. the plant euphorbia is “MALAS”.. it has a bad spirit.. that causes many sickness.. and can cuase death for the whole family who lives in the house with euphorbia plants.. it is proven.. ive searched about this plant.. that is from the middle east.. one man there that owns that plant .. his family was died becauseof that plant.. after of wat happened to his famiy he decided to destroy it. but before he destroy it a seaman saw it and get one of it.. and that seaman brought it in the phillipines.. it is proven that if you have that plant in your house your family will always get sick.. that sometimes causes death for the whole family.. because that plant grows even you dont watered him.. it is beautiful to see.. but it brings badluck to your life.. so if you dont want bad luck happens to you and to your family.. destroy that plant.. and its better to tell it to your other friends about it.. to prevent the growing numbers of that plant.. im juz a concerned citizen.. thats why im telling you this. its all up to you if your going to beleive it..
[sic, obviously]
2 (I mean, maybe not, but the plants must have been around for a while: if they were new, it wouldn't make any sense to blame them for the cancer. Not that it makes sense to blame them for the cancer anyway, but you know what I'm saying.)
3 One could make a fairly strong argument that Japanese knotweed -- native to prosperous East Asian countries like Japan, China, and South Korea, widespread and invasive in Europe, the U.S., and Canada -- is one of the most potent good-luck plants in the world, based on the economic situations of the countries where it's found. I mean, it would be extremely irresponsible to make that argument, but some people would find it convincing.
4 Tip: if you have to hope that it's not bad luck, because you've had a bunch of them for several years, then it's not. You would obviously notice it, if the bad luck were real. As would everybody else who's grown one.
5 This site was down when I was trying to write the post, but it worked when I was searching initially, so I don't know whether you'll be able to get to it or not. My recollection is that it said basically the same thing as
6 I don't believe anyone has ever shown any physical evidence for the existence or accumulation of "energy shards," nor measured the rate at which they accumulate, nor defined the quantity necessary to cause "bad luck," nor explained how removing the source makes them go away. (When you remove a shedding dog from a house, does the accumulated hair disappear from the carpet? No? Then why would removing a plant make the accumulated energy shards disappear?)
Not that one would necessarily expect this to be the sort of detail you'd go into in the sort of breezy, informal book I've linked to, but -- well, that's sort of the problem: the feng shui community doesn't seem to publish anything that isn't breezy and informal.
7 (No, really, that's pretty much all it says.)
8 Among the differences: if you're allergic to plant X, it does not necessarily follow that all human beings are allergic to plant X. Also -- we've had the plant almost five years now: if it's going to kill us, it's taking its time about it.
9 (I suspect that most of these aren't actually believed by very many people, even in their country/region of origin.)


orchideya said...

It is amusing, but I do feel bad for innocent plants that some people try to blame for their own problems/mistakes(and even take time to publish it on the Internet).

Greensparrow said...

Haha! I love it. Crazy people are so much fun.

Liza said...

Oh. My. God.

Paul said...

I have my superstitions about plants, but they have at least a gem of credibility. I don't apply blanket effects to an entire species other that what happens when you eat it. That would be racist.

Examples: Yarrow is good luck (medicinal, used in divination, excellent green manure). Datura is a guardian (toxic to the uninformed, demonically beautiful yet forbidding).

Andrew Ablenas said...

So basically growing a plant in your home is going to kill you. Only the bravest dare.

Paul said...

Egads, it's a full blown case of the Wizard's First Rule (from the book of the same name) -- "People are stupid"!

PillsburyDoughboy wondered what people thought so I will comment -- he's an idiot. Perhaps this Chlorophytum issue is something restricted to bovines and other livestock or those who care for them. Afterall, PDb mentioned "herd" repeatedly.

Hedera helix are extremely unlucky as a choice if you're looking for an easy, problem free houseplant. The almost inevitable spidermite infestations it gets is unlucky for the ivy if it has aspirations of being an inhabitant of my home.

Thorny plants -- Only if you're dumb enough to keep touching them (and yes some people are) or clutzy and keep falling into them or putting them where they have a high likelihood of getting knocked over.

Bonsai -- Do the Japanese know they are responsible for raising bad luck to an artform?

Overgrown plants -- So logically, then, having sickly anemic looking plants is good luck?

Banana plants -- Does this mean that, by extension, by consuming bananas and banana products people are devouring evil spirits? So troubling ... afterall we all know "you are what you eat". (On which note I feel compelled to add -- perhaps those people making such moronic claims are eating too many nuts.)

Bamboo -- No wonder those poor pandas have so many issues!

Plumeria -- Ah ha! So it is actually an insidiously evil plot perpetrated by Hawaiians and other Polynesian peoples to give bad luck to visitors by bestowing leis of these diabolical flowers on their victims!

Plants that bloom out of season -- geez, looks like the entire floral industry is damned to hell.

mr_subjunctive said...

Andrew Abelnas:

It's worse than that. Judging by the list, the husband, Sheba, Nina and I are all probably dead already. The good news being: acquiring more plants isn't going to make us any more so, I suppose.


I suspect the overgrown plants being unlucky is the flip side of bonsai being unlucky: stunted growth is bad, unrestrained growth is also bad but in a different way. The site didn't actually say, though.

So how much growth is permissible? Apparently Dracaena sanderiana has it just right; everything else is too fast or too slow.

Michelle Bachman said...

After an event, a tearstricken woman told me the most heartbreaking story about how her pothos gave her daughter Down syndrome. Fellow Americans, we must defend against the pothos!

Loona said...

wow, this post was rather interesting to read, thanks.
however, I did go "ouch" at times and so did my boyfriend while watching my expressions while reading. I should say such beliefs scare me a bit and make me go suspicious about people who tend to believe in them, up to the point where I cannot even laugh at how nonsense some of these beliefs are because their believers have so strong feelings towards them that it just cannot be categorised as funny but rather as frightening O__o

anyways, being a Hungarian, the part about cacti being a source of bad luck especially made me feel rather unknowing. I have (and had for my almost 30 years of life) always liked cacti and had also grown them ever since my parents first thought they might let me grow a plant of my own. I always had some of them around, and I also have some that are around for almost 20 years. lucky and unlucky periods occured to me and my family several times but I never thought of associating these with my little spiky pals (I guess the time spent together is just enough proof for that). I have met and I also know several people who like cacti, grow cacti, or even collect cacti, but none of them (as far as I'm concerned) is an "acute" unlucky person who (or whose family) suffers from something or is in need of something (other than enough place for the collection). they are all alive and doing well, just like me, and my plants (including my cacti) have their part in that. they make me happy, in fact, that's why I keep them.

((I would actually be happy if some of this all had been true. I would just like it better if me and my plants (including my cacti) moving out of my parents' house have meant that my mother healed from cancer. I'd happily promise never to get cacti around her again if that could bring her back...))

se said...

I have heard around or read on the Internet that if you grow Tradescantia pallida (was Setcreasea pallida "Purple Heart"), you will never have money. I assume that means you will never be rich. Probably a decent bet.

Also, if you close your eyes when you sneeze, I can state with 95% confidence that you will not be in the top 5% of earners.

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, like I said in footnote 9, I suspect these beliefs are not necessarily as widespread as the post makes them sound. There was only one source saying that cacti were considered unlucky in Hungary, and it didn't go into any details about which cacti, which people, why or how they're supposed to be unlucky. So it might turn out to be the case that nobody actually thinks that, and the author of the site made a mistake, or invented the superstition themselves, or whatever. It's not necessarily surprising that you'd never heard of it, is what I'm saying.

This sort of thing is always weird to write about. I feel strongly that people should have good information in order to make informed decisions about what they're doing, and taking into account imaginary energy shards or stomach-eating ghosts isn't going to lead to good decisions. At the same time, I also think that people should be permitted to make dumb decisions if they're not hurting anybody else, and mostly these beliefs don't hurt anyone but the believer. (They might harm the growers of plants designated "unlucky," or people who would enjoy growing "unlucky" plants but never get a chance to because they believe the superstition, but in both cases there are other plants available, so.) My point being that although I can't resist laughing a little at some of the stuff in this post, I'm mostly hoping that pointing out how common this is, and how little sense it makes if you think about it briefly, will convince some people to be less skeptical.

(What I'm actually expecting to happen is that people will happen on this post and add new plants to their mental list of stuff that they won't buy because it's unlucky, but for the moment I'm being hopeful.)

I agree that it certainly would be nice if it were that simple to cure cancer. It'd also be nice if we could convince people to capitalize, spell, and punctuate properly on the internet (The Euphorbia milii person desperately needs someone to tell him/r that the double period is not a valid punctuation mark and introduce him/r to commas and apostrophes, at minimum.), but I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed.

Pat said...

When I was younger I repeatedly heard that Tradescantias only thrived in the house of a rich person. Whether this was a difference in the luckiness of the plant in the UK or the relative scarcity of central heating in these parts back then, I don't know.

I am pretty sure it was Cromwell's puritans who banned the use of ivy as decoration because of its association with Christmas celebrations, which were also banned during the Commonwealth. Several of the banned plants became regarded as unlucky to bring indoors. They included, strangely, hawthorn blossom. Also called the mayflower, it was associated with the orgiastic celebrations of May Day.

phantom_tiger said...

Euphorbia milii. Maybe it gives you bad punctuation? The only one I knew didn't have evil spirits, it had woolly aphids, which are perhaps worse and catching. I hated it for that reason, and then it died. Ha.

For the record, I believe I am one of those few people who have never bought a pothos.

Fascinated with the banana story. That's a complicated one. Probably very old. I have to look into that one, it's creepy and interesting.

It's always unsettling when you meet someone who completely believes something that sounds nuts. On the other hand, since euphorbias and plumeria are poisonous, maybe some of the superstitions were suppposed to discourage people from growing them. Ooo. I just looked it up and English Ivy is poisonous too. And Crotons. And even Pothos! I'm on to something...Doesn't explain the banana spirits though.

danger garden said...

Oh hell! With my Euphorbia milii, plus the countless Agaves and Cacti I'm doomed!

Jordan in Oregon said...

But my Euphorbia really WAS unlucky!

It's okay though because we talked it out, decided that it wasn't the plant for me, but the talk ended up being an argument, and the plant 'accidentally' got left outside. In December. Did I mention Oregon?

See? That plant was totally unlucky.