Plants are a beautiful and healthy way to decorate the apartment, home, and garden. From growing delicious organic vegetables in the backyard to collecting air purifying plants for indoor purposes, the popularity of planting and propagating has grown tremendously in the last few years.
For anyone dealing with plants regularly, it is essential to know what type of plants you have. This way, you can care for them properly and understand their growth patterns. While some plants are considered stationary, others grow wildly and can take over the space or other plants living in the garden. These types of plants are often called runner plants, also known as stolon plants.
To learn more about the 15 most common types of runner plants, their characteristics, and their growth patterns, continue reading our helpful guide below.
- 1 What is a Stolon Plant?
- 2 15 Different Types of Runner Plants
- 3 Final Thoughts
What is a Stolon Plant?
A stolon is a part of a plant’s root system that grows parallel to the ground in a horizontal pattern. This stem allows roots to grow into the soil in both traditional and unconventional patterns. It also allows vertical or aerial branches to form at specific new points called nodes.
Nodes on a plant often form if the plant is releasing a branch for propagation reasons or not receiving enough light, water, or nutrients. A node can also develop when a break happens. A stolon will recognize this break and spread so that new growth can occur in the previously damaged spot, therefore aiding in growing more leaves or blossoms depending on the plant.
In addition to the node of the runner plant, stolons, or running growths, can also grow at the base of the plant. Since strawberries grow above ground instead of underground, their stolons grow at their base and then burrow into the soil around them. This causes them to shoot below ground and sprawl in a similar pattern to typical ground cover plants.
15 Different Types of Runner Plants
Contrary to popular belief, runner plants are highly diverse and even include vibrantly colored flowers, fruits, vegetables, and weed varieties. While it is hard to tell a runner or stolon plant just by looking at it, once you know the characteristics or species varieties of runner plants, you will easily know them in your garden or home.
Strawberries are one of the most universally beloved fruits in existence. Used for thousands of years in preserves, soups, salads, jams, compost, and countless other recipes, people also enjoy them fresh.
Strawberries are likely the most common runner plant of all, often introduced to garden plots by individuals. Strawberries are also considered an edible ground cover, and grow across the globe as far south as the equator. They do well in hot, humid, and tropical climates and places with frigid winters, as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
A strawberry’s stolons are almost always horizontal. These stems run alongside the earth and pop out new strawberry plants in intervals along this stem. These stoloniferous plants will sprout more leafless stems near the original mother plant and grow little tips called internodes before continuing to grow.
Peppermint runner plants are also commonly referred to by their affectionate name, “mint creepers.” This is because they spread so quickly that they are said to creep up without gardeners even noticing. Their root system can grow 5 inches per month, which classifies peppermint as an invasive plant species.
Since peppermint likes to take up all ground space available, it is crucial to continuously trim it back and kill its stolon stems if you don’t want it to grow across your entire property. Another great option is to keep your peppermint in a pot to limit its reproduction.
Here are a few simple steps for propagating your peppermint from its runners or stolons:
- Uncover a few runner roots by taking away the top level of the peppermint’s soil.
- Trim off a runner or stolon that has at least two stems facing completely upright.
- Do not trim more than five.
- Get a small pot with soil and plant the runner only 1 inch deep in the potting soil.
- Water the plant occasionally and wait for shoots to come out.
- Enjoy your new peppermint runner plant!
Trout lilies are most often grown in Canada and throughout the United States. Sometimes also called a Dog Toothed Violet, they are a perfect example of a flower runner plant.
Named after their leaves which look like the skin of a mottled trout fish, these runners grow large waxy leaves that can grow up to around 20 centimeters in length.
Trout lilies, like most runner or stolon plants, love to grow in communities or colonies. These colonies tend to grow large due to the runner growth process, where one bulb can sprout multiple single-leaved offshoots. While some of these offshoots will be sterile, there are always two fertile growths that help keep the trout lily variety alive and reproducing.
Trout lilies are a unique form of runner plant because while they are not a fruit or vegetable, they are edible and offer medicinal value. Slightly acidic and sweet, these flowers taste like cucumbers and are emetic, meaning they induce vomiting. They can be made into medicinal tea or roasted.
Spider plants are one of the most apparent runner plants to the naked eye. They are quite common indoors and enjoy an unusually long lifespan. Usually grown indoors in hanging pots or nestled high up on shelves, spider plants do best when they can spread their stolons or runners down to the ground below them.
Spider plants are very adaptable and will only take up as much room as you give them. If a spider plant has a lot of room below it, its runners will droop long and spaced far apart. If a spider plant is not placed high above the ground, it tends to sprout its runners in a big bushy shape. In this way, spider plant owners can essentially shape their plants to their preference.
If your spider plant is healthy and mature, it can sprout multiple runners or “spiderettes” every year. These appear as mini spider plants connected to the large mother plant by one string or branch. Once your “spiderettes” have grown to be a minimum of one inch large, they are ready for trimming and propagation.
Propagating spider plants not only allows you to grow more plants in your collection and learn about the life cycle of this unique runner plant but also helps keep the original spider plant large and healthy.
If you enter a home full of green and deeply colored plants, you are likely walking into a residence of propagated purple queens.
The purple queen’s scientific name is Tradescantia Pallida, and it is a variety of spiderwort. As one of the easiest plants to propagate, it is clear that this runner is great for even those plant enthusiasts without a green thumb.
Purple queen runner or stolon nodes are very easy to spot. Since this plant is quite susceptible to breakage, the purple queen has no problem quickly forming new branches and running across its soil to root into unexpected places.
If a purple queen is healthy and receives enough space, direct light, and water, it will grow thick and bushy by pushing runners out of every available node. Then, if placed next to other potted plants indoors, it will reach across these plants and spread its runners low into the soil, regardless of the other plant species.
Purple queens that receive less light or water will commonly drop branches intentionally, emptying their arms so that they do not need to carry the unavailable nutrients to them. These arms will either begin to root into the soil where they drop or can simply be picked up and propagated in a clear jar of water.
Ginger is a plant that has made its way from Southern China, India, West Africa, and Indonesia into the hearts and homes of people across the world. A flowering plant used for cooking and medicinal purposes, ginger’s scientific name is Zingiber Officinale.
Ginger is considered a herbaceous perennial and a stolon that grows both fake stems and branches made from the base of rolled leaves and horizontal root systems that allow the ginger to propagate itself in colonies.
This runner or stolon plant can grow pseudostems and real stems, both reaching three feet tall. These tall stems have narrow leaves that are sometimes referred to as their “blades.”
The crocosmia flower is a beautiful orange flower that closely resembles the lily. Referred to by its scientific name, Montbretia, it is in the iris family of Iridaceae, making it a runner plant.
The crocosmia flower originated in the grasslands of South Africa, Eastern Africa, and Sudan. It has also made its way to Madagascar and is now even grown in North America.
A hardy plant that is still prone to breakage, the crocosmia deals with its breakages by sprouting horizontal runners to continue growing without issue. Unlike flowers like peonies or tulips, crocosmias don’t grow from bulbs. Instead, since they are stolon plants, they grow from Corms that prefer more acidic and nutrient-rich soil.
While it is unknown to many, Bermuda grass makes up most front lawns of households across Canada and the United States. Like its runner cousin zoysia grass, Bermuda grass can form a good even spread coverage of soil because of its ability to send out runners quickly.
Bermuda grass has a very intricate rhizome and stolon, or underground and above the ground stem and root systems compared to other grasses. It can also grow horizontally and vertically, making it an excellent tool for anyone looking to cover a lot of ground with a lot of grass.
However, the fast-growing runner plant can be a significant nuisance to those attempting to remove Bermuda grass from their garden or property. The most successful way to remove Bermuda grass is to kill the entire runner plant with its stolons and roots.
Bermuda grass can be choked and solarized or targeted with a natural herbicide. While spot treating is an option, the Bermuda grass will likely grow if you do not eradicate all root systems.
Potatoes are a quintessential example of a runner plant because they grow on the vine. Potatoes start as green fibrous strands of stolons and grow into the ground where the actual potato that people are most familiar with will grow.
An actual potato is grown as part of the total plant called the Solanum Tuberosum. This root vegetable is originally from the Americas and now grows in Canada, the United States, Chile, and Peru. Considered a perennial, it is in the nightshade family and can be planted in the spring and summer months when there is no longer frost on the ground.
If not trimmed back, potatoes will spread horizontally and vertically due to their vine abilities that fill every available node with new growths, stems, roots, and branches. Potatoes can be ground coverage plants that take over an entire garden or go up trellises to become multiple feet high.
Potatoes will, however, always remain attached to the ground and continue with horizontal runners due to their required root systems and the nature of the growing vegetable.
Philodendrons encompass a variety of different species, including 489 green and wandering plants. A sizeable flowering genus in the Araceae family, almost all philodendrons are runner plants that spread quickly and ferociously across any accommodating ground and soil.
For anyone living in a wet climate, philodendrons are the perfect houseplant. They are easy to care for and can live and even thrive in high humidity and low light situations. You can keep them in your bathroom, bedroom, and living room without issue.
Philodendrons are runners or stolon plants that love to spread. A plant kept in the same pot and location for a few years is likely to grow arms of upwards of six feet. This makes them perfect decor plants and a cost-effective alternative to other more finicky houseplants.
To propagate a philodendron that has a breakage, do the following:
- Fill a clear jar or bottle with cool water.
- Place the broken arm or branch into the water.
- Set the vessel on a sturdy surface with some light exposure.
- Wait for roots to appear!
Iris flowers are a beautiful runner plant that boasts more than 300 genus Iris species. Reaching about 3 feet in total vertical height, iris flowers self-propagates by sprouting vertical growths from their nodes or breakages.
Irises are known for having six-petaled flowers and three flower falls. These “falls” are what give the iris its oblong and distinctive shape.
The runner or stolon iris variety flowers at the beginning of summer and lasts until the hottest point of the season. Attracting wildlife such as hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, irises spread themselves across the garden in modest patches when left unattended.
To propagate a runner iris flower, you can take the following steps:
- Cut off a small piece of the stolon.
- Replant the stolon in garden soil outside.
- Water and protect from the harsh sun with shade.
- Fertilize with natural substances.
- Wait for your flower to bloom in the springtime!
Wild roses are sprawling stolons, meaning that they will grow their own root system without grafting but still spread widely. Wild roses tend to grow best without the care of people and will sprout runners from every available node as soon as it forms.
This makes wild roses an excellent low-maintenance addition to any garden for those who want to create a sense of whimsy on their property. The different available types of wild roses considered runner plants include:
- Lady Banks Rose – Rosa banksiae lutea
- Pasture Rose – Rosa carolina
- Austrian Copper – Rosa foetida bicolor
- Shakespeare’s Eglantine Rose – Rosa eglanteria
- Prairie Rose – Rosa setigera
- Apple Rose – Rosa pomifera
- And more
Sprawling Ivy is also very frequently referred to as Hedera Helix ivy or English ivy. This is due to its prevalence and origins along the English countryside. Some people might mistake this plant for poison ivy, but they are quite different!
It is considered an evergreen perennial that climbs, trails, and stretches vigorously along any available pathway. While this can be troublesome to particular gardeners who like total control over their plants, it can create a magical and beautiful lush feeling when left to its running habits.
English ivy stolons form horizontally and vertically, and their vertical branches bloom small green and yellow flowers. These flowers appear rounded or pointed depending on the exact climate and health of the Ivy.
You can easily lead English ivy if you are interested in encouraging it to climb. The best places for this runner or stolon plant to grow are:
- Near brick walls
- Near fences
- Along trellises
- Below pillars
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley is another flower that is also a runner or stolon plant. This flowering plant, originates in the woodlands of Asia and Europe. It’s an invasive plant due to its ability to spread through North America.
This white bell-shaped flower has a lot of meaning in religions across the world. Said to have grown in the place where the Virgin Mary’s tears reached the ground upon the crucifixion of Jesus, Christian mythology has popularized Lily of the Valley as a sophisticated garden runner plant.
The biggest downfall about Lily of the valley is that it is extremely poisonous and can infect other plants due to its stolonic nature of spreading. If ingested, this flower can kill plants and children and cause illness in adults. It also tends to cause rash and dermatitis if touched. Don’t forget to wear gardening gloves if ever handing this stolon.
Orchids are runner plants that are very difficult to care for. With colorful and delicate blooms, these indoor plants are a favorite of many.
Orchid stolon plants come from the Asteraceae family, one of the two main plant families of runner plants that are also flowers. They propagate in the wild without the help of people by growing roots and stems from breakages or nodes. They spread to other areas by sending out small horizontal runner roots.
Though thought to only include potatoes and grasses, runner plants are some of the most sought-after, desirable, and beautiful plants and flowers commonly seen in international gardens today. With some care, trimming, and caution, runner plants can feed and delight households with their sprawling beauty.