Most conversations about the life spans of houseplants revolve around the struggle to keep them from dying. But many plants, with the right care, can outlast their human owners and live for generations.

The same Boston fern, for example, appears in Lisa Eldred Steinkopf's family photos dating back to the 1960s. Her mother first received it as a bridal shower gift. When she moved homes in 2018, Steinkopf inherited it. She cherishes it even more now that her mom has passed away. "It's comforting to me to know that I have the actual plant that my mom took care of," says Steinkopf, founder of the Houseplant Guru and author of "Houseplants: The Complete Guide." "Every time I water, I think of her." Steinkopf, in turn, gave a cutting of the fern to her daughter when she married.

Unlike heirloom seeds, which are typically defined as being at least 50 years old, there isn't a specific category of long-living houseplants. "Any indoor plant - if you give it good conditions so it's not stressed and struggling, it has the potential to live for years [or] decades," says Justin Hancock, horticulturist at Costa Farms, a family-run houseplant grower in Florida. He adds that plants that tend to get passed from one generation to the next exhibit "inherent durability" - such as the ability to survive in a range of lighting conditions and in soil that's either overly wet or dry.

Steinkopf notes that ferns aren't typically great candidates for passing down, since they struggle without frequent watering. She's kept hers thriving by placing it in an east-facing window year-round and never letting it dry out.

One key to providing proper care for any houseplant is knowing what plant you actually have based on its scientific name, not only the common name. "Maybe grandma said it was [one thing], but it's something else," says Sarah Vogel, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension. "The correct identification is going to help in finding the correct care requirements."

If you're looking for a houseplant with the potential to live for decades, here are some good bets.

Croton (Codiaeum variegatum)

Crotons can live a long time and handle some neglect as long as they get plenty of light. "Crotons are pretty forgiving of too much or too little water, thanks to their thick leaves," says Hancock. "Indoors in lower light levels, [they] can suffer - especially if the watering isn't on point."

These plants need fertile, well-drained yet moist soil, says Vogel. "Water only when the top one inch of soil dries out," she advises. Crotons prefer warm temperatures and sunlight. Hancock suggests positioning them "right up close to a window" as long as the spot isn't too chilly.

Holiday cactus

Holiday cactus is a term used to describe several species of cactus that bloom around the time of their namesake, such as Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) and Easter cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri). "Unlike other cacti, they do like high humidity and bright but filtered light," says Vogel. To keep them thriving for years, you'll want to avoid overwatering - soggy soil could lead to root rot. Steinkopf points out that they're easy to propagate by pinching off a flattened pad, then letting it dry out for a day or two before putting it in soil.

Maria Zampini, author of "Garden-pedia: An A-to-Z Guide to Gardening Terms," inherited her Thanksgiving cactus when her mother died in 2018. "Every time it blooms, it's like my mom going, 'Hi Maria, I'm thinking about you,'" she says. She keeps it root-bound, which she says encourages better blooming, and resists watering it until the soil is almost dry. So far, it's been alive for eight years.

Jade tree (Crassula ovata)

Jade trees, also known as jade plants, are succulents that thrive in sunlight. "An east- or west-facing windowsill is usually going to be your very best bet for the most light," says Hancock. These plants can endure for decades, in part because they tolerate neglect. They're famous, says Hancock, for their "ability to survive being watered as little as once a month or so, depending on conditions."

Teresa Woodard, author of "American Roots," inherited her mother's two-foot-tall, 30-year-old jade tree last summer. Her mother's simple advice: "Don't overwater it, and let it dry out in between waterings."

Night-blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)

"A night-blooming cereus can grow for decades indoors or out," says Hancock, as long as it gets enough light and humidity. As the name implies, these plants produce short-lived flowers at night that retreat in the morning; they can bloom multiple times per growing season. "It will almost always flower best when summered outside because of the higher light levels," says Hancock. "If I were to grow one, I'd put it right by a large window or patio door so it gets the lighting it wants."

Carol Michel, a horticulturist and author of "Digging and Delighted: Live Your Best Gardening Life," inherited her father's night-blooming cereus in 1987. "He took it outside every summer and it would set a few flower buds and bloom," she says via email. Once in her care, it took almost 10 years before it bloomed again. "Mine doesn't spend many summers outside so it isn't as vigorous as it once was, but it's family now."

To keep it happy, Michel fills its container with a potting mix designated for cactuses and lets it become root-bound. "It doesn't mind a crowded pot," she says. She waters it only when "the top half or so of the potting mix dries" - and even less in the fall and winter when it's not actively growing. In the spring and summer, she fertilizes it.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Spider plants are incredibly forgiving of neglect. They have tuberous, thick roots that store moisture, so they can tough it out through a missed watering. They do, however, prefer some sun: "Anywhere there's enough light that you can read a newspaper or book without having to turn on supplemental light most of the day," says Hancock.

Even if you fear you might kill your original spider plant, you can keep its lineage alive by propagating it. "It produces lots of little plantlets - just pluck a plantlet off, drop it in some potting mix and enjoy," says Hancock.

Pamela Hubbard, a home gardening expert and writer, inherited her mother-in-law's spider plant in 2000. Although it died in 2004, she was grateful she'd made cuttings of it first. "The moral is: However long your inherited plant may live, it is a good idea to do a little propagation to ensure you always have a part of it," she says via email.

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Lauren David writes about gardening and sustainability.