Donkey Ear Plant Care: Growing Donkey Ears Kalanchoe

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Botanically called Kalanchoe Gastonis-Bonnieri (kal-un-KOH-ee gas-TON bon-nee-ER-ee), donkey ear plants are annual/biennial succulents and a member of the Crassulaceae family and the Sedoideae subfamily.

This Kalanchoe plant is native to Madagascar and is called the “Donkey Ear” because of the resemblance its leaves share with the donkey’s ears.Kalanchoe gastonis bonnieri

Unique look of the Donkey Ear PlantPin
Kalanchoe gastonis bonnieri

The origin of the term “Kalanchoe” is somewhat unknown. Many believe it refers to the Chinese word “Kalan Chauhuy,” which means “what falls and grows.”

This refers to this fast-growing plant’s ability to produce its own roots and develop a new baby plant through its leaves.

The plant name honors a famous French botanist, Dr. Gaston Bonnier.

The Kalanchoe is also known by the synonym Bryophyllum gastonis-bonnieri (mother of thousands).

The Donkey Ears plant also has several common names, which are as follows:

  • Tree of Life
  • Sprout Leaf Plant
  • Miracle Leaf
  • Palm Beachbells
  • Leaf of Life
  • Life Plant
  • Good Luck Leaf
  • Giant Kalanchoe

Donkey Ears Plant Quick Care Tips

  • Botanical Name: Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri
  • Common Name(s): Donkey Ear Kalanchoe, Giant Kalanchoe, Life Plant
  • Synonyms: Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri var. donkeyears
  • Family & Origin: Crassulaceae family, native to Madagascar
  • Growability: Easy to grow
  • Grow Zone: USDA zones 10-12
  • Size: Grows up to 2-3 feet tall and wide
  • Flowering: Produces small, yellow-green flowers in the summer
  • Light: Prefers bright, indirect light but can tolerate some direct sunlight
  • Humidity: Does not require high humidity
  • Temperature: Tolerates a wide range of temperatures, but prefers temperatures between 60-85°F
  • Soil: Well-draining soil, preferably a cactus or succulent mix
  • Water: Allow soil to dry out completely between waterings, then water thoroughly. Do not let the plant sit in standing water.
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize once a month during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer
  • Pests & Diseases: Susceptible to mealybugs and spider mites. Overwatering can lead to root rot.
  • Propagation: Propagated through stem cuttings or leaf cuttings
  • Plant Uses: Makes a great indoor or outdoor plant, can be used in succulent gardens or as a focal point in a container garden.

In this article, we’ll delve into Donkey Ear Kalanchoe growth and special care techniques.

Donkey Ears Plant Care

Size and Growth

Under ideal climatic conditions or hot summers, donkey ears succulent grow rapidly, from 12″ to 18″ inches tall and wide.

At maturity, they form large lance-shaped or ear-like leaves, from 1’ to 1.6’ feet long.

These bronze-green leaves boast epicuticular wax – a waxy white covering – which makes the plant appear gray-green with maroon-brown blotches.

These ovate-lanceolate leaves also form small plantlets on the side of the leaf margin.

Giant kalanchoes ideally grow in the desert, subtropical, and Mediterranean climates.

Flowering and Fragrance

The terminal inflorescence with darker reddish-salmon petals and the yellow interior is the most prominent feature of the mother plant.

The reddish-yellow flowers are marked by inflated calyces, which is significantly common among Kalanchoe species.

In the fall or early winter season, small, bell-like flowers grow along a stalk that is 2 – 3 feet tall, often topped with clusters of pale peach buds.

The flowering process usually lasts approximately two months, after which the succulent begins to die back.

Related: Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora Care

Light and Temperature

  • Donkey ear plants enjoy full sun or partial shade with at least 6 hours of sun per day.
  • However, the leaves may burn and die if placed immediately in the sun. Sun exposure can cause scorched leaves and sunburn, which look like brown spots.
  • Therefore, place the plant in an area where it receives part sun or filtered light. In contrast, too little light will discolor foliage.
  • Then, slowly and gradually introduce it to the full sun or part shade in the afternoon.
  • The Donkey ear enjoys warmth, so make sure the temperature never falls below 55° degrees Fahrenheit (13° C). 
  • The plant thrives in warmer temperatures, about 68° to 100° degrees Fahrenheit, but can tolerate slightly lower temperatures.
  • The USDA hardiness zones of this biennial plant are from 10 – 12.

Watering and Feeding

Donkey ear succulents are known to store water and have fairly low water requirements. It’s important to mimic the original habitat of Donkey ears succulent, which is relatively dry with little rain.

Growing pots should still have a drainage hole.

The succulent needs a moderate level of watering throughout the summer months. However, the plant needs less water in winter.

Remember that excess water can make the root system prone to root rot.

Water only when the top 1” or 2” inches of soil dries out.

If the temperature is exceptionally high, you can spray water around the plants to cool them.

Feed the plant twice a week in summer, using a liquid fertilizer, slow-release fertilizer, or liquid plant food for necessary nutrients.

Soil and Transplanting

  • The Donkey ear succulent plant prefers humus-rich, well-drained, and fertile potting mix.
  • They also prefer potting soil with the right amount of loam, sand, and lava grit/pumice.
  • Transplant the flowering plant in early fall in a larger pot and leave it outside in a bright spot.
  • The cool temperature of the fall season will stimulate the growth of flower buds.

Donkey Ear Kalanchoe Grooming and Maintenance

Kalanchoe Donkey Ears require light pruning to prevent them from getting leggy.

Gently trim any damaged or dead donkey ear plant flower and leaves from the base of the plant.

The drought-tolerant plant can be pruned at any time of the year.

Always allow the soil to dry before giving another dose of irrigation.

Keep the soil moist, but avoid overwatering at all costs.

Bring the donkey plant indoors when the temperature gets freezing cold.

Moreover, keep the plants away from air conditioners, air drafts, vents, and heaters, as they can experience temperature shock.

In cold winters or freezing temperatures, you can protect your Kalanchoe Donkey ears by insulating the donkey ear cactus with row covers, frost cloth, and tents.

More Popular Kalanchoes to Try:

How to Propagate Kalanchoe Donkey Ears

Succulent donkey ears are usually propagated by cuttings in early spring. During this period, the plant has plenty of stems for propagation, as it generates a lot of energy for new growth.

Cut a small length of a leaf with a sterilized cutting tool like a knife or scissors.

Place it on the soil surface of well-drained and moist soil and wait for some time to see the growth of new plants on the sprouting leaf along its leaf margins.

Don’t forget to place the cuttings in a location with enough light, but avoid direct sunlight.

New Donkey ear plants grow on the tips of the leaves.

Moreover, you can propagate Kalanchoe Donkey Ears via pups. Donkey ear plant pups are small offshoots or baby plants that form around the base of the parent plant. 

These pups can be separated from the parent plant and propagated to grow new individual plants. 

Donkey Ear Problems: Pests and Diseases

Aphids and mealybugs are a primary threat to the Donkeys ears plant.

Life-threatening fungal infections or diseases such as powdery mildew, crow rot, root rot, bacterial rot, leaf spots, and virus diseases also pose a major threat to the perfect growth of the succulent.

Clean the cacti with a wet cloth and soapy water solution or diluted isopropyl alcohol spray to treat small-scale infestations effectively. 

You can also remove and dispose of all infected plants to prevent the spread of disease.

Another effective method is to spray a copper-based fungicidal soap on the leaves.

However, serious infestations need eco-friendly pesticides.

In addition, Donkey Ear Kalanchoe is prone to flower withering, which is often caused by fungal diseases, natural age processes, nutritional deficiencies, sudden changes in the environment, and lack of water.

Donkey’s Ear Plant Uses

With the Donkey Ear Plant’s specific features, like leaves resembling big pointy ears, the biennial cacti look great as hanging plants, grown in hanging baskets, or as a single specimen in a dry garden.

They help enhance the outdoor beauty in winter when they are in full bloom.

The attractive succulent is often mass-planted with other similar varieties to elevate the space further.

The flowering species also makes for a great choice as a cut flower.

However, keep the Donkeys ear plant near children and pets, as it is toxic. The plant contains oxalate crystals known as raphides that can cause vomiting, nausea, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea when ingested.

Moreover, be careful when handling these toxic plants. Remember to wear gloves and wash your hands with soap and water afterward.

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