Senecio Serpens [sen-NEESH-shee-oh, SUR-penz], is a succulent ground cover native of South Africa and a member of the Asteraceae family.
You may also hear the plant referred to by the common name Blue Finger or serpens cactus. In the United Kingdom, it is sometimes called Kleinia.
Senecio Serpens Cactus Blue Chalksticks Care
Size & Growth
Senecio mandraliscae is slow-growing plant with finger-like leaves can grow to be 3’ feet high and 3’ feet wide (91.5 cm).
Typically, it stays a bit shorter and a height of about one foot is common.
The plant has a spreading, rambling, clump-forming growth habit. It branches from the base and roots along the stems making it an excellent succulent groundcover.
The plant grows actively during the spring, summer, and early autumn.
It will become semi-dormant during the late autumn and winter months.
Senecio Serpens has finger-like fleshy leaves about 2” inches long.
They are an attractive bluish-gray or bluish-green color with a protective powder coating.
When the foliage is exposed to a great deal of heat and sunlight, the tips of the leaves will turn purple.
Flowering & Fragrance
The plant will produce small creamy white blossoms during the summertime.
They grow in clusters standing just a little bit above the leaves from mid-summer to early autumn.
Light & Temperature
Although the plant does best in direct, full sun (6 to 8 hours daily) but also tolerates partial shade in an outdoor setting.
It is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9a and above.
In cooler climates, you must be vigilant about unexpected freezes.
Keep an eye on your local weather predictions and cover your plants in advance of freezing temperatures.
If you must keep Blue Chalksticks indoors in winter, a south-facing window is best.
If you are unable to give the plant ample sunlight, you will need to supplement with a fluorescent grow light for about sixteen hours a day.
Place the lights close to the plant.
They should be between 6” – 12” inches above the foliage.
This sun-loving succulent is kept as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 9a and above.
In cooler climates, it is grown as an annual or grown in containers to be brought indoors to overwinter.
Serpens Cactus Watering & Feeding
Allow the soil to dry out completely, and then provide a deep and thorough watering.
Generally speaking, give your plants a deep watering about once a month once established.
When you first plant your Blue Chalksticks, your plants may require water weekly during the first growing season.
Container plants may need more frequent watering. Watch out for overwatering which can lead to root rot.
If keeping the plant indoors during the cold winter months, water sparingly about once a month.
Your goal in winter is to prevent the plant from wilting.
Fertilize garden plants with a balanced liquid supplement annually in the springtime if you wish, but fertilizing is not necessary for Blue Chalkstick planted in the ground.
Use a specially formulated fertilizer intended for outdoor cactus and succulents.
If keeping these succulent plants indoors, provide a half-strength dose of balanced liquid fertilizer monthly throughout the growing season.
Soil & Transplanting
Blue Chalksticks prefer sharp, fast-draining soil.
Use a commercially prepared succulent or cactus mix soil. Another option is to create a succulent mix by adding fine gravel, coarse sand, and perlite to standard potting soil.
If planting directly into the garden, plant in a sandy soil mixture. Amend the soil with these components to provide the best possible drainage.
Grooming & Maintenance
The slow-growing serpens cactus needs little or no grooming and maintenance.
If the plants become leggy or excessively tall, prune them back in early spring. This will give the plants shape and encourage them to branch out in a bushier growth habit.
How To Propagate Blue Chalk Stick Plant
Like most succulents, Blue Chalksticks are grown from leaf cuttings or seed.
Growing from cuttings is generally easier than growing from seed.
- Take cuttings during the growing season.
- When growing it from cuttings, use a whole leaf.
- Separate it from the parent plant and allow it to sit in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight for a couple of days to callous over.
- Place the leaf on top of coarse, well-draining soil in a warm, dry, well ventilated setting with bright indirect sunlight.
- Water the soil thoroughly, being careful not to drench the leaf.
- Don’t water again until the soil has completely dried out.
- The leaf will send out roots to access the water in the soil.
If growing from seed, sprinkle seeds directly onto a tray of well-draining soil.
Place the tray in a warm, dry, well ventilated setting with bright, indirect sunlight.
Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds germinate, then taper off watering gradually as the seedlings grow and mature.
It can take several weeks for the seeds to sprout and grow.
Other Popular Varieties of Senecio:
- Growing The Senecio Stapeliiformis – Pickle Plant
- Senecio Vitalis – Narrow Leaf Chalksticks
- Senecio Haworthii – Learn To Grow Cocoon Plants
- Caring For Senecio Cineraria – Dusty Miller Plants
- Senecio Aureus – Golden Ragwort
Bluechalk Stick Plant Pests or Diseases
When well cared for, Blue Chalksticks do not tend to experience diseases or pests.
If overwatered (notice any dropping leaves) or kept in a setting with too little sunlight or poor air circulation, bacterial and fungal rots such as root rot may occur.
Additionally, plants in poor condition will attract mealybugs and other scale insects. Use Neem oil or insecticidal soap for control.
When grown indoors, Blue Chalksticks may exhibit rotting or drooping leaves.
This may be because the soil in which they are planted is too rich and/or retains too much water.
Be sure any container you use has plenty of drainage holes.
Remember all succulents and cacti prefer a sharply draining soil mix containing grit, pebbles, sand, and standard potting soil.
Is This Plant Toxic Or Poisonous?
Senecio Serpens is toxic to pets and people, but on the upside, it is also rabbit and deer resistant.
Is This Plant Invasive?
According to the CABI Invasive Species Compendium Senecio Serpens may be considered invasive in Portugal at this time but is not considered invasive in any other part of the world.
Nonetheless, in areas where it grows outdoors year-round, take care not to allow it to escape into the wild.
Suggested Senecio Serpens Uses
This plant is very drought tolerant and is a good choice for xeriscaping and rock garden plantings.
Blue Chalksticks is also a great choice as a container garden as a filler plant.
In temperate areas, it is sometimes kept outdoors all year round and makes an excellent groundcover.
This plant does not do well as a houseplant.