String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) (se-nee’-shi-oh) is an unusual succulent plant with round, bead-like leaves.
It is a drought tolerant ground cover that grows in a cascading manner when planted in a hanging basket.
A native to Cape Providence and Southwest Africa, this delicate succulent is a superb example of how plants adapt to thrive in harsh environments.
In this article, we describe this interesting plant, provide background and care information and share tips to help you grow your own String of Pearls successfully. Read on to learn more.
The Origins Of A String Of Pearls Plant?
Where Was The String Of Pearls Discovered?
A British botanist Gordon Rowley “discovered” this plant in the very arid region of Namibia, South Africa.
Where Did The Senecio Rowleyanus Name Come From?
The original genus name came from the Latin “senex”, which means “old man.” This is a reference to the plant’s hairy fruits.
The specific epithet “rowleyanus” honors the botanist who first reported and identified the plant.
At that time, the plant was classified as being a member of the Senecio genus.
Recently, that classification has changed. It is now considered a member of the Curio genus.
What Is The String Of Pearls Plant Related To?
The String Of Pearls is actually related to daisies and sunflowers, even though it looks nothing like them. It looks nothing like Senecio cineraria aka Dusty Miller Plant.
Instead of standing straight and tall, in its natural setting, this humble little plant rambles along the ground and weaves in and out of rock formations.
The reason plant taxonomists are able to identify these plants as members of the Asteraceae family is that their flowers are very similar in structure to Asters and Sunflowers.
Plant Family: Asteraceae Giseke
Origin: Namibia, South Africa
Botanical Name: Senecio rowleyanus
Synonyms: Curio rowleyanus, Kleinia rowleyana
- String of Marbles
- String O’ Pearls
- String of Pearls
- String of Beads
- Necklace Plant
- String of Peas
- Rosary Vine
- Irish Beads
- Bead Plant
Characteristics & Care
Foliage: Round, green spheres on long, thin, trailing stems. Some varieties have slightly variegated or speckled leaves.
Flowers: The white flowers are aster-like with yellow stamens and a pleasant scent reminiscent of cinnamon.
Shape: This plant has a trailing, rambling habit that makes it ideal for hanging baskets.
Size & Growth: Stems grow at a moderate rate and may reach a length of two or three feet.
Light & Temperature: These plants do well in a warm, draft-free environment with mostly bright, indirect sunlight and several hours of direct sunlight daily.
The temperature should be a steady 70-80°F during the growing season (spring through fall) and a steady 55-60°F during the winter months.
Humidity: As a desert plant, the String of Beads is perfectly happy in a typical dry indoor environment.
Growing Zone: USDA Hardiness Zones 9-12, frost intolerant
How Many Species Of Senecio Are There?
The genus is quite large, and there are more than a thousand different species ranging from shrubs to wildflowers to weeds.
What Are The Most Popular Senecio Varieties?
The most common and most popular variety is the String of Pearls.
However, there are some variations well worth collecting. Having several varieties can give you a very interesting display.
String of Beads (Senecio herreianus) is very similar, but it doesn’t trail quite as much. The leaves are varied in size and may even be as large as grapes.
Mount Everest (Senecio aquarine) is another very popular, compact choice. This variation has an upright growth habit.
It bears both blue and green, elongated leaves. The stems are bluish-green or grayish.
Senecio radicans is commonly called Fishhooks Senecio or String of Bananas. It has the same growth habit as a string of pearls, but the leaves are curved and elongated.
Why Are The Leaves So Unusual?
The plants’ leaves are round, green, marble-like little balls, or as noted, some varieties produce oblong leaves.
Each leaf is equipped with tiny slits or window of transparent tissue which allows light to enter the leaf.
This clever adaptation allows the leaves to absorb twice as much sunlight because they are able to absorb it both internally and externally.
The plants’ plump leaves retain water to keep the plant alive in dry settings.
They are perfectly designed to minimize surface area and water evaporation while also acting as a means of protection against the punishing sun.
Instead of relying on surface area to gather sunlight, each pretty green globe or ellipsis has a darker green stripe on one side.
This is the “window” that allows the plant to gather the most sunlight possible for photosynthesis.
What Do The String OF Pearls Flowers Look Like?
The compound, white flowers are about half an inch across and daisy-like. They have long red stamens and bright yellow anthers.
Blooms are long-lasting (about a month) and sweet-and-spicy smelling.
How To Care For String Of Pearls?
Because these are succulent plants hail from a desert setting, they need little maintenance and are extremely easy-care.
If you are able to provide a warm, well-lit environment and a comfortable pot filled with well-draining soil, you’re in business.
Grooming And Pruning
Senecio plants produce new growth quickly, and it is perfectly alright to let the tendrils grow to a length of two or three feet.
If this robust grower becomes straggly, trim them away and use the stem cuttings to propagate more plants.
You can prune at any time of year without harming the plant.
You can poke the stems cuttings back into the soil of the parent plant to create a more lush and full appearance, or set them up in their own 4-inch pots.
Watering & Feeding
As with most succulent plants, it is best to water thoroughly and then allow the plant to almost completely dry out before watering again.
During the growing season, thoroughly saturate the pot and well-draining soil.
During the winter, keep soil dry, water just enough to prevent the soil from becoming too dry.
How Do You Know When It’s Time To Water?
When the soil feels completely dry to the touch about an inch down, it is time to water.
Failing that, if you see that your plants’ leaves are starting to flatten and shrivel, it is definitely time to water.
Give the plant a good soak and then leave it alone until the soil is nearly dry and/or the leaves are showing signs of needing water.
What Kind Of Fertilizer?
Use a balanced water-soluble liquid fertilizer (e.g. 20-20-20) and dilute it to half strength.
Only fertilize monthly during the growing season. In winter, fertilize every six weeks or not at all.
Does String Of Pearls Need Extra Drainage?
All succulents need extra drainage. A commercially prepared cactus soil mix is a good choice for this plant.
Alternately, you can make your own cactus soil using a high-quality potting mix, sand and/or vermiculite in equal parts.
Other fast-draining materials you may wish to add to your potting soil include pumice and small pea gravel. Don’t use heavy, easily compacted soil because it will cause root rot.
Remember, overwatering is the cause of all sorts of problems with this string of pearls plants.
Be sure to maintain a moderate watering schedule and keep good air circulation around the plant.
Provide bright, indirect light, and maintain a steady temperature between 70° and 80° degrees Fahrenheit.
In the wintertime, let the plant rest at a consistent temperature of 55° – 60° degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep the soil quite dry. This period of dormancy encourages the plant to bloom in the springtime.
Does String Of Pearls Need Sun?
Senecio rowleyanus needs bright light and some direct sunlight. However, understand that in the wild they grow in a way that maximizes meager shade.
If you can just provide ample bright, indirect sunlight and/or supplement with a grow light fixture, your plant should be happy.
What’s The Best Setting For String Of Pearls?
Indoors, a south-facing sunny window sill is excellent.
A west-facing window would be a good second choice. Any other setting will need supplemental light.
Can String Of Pearls Be Grown Outside?
In a non-desert setting, this plant is happiest as an indoor plant in fall and winter and as a patio or outdoor container plant in spring and summer.
Even so, remember that this is a drought tolerant plant, so in the right setting it makes a good candidate for xeriscaping.
If you live in an area that has a climate similar to South Africa, Senecio makes a nice, rambling ground cover or an attractive addition to your rock garden.
The plant may grow as an elegant hanging plant indoors or outdoors with cascading stems up the three feet in length.
If grown in a shallow tray or a natural, outdoor desert setting, it will create a thick carpet of gleaming green “marbles.”
Even though it is a sun-loving plant, in its native South Africa, it twines itself amidst rocks and around boulders to take advantage of the shelter they offer from the punishing desert sun.
What Are The Best Ways To Use Senecio Rowleyanus In Design – Indoors or Outdoors
Whether indoors or outdoors, it is good to plant this succulent rather densely for a full, lush appearance.
Both String of Pearls and String of Bananas can look very straggly if planted too thinly.
For indoor display or as a patio plant, a hanging basket is a natural choice for this conversation piece plant.
Healthy plants trail and cascade for lengths of up to three feet.
You may also wish to experiment with planting in a low planter or dish. This will allow the plant to grow as a dense ground cover just as it does in the wild.
You could also create a miniature desert landscape by collecting several different types of succulent plants in small pots.
Arrange the pots on a layer of gravel in a large, shallow planter and surround them with a light, airy material such as peat moss or coco coir.
Top this off with a layer of sandy soil or fine gravel. Decorate with interesting stones.
- Senecio rowleyanus is a good choice for summertime planters, containers and hanging baskets.
- If you live in an area with cold winters, grow it as an annual terrestrial mat outdoors and take cuttings indoors before the first frost.
- In hot climates, grow drought tolerant String of Pearls as a ground cover, rock garden addition or general xeriscaping plant year round.
How Do You Pot/Repot String Of Pearls?
It’s best to make changes with this plant in the springtime just before the growing season begins.
If you plan to pot, repot or propagate from stem cuttings, early spring is the right time to do it.
You may notice after repotting your plant a few times, it becomes scraggly and unattractive. When this happens, salvage healthy cuttings and discard the parent plant.
If you live in a mild climate, try putting your tired old plant “out to pasture” in an out-of-the-way area to see if it will rally.
It may send out lots of runners to fill the space.
When choosing a pot for this plant, keep good drainage in mind. Breathable terra cotta is the best choice in materials.
Because this plant has very shallow roots, the pot does not have to be very deep.
Be sure your chosen pot has plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.
Provide a layer of coarse gravel or packing peanuts in the bottom for drainage, and fill the pot with a high quality, well-draining soil prepared for cacti and succulents.
How Do You Transplant String Of Pearls?
The key to successful transplanting without too much carnage is a gentle touch.
The beads can easily become detached with even a little rough handling. Follow these steps to minimize damage:
- Gently lift your plant’s tendrils to the top of the pot.
- Use a knife blade to loosen the soil all the way around and gently remove the plant from the pot.
Tip: If you are taking the plant out of a plastic pot, use sharp shears to simply cut the pot away.
How To Propagate String Of Pearls
You can grow this succulent plant from cuttings or from the leaves.
Most people use stem cuttings because it creates the illusion of having a mature plant by simply arranging several cuttings in fresh soil.
To propagate with cuttings, you’ll need healthy slender stem tip cuttings three or four inches long.
Strip the leaves from the bottom couple of inches, poke a hole in the soil and insert the cutting.
Be sure the soil covers the growth nodes (where the leaves were) on the stem.
Roots will emerge from the nodes pretty quickly and you’ll soon have a brand new plant.
Be careful not to overwater the cuttings.
Use a plant mister to keep the soil slightly moist until your plant is established and starts to grow.
You can also lay cuttings on the surface of the soil and press them down gently.
Eventually, roots will reach down into the soil and the plant will take hold and grow.
Rooting is easy because of the shallow surface roots. The plant does not need a lot of soil to get a start.
If you want to use the leaf method, just drop “pearls” on the surface of good cactus mix, press them lightly and wait.
This takes quite a bit longer than using cuttings, though, and may not work.
Can String Of Pearls Be Grown In Water?
NO! As a succulent, these plants need a sandy soil or a light, well-drained soil mixture, such as a commercially prepared cactus mix.
What Pests, Diseases or Problems Does The String Of Pearls Encounter?
Overwatering is the main problem for this plant. Remember to drench the plant and then allow the soil to almost dry out before watering again.
Never allow the plant to sit in water. After giving it a good watering, check the drip saucer and empty it as needed.
Watch Out For Mushy Stems And Leaves!
If your plant develops mushy spots, it’s an indication of rot.
Remove all the affected areas and allow the soil to dry out before returning to a regular watering schedule.
Watch Out For Root Rot!
If you have recently bought a plant and find its leaves are yellowed and shriveled, you may have accidentally purchased a plant with root rot.
You can try saving it by:
- Taking it out of its sodden soil
- Cutting away the rotten parts
- Allowing the plant to air, with exposed roots, in a warm, dry area with moderate indirect light
After a few days, replant with a dry, airy cactus potting mix.
You may be able to save it.
Failure To Thrive
If your plant is not growing well, the plant may need more light. Move the plant to a brighter setting and/or add a grow light fixture to help it along.
Another reason for failure to thrive is poor soil and/or overcrowding.
If the plant uses up all the nutrients in the soil, you will need to provide fertilizer and/or repot the plant into fresh soil.
Pests On String Of Pearls
This plant does not usually have problems with pests or diseases, and generally thrives on minimal care.
Even so, any plant that is stressed will tend to attract pests.
Aphids and mealybugs are drawn to succulents and can become problematic if allowed to become established.
To treat for either of these pests, apply an appropriate insecticide or use a solution of water, neem oil and mild soap.
Is String Of Pearls A Poisonous Plant?
All parts of this plant are poisonous and should be kept well away from cats, dogs and children.
If ingested, the plant can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Additionally, when you handle the plant you should be careful not to come into contact with its sap.
It is possible for the sap to cause skin irritation and rashes.
Senecio Buying Tips
These plants are all very easy to propagate.
If you belong to a gardening club or succulent group, getting cuttings should be fairly easy. You can then create an impressive collection of your own for very little money.
If you must buy mature, potted plants, you may end up shelling out quite a bit of cash.
Very often, it is better to purchase these plants from a reputable online supplier.
They ship very well, and a nursery with a good reputation and good reviews is likely to send you a healthy, well-cared-for plant.
When purchasing plants from a store or nursery, check the soil. Make sure the plant has not been overwatered before buying it.
If the soil does seem too wet, surreptitiously tip or lift the plant if you can to get a good look at the roots.
If you see signs of root rot, shop elsewhere.
Try to find plants that are not grown in plastic pots. If the plant is in a plastic pot, look at the bottom for lots of drainage holes.
This can offset the excessive water retention problems associated with plastic.
String Of Pearls Makes A Hardy Addition To Your Plant Collection
Senecio is among the most interesting and unusual succulents, both because of their oddly shaped leaves and their dainty, cinnamon-scented flowers.
Because they are rugged, drought resistant and fairly impervious to neglect, they make a nice choice for a window sill, an office setting or a beginning plant enthusiast.
Your plant will live for years if you take good care of it.
Be sure to take cuttings as you go along so you will have ready replacements when plants begin to dwindle.
Although these plants are usually kept in hanging baskets, there is really no limit to the creative planting variations you could try.
Place several cuttings in a single planter to allow the stems to cascade down the sides. This gives a fuller look right away.
Some people like to twine the stems as they grow longer for an even more interesting look.
Senecio rowleyanus is a fascinating plant. It does well with consistently warm temperatures in summer and needs a cool resting period in winter.
These light loving plants make an interesting addition to any plant collection.