Ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) is a small evergreen succulent, a perennial that can be grown as a garden plant in warmer regions but is more often grown as a potted houseplant. With its whiteish-grey pointed leaves and trailing rosette form, ghost plants add a modern touch to container and rock gardens. The rosettes are typically about four inches in diameter and will take a blue-gray hue in partial shade or a pinkish-yellow tone in hot, full sun. Dainty, star-shaped yellow flowers appear in spring for outdoor plants but might bloom at random times when grown indoors.
Normally purchased as a small potted plant, ghost plant is usually planted in spring when being grown outdoors. Like many succulents, it is a slow grower (a few inches per year) and can live for decades.
|Common Name||Ghost plant, mother-of-pearl plant|
|Botanical Name||Graptopetalum paraguayense|
|Plant Type||Perennial, succulent|
|Mature Size||6 to 12 inches tall, 2 to 3 feet wide wide (depends on variety)|
|Sun Exposure||Full to partial sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy, light potting mix|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic, neutral (6.1-7.5)|
|Hardiness Zones||9-11 (USDA); zones 7-8 with winter protection|
|Native Area||North America, Central America (Mexico)|
Ghost Plant Care
Like many succulents, ghost plant is a low-maintenance specimen when you meet its basic growing requirements. Sharp drainage, abundant sunlight, and scant irrigation are the keys to a healthy ghost plant that will soon be producing new offshoots for you to propagate. Unlike some succulents, this plant will thrive in some relatively cool conditions; its most active growing periods will be in spring and fall.
Ghost plants will be at their most handsome in full sun or partial sun. Plants that don't receive enough light will become leggy and might experience leaf drop. When grown as a houseplant, keep the ghost plant in a south or east-facing window.
The amount of light a ghost plant receives can affect its typical grayish-white coloration. A shadier locale will result in foliage with a blue-gray tinge, while hot and dry conditions causes the grayish-white leaves to take on a pinkish-yellow hint of color.
Like the majority of succulents, the ghost plant needs good drainage to maintain a healthy root system. The more rainfall your area receives, the more drainage you must provide for ghost plants. If your garden has clay soil, plant them in raised beds at least six inches tall and a planting mix comprised of half grit, gravel, or sand, and half organic material like peat, coco coir, or commercial potting soil.
Potted plants do well in a potting mix designed for cacti or in a standard potting mix blended with 50 percent sand.
In the absence of natural rain, ghost plants only need occasional irrigation. Plants growing outdoors in full sun and summer temperatures will appreciate a weekly drink, while houseplants may only need watering every other week. Water indoor ghost plants at soil level to prevent water from stagnating in the rosettes.
Temperature and Humidity
Ghost plants are reliably hardy in USDA cold hardiness zones 9 to 11, but they will often survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit if they are covered over for winter. Gardeners in zones 7 and 8 can often grow them outdoors successfully if they are willing to offer some winter protection. These plants will do well in hot weather, but their most active growth will occur in the relatively cool periods of spring and fall.
Excess humidity can be a problem in areas with poorly draining soil. Planting your ghost plants in containers or raised beds, as well as spacing them away from each other and away from other plants to increase air circulation, will keep plants healthy.
All plants need some form of nutrients in order to grow and flower, but most succulents grow quite well in low-nutrient soil, and might even react badly to too much fertilizer, which can burn the leaves. Using a soil-enriching approach like manure tea or a side-dressing of compost is enough to keep your ghost plants vigorous. At most, a very light annual feeding with a diluted cactus fertilizer will suffice.
Types of Ghost Plant
The Graptopetalum paraguayense species has a couple of naturally occurring forms that are popular, especially a variegated type (Graptopetalum paraguayense f. variegata). A 'Purple Haze' cultivar is also quite popular. Much variety is found in a number of hybrids that offer unique color variations:
- Graptopetalum x Graptosedum 'Bronze' has reddish-bronze foliage and grows six inches tall.
- Graptopetalum x Graptosedum 'California Sunset' has unique orange-pink leaves.
- Graptopetalum x Graptoveria 'Douglas Huth' has stunning pink to blue leaves and pink flowers bloom in spring.
- Graptopetalum x Graptoveria 'Fred Ives' has bronze to blue-green leaves with pale yellow flowers.
- Graptopetalum x Graptoveria 'Tibutans' has especially thick leaves with pink or apricot tips in cooler weather.
Pruning is generally not necessary with these plants, but if they become leggy and scraggly, you can trim back the wandering stems to the center rosette. These trimmed stems can be used to propagate new plants.
Propagating Ghost Plant
Ghost plant is an extremely easy plant to propagate. A healthy leaf that falls might even root where it lays if conditions are right. But the quickest way to achieve full-sized plants is to clip off and root one of the many offset "pups" that appear at the end of the stems growing from the parent rosette. Here's how:
- When the offset is about 1/4 the size of the parent plant, use clean pruners to clip it off, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of stem below the rosette.
- Allow the stem to sit for two or three days to callus over, then replant it in a new pot filled with cactus potting mix.
- Wait about five days until the plant is established, then water thoroughly.
- Continue to grow in bright filtered sun, watering every four or five days until well established. Then, reduce watering to no more than every two weeks.
How to Grow Ghost Plant From Seed
Although it's fastest to propagate ghost plants from offset pups, you can also start numerous plants from seed to fill a large area of the garden. Collect the tiny seeds from seed pods that form after flowers wither, or purchase seed from a commercial source. Sow the seed on sterile potting mix. Water with a plant mister to avoid displacing the seeds. Keep the seed tray in bright light at 70 degrees Fahrenheit; germination will take place in about three weeks.
Potting and Repotting
Growing ghost plants in containers is a great way to bring the attributes of this succulent up to eye level. Choose a gritty or lightweight potting soil mix and a pot with good drainage. The root system is shallow, so a low, saucer-shaped clay pot with good drainage can make a perfect container. In mixed plantings, keep the ghost plant at the container's edge where it won't get lost behind taller specimens. The pale whitish-gray leaves of ghost plants contrast pleasingly with purple-leafed plants that have similar growing requirements, such as sedum 'Firecracker'.
Ghost plants are slow-growing and don't need frequent repotting. When your specimen has outgrown its container, be sure to handle the plant carefully to avoid damaging the powdery pruinose coating on the leaves, which is delicate. Grasp plants at the base of the crown rather than by the leaves, and repot it in a light potting mix or cactus mix.
Within its hardiness range where winters stay relatively warm, no overwintering routine is necessary at all. In colder winter zones where the plant dies back for the winter, cover the plant with dry mulch over the coldest months, but remove it promptly when the weather climbs back above freezing.
Indoor plants (or outdoor container plants brought indoors for the winter) will do best in a bright, sunny window but at relatively moderate-to-cool temperatures (65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit). Keep the plant away from radiators and heat vents. Watering can be slightly reduced during the winter months because the plant will naturally want to go somewhat dormant.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
These plants are marvelously free of most pests and diseases, but indoor plants can be more susceptible to a handful of problems common to many houseplants.
As your ghost plant grows, remove dead leaves at the base of the plant. Decomposing leaves provide a habitat for pests like the mealybug. If your ghost plant has mealybugs, you can spot treat with a dab of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton swab or smother them with horticultural oil.
The most common disease of ghost plant is root rot, which is usually the result of too much watering or soil that doesn't drain well. Leaves that begin to drop are often a sign the plant is being overwatered.
How to Get Ghost Plant to Bloom
These plants are grown mostly for the foliage, so gardeners generally aren't too concerned if they don't bloom much. If you're disappointed by the lack of blooms (because you want to experiment with collecting seeds for propagation), make sure the plant is receiving plenty of sunlight. Extra feeding generally doesn't help prompt blooming; in fact, excess fertilizer can reduce flowering because the plant uses the food to put its energy into stem and leaf growth.
Common Problems With Ghost Plant
Ghost plant if famous for thriving when treated with neglect, but there are some common problems to watch for.
Leaves Are Shriveled
It's not a frequent problem, but shriveled leaves on a ghost plant (or most succulents) usually indicate a plant that has suffered a little too much hands-off treatment—it probably needs more water. Water the plant every four or five days until the plant's succulent leaves are once again full and plump, then reduce watering to every couple of weeks.
Leaves Are Dropping
A much more common and serious problem is leaves that drop from the plant. This is very often the result of root rot beginning, caused by excessive watering. A ghost plant that is watered weekly like a standard houseplant will often drown. If you catch this problem early, simply withholding water for a few weeks might halt the problem and restore your plant to health. But once root rot gets hold, it can destroy the plant.
Less commonly, leaf drop can be caused by a lack of sunlight. Make sure your plant is receiving plenty of bright light, including at least four to six hours of direct sunlight if possible.
The most common reason for leaves that look dried out and burned is too much fertilizer. Less commonly, it can occur if the plant has had too much direct sun in an outdoor setting that is very hot.
Plant Is Leggy and Scraggly
If your ghost plant is sending out many long stems without much foliage on them, it's usually a sign the plant is not receiving enough sunlight. Move the plant to a location where it receives lots of bright light, including four to six hours of direct sunlight. You can clip off the scraggly stems and use them for propagating new plants.
How long does ghost plant live?
Like many slow-growing perennials, a ghost plant can live for many decades if it's growing in its preferred environment. Many potted ghost plants are handed down from generation to generation.
Are there similar plants to consider?
Succulents plants in the Crassulaceae or stonecrop family share several features with ghost plant, including fleshy leaves and a low-growing habit. Ghost plant and peacock echeveria look very similar in part because they both share the powdery pruinose coating that helps them retain moisture.
What other members of the genus should I consider?
There are about 19 species in the Graptopelatum genus. Among those often used as houseplants are G. saxifragoides (a matt-forming succulent), G. superbum, G. rusbyi (known as leatherpetal), G. pachyphyllum (known as bluebean), G. pantandrum, G. mendozae, G. fileferum, and G. amethystinum, All species have the characteristic rosette form, but there is such variety of color and shape among them that enthusiasts often grow nothing but this genus.
Where does the common name come from?
The name ghost plant is attached to this species probably because of the translucent nature of the leaves, as well as the powdery white substance on the leaves, known as pruinose.