String of pearls (Curio rowleyanus; formerly Senecio rowleyanus) is a unique succulent that is easily recognizable by its leaves, which grow into spherical, marble-like little balls. The leaves grow on trailing stems, that gracefully hang down the sides of planters and can extend up to 2 feet if left alone. These stems also can be used to propagate the plant, which is a very robust grower but does not live long without propagation.
Though normally cultivated as a hanging plant, in its natural habitat (the deserts of East Africa) the string of pearls is terrestrial and forms mats along the ground. In addition to its idiosyncratic leaves, the string of pearls produces white flowers with a pleasant scent reminiscent of cinnamon.
|Botanical Name||Curio rowleyanus (formerly Senecio rowleyanus)|
|Common Name||String of pearls, string of beads, string of rosary beads|
|Mature Size||Trailing stems grow to 2 to 3 feet long|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy mix with good drainage|
|Hardiness Zones||9 to 12|
|Native Area||East Africa|
How to Grow String of Pearls
The string of pearls plant is not particular about its conditions. Given enough light and fertilizer, it will grow quite vigorously in a single season. A single plant will survive for about five years if properly cared for, but if you propagate new plants from stem cuttings, you can effectively keep it alive indefinitely.
Consider growing string of pearls with multiple hanging stems from a basket, which lets it shine: Its stems can also be twined together. You can also grow it in a dish, allowing it to form a terrestrial mat the way it does in the wild.
String of pearls has no major pest or disease problems, and it doesn’t require much care. It does, however, need plenty of light all year. It is susceptible to root rot, so make sure its soil drains well.
String of pearl needs only a few hours of direct sunlight per day. It does, however, require indirect sunlight as well. While your plant can survive and thrive with a minimum of care, plenty of light is absolutely essential.
Any regular succulent potting soil is fine, but sandy soil is best. A good choice for this plant is a cactus potting mix; alternatively, use a 3:1 mix of potting soil and sharp sand.
Keep its soil lightly moist during the growing season in the spring and summer. During the winter, its water can be scaled back. If its spherical leaves are flattening out, it needs more water. Be careful not to overwater; succulents like string of pearls are drought-resistant but cannot survive with wet, soggy roots.
Temperature and Humidity
String of pearls thrives in warm temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit from spring through fall. It grows best with a cooler winter, down to about 50. Low humidity is best for this plant (40 percent or lower). Your string of pearls plant will thrive outdoors in summer, but avoid very hot noonday sun, which can burn its leaves.
Feed your string of pearls plants biweekly during the growing season with a balanced liquid or water-soluble fertilizer like a 12-12-12, diluted to about half strength. During its dormant period, it needs feeding only about every six weeks.
Potting and Repotting
It's a good idea to repot string of pearls every year at the beginning of spring. It can be repotted only a few times before it eventually begins to die back. After a few years, you’re better off propagating new cuttings rather than trying to preserve a single plant.
Propagating String of Pearls
The string of pearls propagates quite easily: simply take stem cuttings and replant the leaves in potting soil. Make sure to keep its soil slightly moist. It should root quickly.
Varieties of the Curio Species
Curio rowleyanus is a member of the daisy family, but no other plant quite resembles it, and it’s usually sold simply as “string of pearls” rather than its botanical name. There are some other, equally remarkable succulents in the same family:
- Curio radicans: Fuller and not as trailing as C. rowleyanus; has tendrils with banana-shaped leaves; commonly known as string of bananas or string of fish hooks
- Curio herreanus: Commonly called string of watermelon or string of beads; trailing plant with tiny melon-shaped leaves with purple striping
- Curio citriformus: Has both erect and trailing stems filled with plump, teardrop leaves and small white flowers that bloom between late summer and winter
Toxicity of String of Pearls
The foliage of this plant is slightly toxic and should never be consumed, so make sure it’s not easily accessible to children or pets. If ingested, it can cause stomach problems like vomiting or diarrhea, and its sap can also irritate the skin.