This bizarre succulent is easily recognizable by its leaves, which grow into spherical, marble-like little balls. Because of these leaves, S. rowleyanus is commonly referred to as string of pearls or the bead plant. Its leaves grow on trailing stems, which hang down the sides of the pot and can extend up to two feet down if left alone. These stems also can be used to propagate the plant, which is a very robust grower.
Though normally cultivated as a hanging plant, in its natural habitat the string of pearls is terrestrial and forms mats along the ground. Along with its idiosyncratic leaves, the string of pearls can bloom white flowers with a pleasant scent reminiscent of cinnamon. It is not particular about its conditions and given enough light and fertilizer it will grow quite vigorously in a single season. A single S. rowleyanus plant will survive for about five years if properly cared for, but if propagated from stem cuttings you can continue to grow this plant more or less indefinitely.
Consider growing this plant with multiple hanging stems from a basket, which lets it shine: its stems can also be twined together. This is an eye-catching houseplant that only needs cooler winter temperatures and lots of light to thrive: it is naturally adapted to live in arid parts of Africa, and its eccentric leaves are designed to help the plant retain maximum water.
- Light: Multiple hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Water: 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.
- Temperature: Warm temperatures above seventy degrees from spring through fall. S. rowleyanus grows best with a cooler winter, down to about fifty.
- Soil: Any regular succulent potting soil is fine, but a sandy soil is best.
- Fertilizer: Feed biweekly during the growing season with a balanced liquid fertilizer like a 12-12-12, diluted to about half strength. During its dormant period, it only needs feeding about every six weeks.
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.
Repot every year at the beginning of spring. S. rowleyanus can only be repotted 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.
S. 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. However, some plants do display slight variegation: yellow spots on the spherical leaves. The Senecio genus itself is massive, with over one thousand species of wildflowers, weeds, and shrubs.
Though hanging baskets are recommended, you can also grow the string of pearls in a dish, allowing it to form a terrestrial mat the way it does in the wild. 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 skin. S. rowleyanus has no major pest or disease problems, and it doesn’t require much care: its biggest need is for light, which it should receive lots of all year. However, it is susceptible to root rot, so make sure its drainage is good.