The string of pearls plant, Senecio rowleyanus, is a funky succulent vine with rounded leaves that look like strands of pearls or peas. Formerly classified as Curio rowleyanus, it is also commonly called a string of beads.
It comes from South Africa and can be grown outside in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 12, or inside in all other areas.
And as with many ornamental species, it’s toxic to people and pets, so don’t eat it and wear gloves to protect sensitive skin from contact dermatitis.
If you are as intrigued by S. rowleyanus as I am, read on for all you need to know to grow it indoors.
What Is a String of Pearls?
The German botanist Herman Jacobsen identified S. rowleyanus in 1968, naming it for the famed British plant hunter, botanist, collection curator, and writer Gordon Douglas Rowley.
Without their efforts, the string of pearls might not be available to home gardeners worldwide today.
The pearl-like leaves of our subject species are plump water storage vessels. Unlike some succulents, the stems are not full of water. Instead, they are thin and a little bit weak.
Each leaf has a noticeable dark green line that looks like a slit. This is a fenestration, or epidermal window, equipped to receive optimal sunlight for photosynthesis.
S. rowleyanus copes with its arid environment by creeping horizontally, pushing roots into the soil, and forming a thick green ground cover. As it grows, it seeks shelter from the scalding sun and is often found in rock crevices and beneath trees.
Indoors, plants thrive in bright indirect sunlight. They are eye-catching in hanging containers that showcase their trailing vines.
Mature dimensions average one to two feet long and wide. However, three-foot lengths are possible under optimal conditions.
Small white blossoms with a cinnamon-like fragrance may bloom in the summertime, although this is more likely with outdoor flora.
When the flowers set seed, each has a fluffy “pappus,” like an aster or dandelion, that nature’s breezes would readily disperse in outdoor settings. Houseplant flowers are generally unpollinated, and the seeds are unlikely to germinate.
Does a string of pearls sound like a worthy contender for a new or existing succulent collection? Read on for guidance on propagating a plant of your own.
There are several ways to start a plant.
We’ll talk a little about the possibility of starting from seed in the pruning and maintenance section below.
From a leaf
Choose a plump, unblemished leaf.
Use clean shears to snip the leaves from the vine.
Remove the short stem or petiole that attaches the leaf to the vine.
Place the snipped leaf on a paper towel in bright indirect sunlight for about three days to dry and form a callus over the “wound.”
Once the leaf has formed a callus, fill a six-inch seed starter pot three-quarters full of cactus and succulent potting medium. Lightly moisten the medium.
Lay the leaf on top, and press it gently to anchor it in the moist medium.
Mist the soil as needed to keep it lightly moist but not soggy.
Keep the pot in a location with bright indirect sunlight, or use a grow light.
Over the next month or so, the leaf will wither as it grows roots and forms new foliage. New growth is evidence of success.
Cut a four-inch stem from the growing end of a long tendril.
Snip off the bottom leaf or leaves to create a bare stem one inch long.
Prepare the pot of soil as described above.
Insert the bare stem into the prepared medium.
Keep the medium lightly moist.
Place the pot in bright indirect sunlight or beneath a grow light.
New growth should appear in a few weeks.
Another way to root a stem cutting is to lay it flat on the surface of the potting medium.
Take a four-inch cut.
Lay the cut stem on the moist medium. Press the pearls gently to anchor the stem to the medium.
Maintain moisture as described above and provide a bright indirect light source.
In addition to rooting in potting medium, you can root a stem cutting in water as follows:
Take the first cut.Bare the bottom inch of the stem, removing any attached foliage.
Place the cutting in a small jar or glass filled with one inch of water.
For ideal sun exposure, make sure the top of the stem is a little taller than the container. It’s fun if the jar is clear and the roots are visible, so you can see what’s happening.
If you don’t have a friend with vines you can snip, you’ll need to buy a plant.
From a Nursery Pot: Transplanting
When you purchase S. rowleyanus, it may be a small “start” that’s a few inches tall or a mature specimen.
Either way, the time may come when you want to transplant it or a rooted cutting to a new container.
The secret to success is maintaining the same depth as in the original container. Succulents are susceptible to rotting, and those planted too deeply are the most vulnerable.
When foliage is even with or one-half inch below the pot rim, it’s more likely to thrive and less likely to rot.
Once propagated, it’s time to start a good care routine.
How to Develop
When choosing a container, check for ample drainage holes. If there is a matching drip tray, great. If not, find an old dish or lid that can catch excess water.
As succulents have shallow roots, depth is seldom a problem. However, it’s wise to select a pot with a fairly snug fit.
A diameter that is one inch wider than the foliage width allows room for the watering can spout. A pot that’s too big may stay wet for such a long time that it causes the roots to rot.
Use a potting medium that is light, airy, and well-draining. One made for cacti and succulents meets these requirements and has a pH of about 6.0, which is slightly acidic and what succulents like.
This product is made with coconut husks, compost, and pumice for water retention, drainage, and optimal growth.
Tank’s Pro Cactus and Succulent Mix comes in packages with 1.5 cubic feet of medium from Arbico Organics.
Remember to set rooted leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, and nursery plants at the same depth they were in their original containers, no deeper than half an inch from the pot rim.
Fertilize them with a liquid cactus and succulent food diluted to half strength. Throughout the growing season, feeding is done on a monthly basis.
This product is good for the environment because it is made from organic food waste from supermarkets and helps succulents stay healthy.
Mix one gallon at half strength, or use four pumps of food per gallon of water, to have on hand for biweekly applications. Apply with a watering can.
Arbico Organics’ Dr. Earth® Succulence® Cactus & Succulent Plant Food is available from Arbico Organics in 16-ounce pump bottles.
When you wash, take the pot to the sink if possible. Continue to pour water until it runs through the drainage holes. Allow the pot to drain for a few minutes, then fill it with water again to moisten all air pockets.
Empty the drip tray as needed to keep the roots from getting too wet and raising the humidity level in the room.