The string of pearls plant, scientifically known as Curio rowleyanus, is a truly unique succulent. It has earned a legion of fans, pleasing gardeners and houseplant enthusiasts alike. There is nothing else quite like this adorable cascading plant.
The string of pearls is native to South Africa, where it makes excellent ground cover in the desert. Since its natural environment can be quite harsh, Curio rowleyanus is a hardy plant and tolerant of a range of conditions. For plant novices yearning for an eye-catching hanging plant, try your hand at caring for a string of pearls. They’re beginner-friendly with basic care requirements, but they are toxic to pets and should be kept out of reach of your four-legged friends.
For current string of pearls owners or those looking to purchase one, just follow the tips and tricks in this article and your plant is sure to thrive!
|Common Name||String of pearls, pea plant|
|Botanical Name||Curio rowleyanus|
|Native Area||South Africa|
|Sun/Light Requirements||A mixture of direct and bright indirect light|
|Water||Infrequent; let soil dry completely then thoroughly water|
|Humidity||Low, around 40%|
|Size||Up to three feet or one meter long|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA zones 9-12|
The string of pearls is aptly named. Its appearance mirrors the nickname. It has long ‘strings’ of round, glossy, pearl-like leaves. They’re smooth to the touch and quite pea-like. The stem that connects each leaf is short and thin, with only an inch or so separating the individual pearls.
The standard string of pearls is a bright green, though some variegated varieties have streaks of cream and white running through the leaves. Fake online listings appear for purple, blue, and other colors of string of pearls, but the real plant only comes in green or its variegated coloration.
When properly tended, the tendrils of Curio rowleyanus can grow up to just over three feet long! Whether they’re used as ground cover or in hanging baskets, they can really make a statement.
If your string of pearls flowers, you’ll see small pink or white flowers. They don’t steal the show quite as much as the plant’s leaves, but they do carry a faintly cinnamon-like scent as they bloom.
While the string of pearls does have certain ideal conditions, it’s fairly adaptable and tolerant of mistakes. It’s a plant you can learn with. Unfortunately, even under perfect conditions, the string of pearls has a fairly short lifespan. You’ll only have your original plant for three to five years. They can be propagated, though, so there’s plenty of hope for it to live on!
This is a desert plant, so it’s happy to bask in direct sun for hours. For the best results, place your string of pearls in direct morning sun and swap it over to indirect sun in the evening. The evening sun tends to be a lot hotter than its morning counterpart. A combination of the two gets the string of pearls all the light it needs.
There’s a good reason why its light requirements are a bit unusual. The famous round Curio rowleyanus leaves aren’t well-equipped for photosynthesizing. They’re excellent at storing water but only have a thin line for an epidermal window. Epidermal windows take in the light necessary to photosynthesize, so your string of pearls needs a bit more sunlight to make up for that narrow slit.
Many plant collections are filled with species that need indirect light and shy away from west-facing windows. You don’t have to worry about that with a string of pearls. Decorate those west-facing windows to your heart’s content! Still, there is a slight possibility of it receiving too much direct light. If you notice those green beads turning yellow, move the plant back from the window a bit or let it spend more time in indirect light as a break.
Curio rowleyanus is highly drought resistant by nature. Its round leaves are perfectly suited for storing water and surviving the desert. Your string of pearls can go a couple of weeks without being watered, so it will be perfectly fine if you forget about it for a while.
When your plant is thirsty enough for a drink, water it thoroughly. Make sure any excess water drains from the bottom of the container. Moist soil after watering is fine, but the last thing you’ll want to do is leave your string of pearls sitting in wet soil. They’re incredibly susceptible to root rot and it can take these plants down fast. That’s a great rule of thumb for any succulent and one to follow in this case. Less is more for your string of pearls.
A good well-draining soil is the key to a happy string of pearls. When mixing your own blend, use sand or perlite as an extra drainage medium. There are plenty of succulent soil blends sold commercially, however, and they’re fine for this plant! They have a higher sand content than other blends and will keep excess water away from the roots.
Generally speaking, you want well-draining and porous soil – whatever ingredients you choose to make it. The aim is to avoid having your plants sitting in water.
This desert plant unsurprisingly prefers warmer temperatures. They do best around 70°F during the growing season and tolerate temperatures as low as 50°F during the dormant winter. Household temperatures, in general, are suitable for this plant. Just make sure you don’t leave them near drafty windows or doors when it gets cold outside!
Curio rowleyanus has an arid native area, so it prefers dry conditions. Don’t pair this plant up with your tropical beauties or put it in a bathroom. Opt for 40% humidity if possible. You don’t want your plant taking on too much moisture, either from overwatering or the air.
Fertilizing during the growing season is helpful. For the string of pearls, that occurs during spring and summer. You can grab a cactus fertilizer, succulent fertilizer, or balanced liquid fertilizer for the best results. Dilute it to half-strength according to the package directions. Fertilize every two weeks while the plant is actively growing, then back off during fall and winter.
Occasional pruning can help your plant look more full, but it isn’t actually necessary for your string of pearls. Prune the tendrils to propagate the cuttings or cut away dead or decayed leaves. Just grab a pair of clean sterilized shears and trim away excess growth or the pieces needed for propagation.
Most succulent varieties are easy to propagate, so if you’re hoping to create a lot of new strings of pearls…congratulations! All you’ll need is a decently-sized healthy stem cutting (usually around four inches) and some good soil.
Remove a couple of leaves near the bottom of the stem so that you have enough stem to plant. Since the string of pearls looks best with several tendrils growing together, go ahead and cut a few extra stems while you’re propagating. Create a hole in your soil and place the ends into it. Pat the soil down to cover the ends of the cuttings. After giving them a couple of days to adjust, water them thoroughly and place them in a brightly lit spot.
Since the string of pearls has such a short lifespan (only two to three years), you won’t end up repotting it much. New plants (as in, those you’ve propagated from stem cuttings) will likely need new, larger containers as they grow. Terracotta is great for succulents, as the unglazed variety helps remove excess moisture. Whatever type of container you choose, make sure it has very good drainage.
Pests and Disease
The best defense against pests and disease is to keep your plant healthy enough to take care of itself. Make sure it’s getting adequate light, isn’t being overwatered, and isn’t situated in an area too humid for this desert-dweller.
Still, things happen. Pests do, too. Aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites can make their way into your beloved plant and cause plenty of issues. The unique shape of the leaves and the delicate nature of the tendrils make some common methods of pest-removal difficult. With flat-leaf plants (like Peperomia) you can easily wipe the leaves clean. That’s a lot more difficult when you have dozens and dozens of pea-sized balls!
Spraying your plant with houseplant-safe oil is your best bet for treatment. Neem oil is an excellent option, as it treats most common pests and is safe for virtually every type of houseplant. If you find yourself facing a pest problem, try to determine how it began and remedy the conditions.
There are so many different types of succulents and hanging plants out there that it’s impossible to choose a favorite. There’s a good reason the string of pearls makes it to the top of so many lists, though! This plant is resilient, hardy, easy to care for, and boasts a one-of-a-kind appearance. There’s nothing quite like seeing these round little baubles spilling out of a hanging basket and flowing toward the ground.