The Fascinating Plant with a Thousand Babies

It’s impossible not to be captivated by the sight of a mother of thousands plant. This unique succulent not only adds a cool factor to your collection of houseplants but also thrives with minimal care. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this fascinating plant and provide you with all the information you need to grow a healthy and thriving mother of thousands plant of your own.

Tips for growing a Mexican hat plant succulent

Discovering the Mother of Thousands

At first glance, the name of this plant becomes evident. However, the mother of thousands plant is also known by other common names, such as devil’s backbone, Mexican hat plant, and alligator plant. There are two species that share this name: Kalanchoe daigremontiana (syn. Bryophyllum daigremontianum) and Kalanchoe x laetivirens. Both species belong to the Kalanchoe genus, which is part of the broader Crassulaceae family. While they may look similar, one species has dark stripes on the backside of its leaves, while the other has solid green leaves. Regardless of the species you choose, the mother of thousands plant is truly one-of-a-kind.

The small plantlets on the margins of Kalanchoe daigremontiana mother of thousands plant

A Succulent with Unmatched Charm

Originating from the African island nation of Madagascar, this plant has spread across the globe and naturalized in various tropical regions. From South America to South Africa, Florida to Hawaii, the mother of thousands plant has made its mark. However, caution should be exercised in regions where it has become invasive, as it can displace native plant species. While its ability to grab attention due to its thousands of tiny plantlets along the leaf edges is remarkable, this plant’s appeal extends beyond its unique feature. With its fleshy, blue-green leaves growing up to 8 inches long and reaching a height of 3 feet (although typically smaller as a houseplant), the mother of thousands plant is an attention-grabber like no other.

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Finding the Ideal Home for your Mother of Thousands Plant

Although suitable for outdoor growth in tropical climates that avoid freezing temperatures (USDA hardiness zones 9-11), most people prefer to keep this plant as a houseplant. Frost can quickly harm the mother of thousands plant, making it important to protect it from freezing temperatures. During the summer months, you can move your potted plant outdoors, ensuring it receives several hours of direct sunlight in the morning and dappled partial shade during the hottest part of the afternoon. When autumn arrives, it’s time to bring the pot back indoors, gradually exposing it to more afternoon sun once it has acclimated. Just remember to avoid sudden changes in sunlight exposure, as it can cause foliage burn or bleaching.

The best growing conditions for mother of thousands plants

Lighting the Way to Success

For indoor cultivation, it’s essential to choose a location with morning sun exposure. East-facing windows are ideal, as they provide full sun in the morning and diffused light in the afternoon. Alternatively, you can position the plant a few feet away from a south-facing window, ensuring it avoids direct sunlight exposure, especially during mid-day. North-facing windows are not suitable, as they don’t provide enough light for the plant’s well-being. If you notice your plant becoming spindly, it’s a sign that it is not receiving sufficient light.

The Blooming Surprises

While succulents are primarily admired for their attractive foliage, the mother of thousands plant occasionally surprises with its blooms. When given optimal light conditions, this plant produces sporadic candelabra-like flower stems with petite bell-like flowers ranging from pink to orange. If you bring your potted plant outdoors for the summer, it may reward you with blooms soon after you bring it back indoors for the winter.

The devil

Watering Wisely for a Happy Plant

As a drought-tolerant succulent, the mother of thousands plant doesn’t require frequent watering. In fact, it often thrives when given slight neglect. Ensure your pot has drainage holes, allowing excess water to escape freely. Terracotta, plastic, or ceramic pots work well, with the advantage of terracotta’s porosity and attractive appearance. Overwatering can cause harm, so it’s crucial to understand how to water your mother of thousands plant correctly. Here’s our recommended approach:

  • During spring, summer, and fall, water every 14 to 21 days.
  • In winter, when the plant is not actively growing, water every 21 to 28 days.
  • If the plant is outdoors during hot summer months, water every 5 to 7 days.
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To water the plant properly, take the pot to the sink and let room temperature water run through the soil for several minutes before allowing it to drain out. After thoroughly soaking the soil, let the pot drain for 15 minutes before returning it to its display location. Another option is bottom watering, which involves placing the pot in a tray of water and allowing the soil to absorb moisture from below.

How to water mother of thousands plant in a pot

Choosing the Perfect Potting Soil

As a succulent, the mother of thousands plant thrives in a free-draining, gritty potting mix. Instead of using a peat moss-based soil, opt for a cactus mix that includes larger particles such as sand, perlite, pumice, and vermiculite. You can enhance the look by topping the soil with a layer of pebbles.

Fertilizing with Care

Regular fertilization is not necessary for a mother of thousands plant. This tough plant doesn’t require excessive pampering. You can choose to fertilize every 6-8 weeks using a liquid fertilizer formulated for houseplants or a succulent plant fertilizer. However, even if you forget to fertilize, the plant won’t mind. It’s crucial to fertilize only when the plant is actively growing, which is from spring through fall. Avoid fertilizing in winter. Starting in mid-March and continuing every 6-8 weeks until early September (in Pennsylvania), is a suitable schedule for providing nutrients during the plant’s prime growth season without overdoing it.

Water and care for Kalanchoe

Propagation Made Easy

The mother of thousands plant is known for its effortless propagation. The tiny plantlets along the leaf edges form roots while still attached to the plant. They drop off or are carried away by the wind or passing animals and take root, contributing to the plant’s natural spread. As a gardener, you can assist this process to create new plants for sharing. Simply remove a few plantlets from the leaf margins, ensuring the bottom portion of the stem comes into contact with the soil. Pot these tiny plantlets in a clean pot filled with pre-moistened regular potting mix. Mist them and the soil, covering the pot with a clear plastic bag for 2 to 3 weeks. Place the pot near an east-facing window, away from direct sunlight. After removing the bag, continue misting or watering the soil every few days. After eight weeks, the new plants will be fully rooted and can be divided and moved into other pots filled with cactus potting mix.

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Propagation for mother of thousands plants

Additional Care and a Word of Caution

It’s important to note that all parts of the mother of thousands plant contain a toxic compound. If you have children or pets that might nibble on plants, it’s advisable to find an alternative plant or keep the pot out of their reach. The plant’s toxicity has also been reported to cause poisoning in cattle in regions where it grows wild. If your plant grows too tall for its location, don’t hesitate to prune the stems, which can then be stuck into potting soil to root and produce new plants. Unlike tropical houseplants, the mother of thousands plant doesn’t require high humidity levels. Lastly, ensure the plant is placed away from forced air heating ducts or hot and cold drafts, as this can impact its overall health and cause premature dropping of the plantlets.

Whether you refer to it as the mother of thousands, the Mexican hat plant, the alligator plant, or the devil’s backbone, this exceptional plant is worthy of a place on your beloved plant shelf.

For more unique houseplants, visit the Ames Farm Center.