Learn all about growing Ceropegia woodii, a stunning trailing
succulent with surprising heart-shaped leaves.
Ceropegia woodii has numerous common names, probably indicating its wide acceptance and the different images it conjures for various people. These names include string of hearts, hearts entangled, chain of hearts, sweet heart vine and rosary plant.
You might have noticed that the word “heart” repeatedly appears in the common names. That’s because the plant’s leaves look a little like hearts, as we will see shortly. Also, the words ‘chain,’ ‘string,’ ‘vine,’ and ‘rosary’ have connotations of a trailing plant, and that’s its nature. It may be described as a trailing succulent. It is generally an easy plant to grow; ideal for beginners.
Origin and Description
The plant is a native of the Southern African nations of Eswatini, Zimbabwe and the Republic of South Africa. In 1881, John Medley Wood found the plant in Kwa Zulu Natal. The species was given the name woodii in his honor.
Stem: This plant has trailing stems. From a single root system, a stem will grow about 4 inches (10 cm) before branching in various directions. The thin purplish stems grow prostrate on flat soil and trail down over a rock face (or from a pot!), making the plant ideal for a hanging basket.
The stems are strong and wire-like. Under the right conditions, the stems can reach a length of up to 13 feet (4 meters).
You can also convert yours into a climbing vine by training stems up a support.
Leaves: Their shape is certainly unusual! After all, the thick leaves are clearly heart-shaped. No wonder the word “heart” appears again and again in the plant’s various common names! The foliage is basically green, but has a silvery overlay with a purple underside. The leaves appear in pairs on the vine, so with a leaf on either side. These leaves usually grow to between ½ to 1 ½ inches (1 to 2 cm) in diameter.
Flowers: Summer is Ceropegia woodii’s main flowering season, but it is not uncommon to see the plant bloom in other seasons. The flower has a bit of an unusual shape. They don’t open fully, but have a tubular shape and a bulbous base some people liken to a little bottle or lantern. They usually come in pale flesh pink with a hairy brown tip.
Tubers: String of hearts also produces a tuber at its base and also smaller ones along its stem, at the bottom of a pair of leaves. They look like dangling mini-potatoes! They’re actually edible and other species of Ceropegia with larger tubers are harvested from the wild for human consumption.
This plant is not toxic to humans or pets.
You are most likely to grow your Ceropegia woodii for its appearance, and that’s why most people keep it in their homes. It gives you the best results if you plant it in a hanging basket or let it dangle from a pedestal. You can also encourage your plants to grow upwards by training them up a branch or piece of driftwood.
The plant accumulates a lot of water in its leaves and tubers. Humans can use it as a survival plant when they lack water in the wild. The leaves, stems and tubers can be eaten, and they are quite nutritious. Not on a day-to-day basis, however, but rather as a famine food. The southern African people who live in the plant’s natural habitat also use it as medicine. They obtain it by pounding the plant’s leaves, tubers and stem. The resulting paste is used as an antidote for certain poisons.
Caring for Your String of Hearts
This plant is quite easy to manage. It’s ideal for busy plant parents who don’t like fussy plants. The following are the conditions under which you should grow string of hearts. And what you can do to assure it of the conditions.
The plant does best with plenty of indirect sunlight. However, it will survive fine in pockets of direct sunlight as well. You can grow the plant outdoors in tropical climates. There, you might want to hang it from your house’s rafters. This looks great, given it thrives in hanging baskets, but also the overhanging roof provides shade from the strongest midday sun. The result of this outdoor shade is that the plant will have abundant light without getting scorched by too much direct ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Indoors, you can ensure your plant gets adequate indirect sunlight by placing it next to a window. There, it can get the sunlight it needs. Pull a sheer curtain between the window and the plant to prevent the sun’s rays from landing directly on the plant’s leaves on hot summer days. Keep the plant near the window, preferably within 1 foot (30 cm) of it, to ensure it soaks in as much sunlight as it needs. It’s advisable to keep the plant in a room painted white or another pale color, as that intensifies light through reflection.
It is also possible to grow Ceropegia woodii outdoors (in temperate climates, only during the summer) and allow the vines to grow perpendicular to the ground. Provide a bit of shade for it by taking advantage of either a building or a tree. You may also plant it in a Mediterranean garden and keep it under other plants to provide shade.
But don’t give it too much shade. Keeping the plant in the dark or other spot where it doesn’t receive a minimum amount of sunlight can cause the leaves to turn yellow. Sometimes poorly lit leaves simply drop off! Also, a plant with inadequate lighting will be much more susceptible to diseases since it will likely be weak. The plant will ultimately die if you keep it in the dark for too long.
Temperature and Humidity
String of hearts thrives in moderate temperatures. Anything between 66oF and 86oF (19oC and 30oC) is ideal. While it may withstand higher temperatures than that, it doesn’t do so well in cooler ones. It will struggle in temperatures below 60oF (15oC). The lower the temperature, the more likely it is to die. This means you need to move the plant indoors in the winter if your area experiences freezing temperatures.
The plant’s natural habitat in Southern Africa is arid; the plant is, therefore, adapted to the same conditions. It doesn’t do well in high humidity areas. High humidity creates perfect conditions for fungi growth and they are detrimental to the plant’s health. Under the circumstances, you should keep the plant healthy by providing 40–50% humidity … which is the typical humidity you find in a household.
This plant is drought-resistant, like most other succulents. How you water it and the type of soil you plant it are the two most important considerations for the plant’s survival and health. Most of the most important diseases that affect this plant are linked to overwatering or excess humidity in the plant’s environment. Diseases include root rot and fungal infections on the leaves.
Although the plant generally requires little water, you will need to water it more often in hotter seasons than in colder ones due to greater evaporation. How easily you manage this aspect of care for your plant will largely be determined by the type of soil you grow it in. Well-draining soil will make your watering immeasurably easier to manage. Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach for watering, you will need to determine watering needs for on a moment-by-moment basis.
How do you know your plant requires watering? The topsoil dryness test is always an effective method. Insert a finger into the plant’s soil or potting mix to feel whether or not the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil is dry. If it feels dry, it’s time to water, since that ensures that moisture from the previous drink has dried up.
When you notice the leaves on the lower side of the vine start to wrinkle and slightly wilt, that means when the plant is severely dehydrated and needs urgent watering.
The best method of water string of hearts is the soak and drain method. Insert the plant into a large tub filled with water and allow the plant to soak in the water for at least half an hour. After removing the plant, let the excess moisture drain from the drainage holes at the bottom of the container for another half an hour. Then don’t water again until the soil is dry.
Soaking your plant in a tub is particularly advantageous for string of hearts plants you grow it in hanging baskets. When you simply water from above, it’s too easy to wet the leaves without thoroughly moistening the soil and wetting them makes the plant susceptible to fungal growth.
It really isn’t possible to provide a definite watering schedule for this plant, even for the various seasons. That’s because environmental conditions are a significant factor. Especially concerning is how well the soil can retain water. And ambient temperature determines how fast water in the soil evaporates. Even in the same season, two plants grown in different spots may vary considerably in their watering needs.
Any soil mix with a high organic matter concentration would be perfect. A mix meant for cacti or succulents, for example, is great for string of hearts. That’s largely because succulent soil mixes always have good drainage. And good drainage is an absolute requirement, as this plant is easily overwatered. If you are making a soil mix at home, take sand and a mixture of peat moss and clay. Mix them in a 1:1 ratio. This will create a fast-draining medium suitable for most succulents. You can lower the amount of sand if you feel that the potting mix is too loose.
If you grow the plant outdoors in a Mediterranean garden, remember that the soil must drain well. The plant can handle rocky soil, so that should not be a problem. If the soil in your area has more clay than grit, you can introduce raised beds with lots of sand to allow your water to drain quickly. Also, you may need to create French drains to allow any excess water to run off the roots.
If you are planting your Ceropegia woodii in a pot, carefully consider the pot type you use. The pot is critical in ensuring your soil will be well drained. It should have several drainage holes at the bottom. This applies whether the pot made of metal, porcelain, stone, wood or any other material.
If drainage holes are critical, that’s because no matter how well-draining the soil is, any excess water that gets into the soil at least has to have a way of getting out! This will avoid waterlogging and rot. Without drainage holes, the water would simply pass through the soil and sit at the bottom of the pot, allowing rot to settle in. You can also use a breathable pot to enhance water evaporation. Unglazed terracotta pots are the best option for growing these succulents.
The plant doesn’t require much fertilizing, as it usually gets all the nutrients it needs from the soil medium it grows in. However, for indoor plants, you can use fertilizer to supply few extra nutrients. Fertilize it once a week during the beginning of the summer months at a very low dose. During this time, the plant is actively growing. Do not feed during the winter months as the plant is dormant. And feeding it then may lead to a buildup of salts in the soil.
Repotting is usually necessary either when a plant has outgrown its pot or is becoming root-bound. This plant doesn’t mind being root-bound, and therefore doesn’t require constant repotting. And being so low-growing, it won’t become top-heavy and topple over like larger succulents can do. Repotting it once every few years is therefore enough. Repotting also helps the plant by supplying a fresh source of minerals, as the original soil might be depleted after years of plant growth. The fresh substrate is also likely to be more porous than the old one, which is necessary for the plant.
This plant’s trailing stems and leaves are its best qualities. However, you may need to cut and trim the vines if they grow too long. Also, remove any dead leaves to keep your vine neat.
Pests and Diseases
This plant can withstand most of the pests that trouble other plants. However, it is susceptible to mealybugs, aphids, plant scale, and spider mites. You can protect the plant from these pests by keeping it clean and well aerated. Removing dying leaves is one way of ensuring protection, because these pests like to hide on them.
Always keep your Ceropegia woodii healthy. Healthy plants can repel pests quite effectively on their own. Weak plants, on the other hand, are unusually vulnerable to these pests. Isolate any plant in your Mediterranean garden infested by any pest to keep it from infecting others.
There are a few measures you can take to cure your plant of pests. You can paint the infected parts with 70% alcohol, for example. Take a cotton ball, dip it into the alcohol, and dab the part of the plant with the said infestation. You can also use chemical pesticides, but it is better to use organic ones.
If you notice an infestation, you could apply the following organic pesticides.
- Neem oil: Unlike the other pesticides listed below, neem is a systemic pesticide. Plants absorb it into their sap where it can reach the bugs, either killing them or stopping them from reproducing. Pure neem oil is made from the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). It is entirely natural and not harmful to humans.
- Hot pepper spray: Hot pepper is quite irritating when it gets on your skin and eyes, and it has the same effects on the bugs infesting your succulents. Spray it carefully on the affected parts while protecting your skin and eyes.
- Garlic spray: A concentrated garlic spray can have the same effects on bugs as pepper spray. You can manufacture your own garlic spray by crushing garlic cloves and soaking them in hot water. Add just a little hot water, so the end product is concentrated enough to destroy the pests. Filter the pesticide to remove the garlic residue, pour it into a sprayer, and carefully vaporize it on the infected parts of the plant.
Always spray a small part of the plant with the pesticide you want to use before spraying it on the whole plant. This precaution applies when using contact pesticides, i.e. hot pepper and garlic. You need to see the plant’s reaction before you spray the whole thing. You can reduce concentration if the test shows the plant reacts adversely to the pesticide.
The following are the different ways to propagate the plant. All types of propagation work more quickly and effectively in spring or summer than in fall or winter.
Follow the following steps while propagating using a stem cutting.
- Identify a healthy stem
- Take clean and sharp garden shears and cut a stem section together with a pair of leaves.
- Allow the stem to dry and callous over for 2 to 3 days.
- Prepare the soil and add it to the pot.
- Press your now-dry stem into the soil, but ensure the leaves aren’t covered.
- Place the container under indirect sunlight and water whenever the soil is dry. You’ll observe roots after a while: a few weeks to a few months.
Just remove a tuber and press it into a pot of barely moist potting mix. Roots and then new leaves will soon form.
This plant produces offsets as yet another opportunity for propagation. The offsets form when the mother plant sends roots into the soil, and other plants develop from the tips of these roots.
You can let the offset grow into an independent plant in the same pot as long as there is enough space. Or you move it into a different pot in order to start a new plant.
Allow it to grow until it takes it has a few branches. Just put the baby plant in a pot of barely moist, well-drained soil and allow it to grow. An offset roots faster than a stem cutting, and it becomes a plant more quickly since it is already relatively well formed.
The plant produces seeds in pods when grown outdoors. If you want to grow plants from seeds, you should harvest them just before they burst open. You can keep the seeds from escaping by covering the pods with a paper bag when they start to swell. Paper bags are better than plastic ones, as they are breathable and allow the seed to continue to mature.
Once you collect the seeds, use the same well-draining potting mix you would use to grow the plant in. Avoid using garden soil. Sow by barely covering the seeds in potting mix. Now keep substrate moist but not soaked, and not in shade but in bright light.
The seeds should germinate after one month, after which you should allow the seedlings root and grow a bit before transplanting.
Forms and Varieties of Ceropegia woodii
Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’
The plant’s leaves are the same as the ordinary Ceropegia woodii in texture and shape. However, ‘Variegata’ , which we wrote about in this article: A Sweetheart Succulent for Valentine’s Day, has silver and pink markings alongside the green on the leaves. They also have some cream patches. The stem is purple, and the intensity of the pink on the leaves increases depending on the intensity of the light to which you expose the plant.
Ceropegia woodii ‘Silver Glory’
This variety’s leaves are more apple-shaped than heart-shaped. The largest area of each leaf is covered with a silvery hue, thus its name. The little green in the leaf appears as a tiny margin along the leaf edge.
Ceropegia woodii ‘Mini Star’
The difference between the mini star and the regular Ceropegia woodii is the size. The mini star’s leaves and stems are much smaller, paler, and thinner than in the regular plant. Although its leaves are heart-shaped, they are pointier than their counterparts from the regular Ceropegia woodii.
Cerepegia woodii is an attractive plant that requires little attention from its parent. It’s especially enticing to busy plant parents, because it doesn’t need repotting very often. You will get the best results from it by following the above steps in its management.