You can’t go wrong with Graptopetalum pentandrum, also called the ghost plant, ghost succulent, ghosty succulent, or the five-leaved graptopetalum succulent, because it’s both easy to care for and incredibly adaptable.
Although this succulent won’t win any awards for the most unique-looking houseplant, it does have an interesting trait that sets it apart from the rest – its leaves do not contain chlorophyll, which means that instead of photosynthesizing, its leaves die and drop off over time.
Every plant lover has heard of succulents, but what about the ghosty succulent? This plant has a number of species, so it’s easy to get confused as to which one you have at home.
I’ve been fascinated with Graptopetalum pentandrum ever since I discovered it in the Austin, Texas-area botanical gardens. It’s such an unusual plant, and so pretty! After doing some research, I learned that this plant is native to Texas and parts of Mexico, where it only grows in full sun along riverbanks and roadsides.
Graptopetalum pentandrum, also known as the five-leaved graptopetalum succulent, has been around for quite some time and has recently seen a resurgence in popularity among growers.
However, this doesn’t mean that it has become any easier to take care of. Luckily, there are some tips to help you improve your chances of success with this plant that may even surprise you with their simplicity!
Here are some tips on how to care for and propagate your own Graptopetalum pentandrum plants so you can enjoy them all year long!
Origin and distribution
Graptopetalum pentandrum is an evergreen perennial plant from Mexico. It was described by Friedrich Ludwig Heinrich Meyer in 1828, originally under a different genus. Its species name comes from Greek pente (five) and dendron (tree), alluding to its leaves, which are arranged in groups of five along its stems.
In cultivation, it is often referred to as Graptoveria pentandra or Graptopetalum bicolor var. pentandra, but neither name has been validly published according to the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN).
The species can be found in several states of Mexico; it grows at elevations between 0–2200 m above sea level. It also occurs in Guatemala and Belize, where it has been introduced.
Graptopetalum pentandrum propagation
Graptopetalum pentandrum is propagated by seed. It takes a couple of months for seeds to germinate. When they do, you should plant them immediately because they don’t have great cold tolerance and will not survive over winter in cooler climates.
However, if you live in a warm climate, you can leave your ghost succulent seeds outside without any care at all and they will come up on their own next spring.
You could also sow them directly into pots or garden beds as long as you cover them with about 1⁄4 inch of soil (or potting mix). Keep an eye out for slugs and snails that might try to eat your young Graptopetalum seedlings.
You can also propagate Graptopetalum pentandrum by division. If you notice that some of your plants have begun to crowd each other out, it’s time to divide! Dig around your ghosty succulent until you find where its roots meet its stem.
Use a sharp knife to cut through both stems just below where they meet. Then separate each section from its neighbor and replant them elsewhere in your garden or container.
Ghost plant care information
Graptopetalum pentandrum care is relatively easy, provided you can meet their basic requirements. They require bright light (some even tolerate full sun), medium water, and no fertilizer.
Even though they’re epiphytes, they must be planted in soil because most of them don’t do well without soil support; use a loose potting mix of 1 part earthworm castings to 2 parts commercial cactus mix or similar.
It’s also important to provide good drainage; if your pots have holes, line them with gravel before adding your soil.
Graptopetalums need regular feeding during warm weather—about every two weeks from spring through fall—with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half. During winter rest, reduce watering and stop fertilizing altogether.
Graptopetalum pentandrum does best in medium to bright indirect light. If you’re growing your plant indoors, be sure to provide them with several hours of direct sunlight each day.
At least 12 hours of indirect light is ideal for these plants. These plants prefer cooler temperatures, so if you live in a hot climate, try to keep your temperature between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re growing your graptopetalums.
Graptopetalum pentandrum prefers loose, well-draining soil, so choose something that’s light, fluffy and sandy (although not pure sand). Coconut coir is a good alternative if you can’t find an all-organic option.
You should also add in some compost or worm castings to help with drainage. You don’t want your potting mix to be too dense; otherwise, it will hold too much water for your plant to tolerate.
To water your Graptopetalum, start by slowly pouring water directly over its roots. This will ensure that your plant gets enough water without getting too much. If you notice that there is standing water in your Grapticpetalum’s pot after watering, you should use a fine mesh or other drains to keep excess moisture from pooling near its base.
Although Graptopetalum pentandrum does not require a specific fertilizer mixture, most horticulturists recommend using a balanced fertilizer with micronutrients, such as one that contains NPK. In addition to feeding your plant, it also stimulates its overall health by increasing photosynthesis and respiration.
While most gardening professionals suggest avoiding foliar fertilizers (applied directly to leaves), Graptopetalums are different—they readily absorb nutrients through their leaves.
Avoid fertilizers or amendments that contain heavy metals like copper or zinc—these may kill your plant.
Graptopetalum pentandrum prefers cooler temperatures, with daytime highs of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, allow nighttime lows to drop into the 40s as well. Avoid cold drafts, as they’re often located on south-facing windows and doors.
Also, avoid setting plants near vents or in drafty areas of your home. If necessary, you can grow graptopetalums outdoors all year long in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 12.
One of your primary concerns when propagating Graptopetalums is maintaining proper humidity levels, as they cannot tolerate dry air. Misting plants once or twice a day will help them retain moisture.
To keep roots from drying out, never allow pots to stand in water. If you’re growing Graptopetalum pentandrum outdoors, avoid growing them in a spot that receives full sun most of the day or one that is exposed to winds.
The ideal humidity range is between 40% and 60%. Keep a hygrometer in your propagation area to monitor levels. If they drop below 40%, you can use a humidifier or increase misting frequency.
Graptopetalums are succulents, so they are generally low-maintenance plants that don’t require heavy pruning. However, like all succulents, they still have periods of growth when they add new growth, as well as periods of dormancy in which they aren’t actively growing.
As a general rule, wait to trim your graptopetalums until after their growing season is complete. If you do need to trim them at other times of the year, remove any dead or damaged leaves with sharp shears. Don’t cut back live foliage unless it has been damaged by pests or disease; otherwise, leave it alone.
When to repot
Repotting a graptopetalum pentandrum is fairly simple, but there are some things to keep in mind. If your plant is healthy, but growing slowly, repotting every two years should be sufficient. Otherwise, you can get away with repotting every three to four years.
Graptopetalums need to go through a dormancy period in order to flower. It’s best if you can keep your plant inside until summer when temperatures are warm (60-70 degrees F) and daytime lengths are long (14 hours or more). At that point, move it outside to enjoy the sun all day; nighttime temps should be about 60 degrees F.
Move it back indoors after the frost starts in your area. You can also try growing them in containers and moving them indoors for winter. Keep in mind that they won’t flower unless they have at least 14 hours of sunlight per day.
Graptopetalum pentandrum flowers & fragrance
It’s their fragrance that makes them stand out from other succulents. They are known for a scent similar to honeysuckle or lilac. Graptopetalums range in color from white to pink to purple. In warmer climates, they tend to bloom year-round; in colder climates with less sunlight, they may only bloom in springtime.
If you’re looking for something to fill up a corner of your office, you might be better off with a slower-growing succulent like echeveria, or even a cactus. Graptopetalums are known for their speed. They can go from seedling to flowering in less than three years!
In many places, graptopetalums are considered poisonous because they contain diterpenoid glycosides. These aren’t actually very toxic to humans—they’re more toxic to livestock—but it’s important to realize that there is a risk when considering graptopetalums as a home garden plant.
USDA hardiness zones
Graptopetalum pentandrum thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 9b through 11. However, these plants can be grown as houseplants in cooler climates.
Pests and diseases
Graptopetalums are hardy succulents, but may be susceptible to common pests like aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, scale, thrips, or whiteflies. These pests can damage your plants’ leaves and stems.
Monitor your graptopetalum succulent closely so you can treat any potential problems as soon as they arise. Your succulents may also develop root rot if their roots become waterlogged or if they’re planted in containers with too much soil.
If your plant has root rot, its leaves will turn yellow and fall off. To prevent these issues from happening, keep your plants on a regular watering schedule (but don’t overwater them) and ensure that their pots have drainage holes at the bottom.
You should also inspect new plants before bringing them home—if you notice any signs of pests or disease on them, don’t bring them inside until they’ve been treated by a professional.
Though Graptopetalum pentandrum is a relatively easy houseplant to grow, it may still encounter problems when exposed to incorrect care.
If you’re not an expert in Graptopetalum pentandrum, it’s best to leave these plants in the hands of professionals, but if you are determined to take on a new plant yourself, follow the tips in this article to ensure your Graptopetalum remains healthy.