Why I Love Ghost Plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense)

– Posted in: Garden Plants, Succulents

Of all the succulents I grow, ghost plants are among the easiest and most remarkable. They are true survivors. Damaged stem? No problem. No water? The plant hunkers down and looks pretty much the same for months. Frost? It’s gotten down to 17 degrees in my garden, and the graptopetalums were fine.

The common name ghost plant probably has to do with the look of the grayish white, opalescent leaves. The plants come not from Paraguay, as the species name implies, but Mexico. Graptopetalum rosettes resemble echeverias, to which they are related. Overlapping, rounded triangles of graptopetalum leaves form a Fibonacci spiral.

Graptopetalums are chameleons. Those grown in partial shade tend to be blue-gray; in full, hot sun, gray-pink; in full sun, pinkish gray to yellow.

I have graptopetalums that look like different plants growing within ten feet of each other because of differences in sun exposure, quality of soil and amount of water.

Rosettes grow at the tips of ever-lengthening stems that become pendant over time, so graptopetalums make good cascaders. The downside to graptopetalums, like many succulents, is that their old leaves wither and fall off. New growth is from the center of the rosette, so over time you get a denuded, awkwardly long stem with a rosette on the end. You can always snap it off and replant it, though. These (above) are at Lotusland in Santa Barbara, CA.

Graptopetalums bloom in spring, producing dainty sprays of star-shaped yellow flowers.

Handle with care; leaves of graptopetalums detach readily. I wince when I hear that little snap. All parts of the plant are fairly brittle because it wants to break apart and reroot.

Because leaves and cuttings root effortlessly, graptopetalums are among the easiest succulents to propagate. Leaves that fall off and land on the ground below the mother plant may sprout beadlike leaves and threadlike roots from the stem end. These feed off the leaf, draining it of nutrients. As the tiny plant becomes established, the leaf shrivels.

Graptopetalums also can be used as a ground cover. (But like all succulents, they can’t be walked on.) Above: Graptopetalums in a garden in San Diego, designed by Michael Buckner of The Plant Man nursery.

Graptopetalums may form crested growth—rosettes that form tight clusters (above). This vignette of low-growing drifts of succulents is at Waterwise Botanicals nursery in Escondido, CA. Top to bottom: ice plant (lampranthus), Crassula ‘Campfire’, crested Graptopetalum paraguayense and Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Pork and Beans’.

A wealthy Newport Beach, CA, floral designer ornamented his Art Nouveau home with cast-concrete graptopetalums. They’re his signature plant.

It’s too bad you’re not here right now; I have three boxes the size of large shoeboxes filled with graptopetalum cuttings, and I’m looking for someone to give them to. After you’ve grown Graptopetalum paraguayense for awhile, you too will have loads of it.

 

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified.  www.debraleebaldwin.com 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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Kathleen Gilligan January 2, 2013, 7:35 am

Please keep the succulent articles coming, they promises for the season ahead here in the North, where it is 14 degrees this snow-covered morning!

Belinda January 2, 2013, 9:17 am

I am a novice succulent gardener. I received your latest book on succulents for Christmas and it appears to be very imformative accompanied by beautiful photograpy. Congrats on your success, Happy 2013!

Nell Jean January 2, 2013, 9:40 am

Ghost plant is one of my favorites, too. I save every little leaf that breaks off. Outside it’s planted between two boulders with Sedum acre. In the greenhouse it’s in a grapevine ball with Schlumbergera and a Bromeliad. My favorite is a big pot with Russelia equistiformis ‘Firecracker Fern’ surrounded by Graptopetalum. Thank you for the great photos

Shirley Kost January 2, 2013, 12:48 pm

Oh! I was in SD the 27th-29th…if I had only know this sooner! Love the plant too and use it in many of my succulent design gardens!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, TOO!

ricki January 2, 2013, 1:47 pm

That’s what plant swaps are for. You would be a star with your shoe boxes of cuttings.

Amy Zimmer January 2, 2013, 1:49 pm

Fabulous website! Thanks Frederique Lavoipierre for showing me this great resource!
Amy in Sebastopol, California

Laura Balaoro January 2, 2013, 1:52 pm

Great article Debra. I love Graptopetalums. The ones I planted on my rock wall are finally taking off . I am planting more and more of them. I can never have enough of these babies.

rosekraft January 2, 2013, 2:19 pm

I agree – what a versatile workhorse this plant is, especially here in the SF Bay area!
It has anchored one entire corner of our raised planter for over ten years…
http://pinterest.com/pin/42502790203098245/
But oh, that sharp, snapping sound of breaking leaves can make you a little anxious.

John Drexel January 2, 2013, 4:06 pm

Debra,

I have plant envy, specifically Mediterranean/Southern California style succulents. Your articles & images are always interesting and thought-provoking. We live a little inland from Atlantic City, NJ and have a Mediterranean style garden. Visitors are always surprised to see our little Amalfi Coast adjacent to a pine filled wooded area. Many of our containers are stacked in the garage for the winter with a couple of burlap-wrapped palms outside. I’d be thrilled to send you a postage check for one or more of those shoeboxes….

Sincerely,

John Drexel

Donna January 2, 2013, 7:33 pm

An indoor plant here, but a nice addition to dish gardens. Honestly Fran, I thought Saxon took a couple of your photos. You have some nice images in this post.

Becky January 2, 2013, 8:27 pm

I want one of those shoeboxes filled with graptopetalum. I live close to you Debra. Can I come over and get one from you?

PS —- I love the way you write about succulents. It is like reading a recipe by someone who loves cooking and puts a bit of themselves into the directions. It makes you want the food come out REALLY tasty —- same with succulents!!!

Debra Lee Baldwin January 2, 2013, 10:37 pm

My goodness, look at everyone clamoring for cuttings. Guess I did a good job selling you all on the plant, which is ironic, because it’s not sold at many succulent nurseries. The reason is it’s a passalong plant, so easy to start, people who have it give away cuttings, and there’s not much market for something that’s basically free. (Which makes me think I should do a post on passalong plants. Jade, for sure. And Crassula multicava, one of the few shade succulents. Btw, none are invasive except maybe carpobrotus.)

I had to laugh. Soon after I wrote this, I was in one of the few nurseries that does sell Graptopetalum paraguayense, and beneath a plump potful was a fallen leaf that had sprouted little roots and leaves, and I realized that if I didn’t already grow the plant, I’d sure be tempted to take that leaf home. (Well, it was just going to be swept up and thrown out with the trash, right?)

Let’s see…to get to your comments…Becky, since you’re on my email list, I’ll consider you vetted enough to come by my own personal place. (Those who also would like Very Special Status—which means receiving my quarterly newsletter if nothing else, but it’s a LOVELY newsletter—email me with “subscribe” in the subject line plus your name and city: Sunwriter7@cox.net.”)

John, aw, how can I say no?

Rose, great shot, every bit as good mine. I can tell those graptos are happy because they’re so fat, sassy and BLUE.

Laura, you’ll eventually have loads, but if in the meantime you want The Third Box, let me know.

Hi, Amy, welcome, and please thank Frederique for sending you to GGW!

Ricki, maybe. But I once left a plant swap with the same boxful of agave pups I’d brought, which made me realize what it’s like to attend a potluck and leave at the end of the evening with a nearly full casserole dish. True, the pups resembled little snapping crocodiles and graptopetalums might fare better. Still. (Btw, as I walked to my car, I crooned to the little agaves, “It’s OK, my pretties.” They’re now backyard behemoths with pups of their own, and no, I’m not mailing them anywhere.)

Shirley! And to think, you’ve been on my mailing list forever! Shoot.

Nell, sounds like you really know your succulents and have a lot of fun designing with them. Show us some photos!

Belinda, how lovely that someone (clearly of discerning taste) gave you my book for Christmas. Did it come with a signed bookplate? If not, and if you like, email me your address and I’ll put one in the mail for you.

Kathleen — I’m SO glad someone who lives where there’s snow on the ground liked this post. I’ve wondered if I do GGW’s readers a disservice posting about succulents so much. I mean, I CAN write about general gardening, having covered it for years for magazines (and still do, but much less after becoming an author specializing in, well, succulents).

Candy Suter January 3, 2013, 3:53 am

Hey Missy…now I know why mine look a bit different from yours. I have mine in a location with more shade. They are more grey and the leaves are longer! I was stretching over the front planter these are in trying to reach a weed and I put my knee right on a plant. Ack! All the leaves popped off but have since planted themselves. Super duper post!

Sheila Schultz January 3, 2013, 11:13 am

I always love your posts, Debra, there is never enough ‘succulent love’ as far as I’m concerned. I’m so happy you did this post on Graptopetalum’s since they are great succulents to design with and crazy easy to propagate. Thanks, and Happy New Year! (BTW, congrats on the Sunset article that just came out. Your words definitely showed the magic of Rebecca Sweet’s ‘oasis.’)

Teresa Marie January 3, 2013, 8:53 pm

I do enjoy these and echevaria so much. In Chicago I can’t seem to get them as bushy as the photos you show. My potted plants end up with infestation and I find it so challenging to re-mediate on succulents. I end up tossing out and starting over :(

Noreen Fenton January 6, 2013, 3:04 pm

Hey Debra…I would really be disappointed to see a non-succulent article by you. There are plenty of other non-succulent writers-photogs out there :0). Love your writing and photos, and never tired of them. This posting is one of my faves as it focuses on ONE plant. I have the ‘grap para’ growing as a ground cover in a few places and for some reason never thought of doing a potted arrangement of JUST ‘grap para’. I will now. I enjoy the simplification (and humor) in your articles while at the same time giving enough details to give even a novice confidence. You should really think about writing a book on SUCCULENTS SIMPLIFIED. Oh wait, you did! Can’t wait until it comes out! :0)

Leah January 13, 2013, 12:24 pm

I have some of these, and didn’t know what they were called. I love how easy they are to propogate, and that if I take a cutting to display in a vase, it looks great for weeks at a time, then can be planted. One of my favorite plants to grow for combination of being pretty and easy to maintain.

Delane January 17, 2013, 7:21 pm

It really is such a beautiful plant. Definitely at the top of my list for the new garden :)

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