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Getting to know the Senecio plant family

It’s a large one with approximately 100 succulent types in the genus

Fishhooks Plant is an attractive trailing succulent.

Sometimes I come across an unfamiliar plant and become so intrigued by it that I go home and research it. This happened last fall when I saw a display of Fishhooks Plant in a local garden centre.

Fishhooks Plant is its common name; its botanical name is Senecio radicans. It belongs to a huge plant family (the daisy family) and there are about 100 succulent-type plants in the genus. The Fishhooks Plant has the thick fleshy leaves typical of all succulents as the plants are characterized by their ability to store water in their foliage. For this reason, succulents are usually easy care, being extremely drought and heat tolerant, not fussy about soil type and are happy as long as they are exposed to bright light. Most succulents will do well in front of a south- or west-facing window, but that might be too much light in the summer when the stronger rays of the sun could burn their foliage.

Most Senecio plants are trailing ones; they may begin as upright in form but as their stems elongate, they tend to trail or ramble. Fishhooks Plant can produce stems that are over a metre in length so it is definitely a trailer, best displayed as a hanging plant. Its long, thin leaves are incurved — almost tubular — and are blue green in colour. The leaves are attached to long, pendulous stems. To keep the plant from getting too large the stems can be pruned, and the pruned stems can be used as cuttings to start new plants as they root readily in a dampened soilless mix. The ends of the stems that were cut off will soon produce new growth — usually two branches — so pruning creates a thicker, denser specimen.

Like most succulents, Fishhooks Plant prefers a light, fast-draining soil and should be fertilized very sparingly — once a year, if that often. It only needs to be watered every couple of weeks and the soil should be allowed to almost completely dry out between waterings. Senecio plants are not prone to attack by insects although if kept too wet mealy bugs might become an issue. They can be controlled by removing them (they look like small pieces of cotton fluff and usually appear in leaf axils) using a Q-Tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. The best defence against mealy bugs is good air circulation and not keeping plants too wet.

As I did more research about Senecio plants I realized that succulents from this family are more familiar than I thought and many of us may have grown. One such plant is String of Pearls, a close relative with the botanical name Senecio rowleyanus. This plant is known for its round green leaves that are attached to long, pendulous stems, looking much like bright-green, shiny pearls. Another is the Chalk Plant. S. vitalis and S. serpens are two varieties of Chalk Plant that have blue-green foliage and are rather upright in growth habit, likely getting their common name from the fact that their foliage is covered with what appears to be a white, chalk-like powder. It is best not to touch the foliage of such plants as the white coating is easily marked, detracting from its attractiveness.

While Fishhooks Plant and String of Pearls are definitely hanging plants, some others such as the Chalk Plant, can be grown as potted plants or combined with other non-trailing succulents and cacti to create interesting dish gardens.

Another S. radicans besides Fishhooks Plant is a variety called String of Bananas. This variety has puffy crescent-shaped leaves that do indeed have a banana shape.

If you see an unusual display of succulents in a garden centre this year, read the plant labels and not just the signage with the common names. If you see the word Senecio, you’ll know that the plants are low maintenance, easy to look after and attractive members of a large plant family — one with which you might already be familiar with. Treat yourself to one that you haven’t grown before and add it to your indoor landscape.

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