Hens and chicks (Sempervivum)

Sempervivum originated in Europe and western Asia. In Rome they were planted on the roofs of homes. It was believed they would prevent witches from landing on your roof. Today they are gaining popularity in water wise gardens.

Leaves are small to conserve water, flowers can be quite showy to attract pollinators.

Plant in full sun.

Plant in well drained sandy soil.

In time these will have pink, yellow or white star shaped flowers. After flowering the rosette will die but babies will come up from the ground where the rosette was located.

There are over 40 different varieties.

Note: Did not survive the 3 months of 100’F and no rain of the summer of 2011

Stonecrop ( Sedum stonecrop )

There are over 400 species of sedum. These are succulent perennials and annuals and I purchased them as filler in the water wise bee and butterfly garden. They work best as borders or between stones. They do not do so well as a ground cover for a large area.

Rapid growers 3″-8″ tall, prune after flowering to keep them from getting leggy.

Full sun to light shade.

Good soil, well drained, they will rot if left sitting in water.

Propagate from seed or cuttings.

Stem and root root – leaves and stems darken and shrivel, leaves drop, lower stems may be covered in white strands which develop brown pellets. Cause is wet soil, improve drainage.

Did not survive the extreme heat and drought of the summer of 2011

Bric brac vine aka zigzag cactus (Cryptocereus anthonyanus )

I picked this up a year ago May at Smith and Hawkins. It is a fast grower and sold often as a hanging plant. It grew, and it grew and was too large to bring inside come winter so I left it to fend for itself. It survived the winter.

Then on the garden club garden tour I saw one potted up and growing up a trellis. How cool thought I. So I cut a branch off the monstrosity and planted it near the front door. As you can see it’s already growing strong a couple of months later. It also found the garage wall and has started its climb. I’m hoping it’ll cover a good portion of the wall before long.

I’ve had this in full sun and just afternoon sun. It’s thrived in both locations. I’ve totally ignored it in the winter and forgot to water it, still it grew.

It will survive a mild Houston winter, it did not survive the several hard frosts we had last winter. 40’F is the lowest suggested temperatures.

It is rumored to flower, I’ve yet to see one. Flowers will open only at night, for one night, and are very fragrant.

It is an epiphytic plant, you can grow it in soil or in orchid bark, use which ever pleases you. In its natural habitat it grows on trees with aerial roots. I haven’t tried that yet.

It can be trained up something or allowed to hang down something, which ever pleases you.

Propagation is easy, cut off about 4″ of a branch and stick in in some dirt.

So far I’ve not had a single problem with this plant, except that it stubbornly refuses to bloom inside or out. It’s a great climber for a cactus garden.


It is a fast grower and should fill this basket in no time. One branch broke off and we have it rooting in another pot. To propagate, take a small piece of stem, place it in soil, keep moist until you see new growth.

This plant loves light, put it in your brightest window. Keep the soil moist, but not wet.

Stapelia Hirsuta

New cuttings, potted up mid April 2018

I saw my first stapelia at the San Antonio botanical gardens and it was love at first sight, but it was in a green house so I only thought of it as an indoor plant. Later I ran into some in hanging baskets at the Conroe Extension office, again in a green house. I found some online at Logees, potted them up and left them out all winter. While they were not thrilled they made it through and they are going in the ground shortly.

These are very easy to grow. Stapelia does best planted in sand so the water can rapidly drain and the soil dry.

They may be grown in pots, the ground or in hanging pots. Mine bloomed frequently over the summer. The flowers are about 6″ across. It’s thought the large flower size helps provide shade to protect the plant from the heat. Protect from frost if outdoors, give it lots of extra light durning the winter if grown indoors.

These are carrion flowers giving off the scent of rotting meat to attract flies for pollination. Most gardeners claim it’s not a problem, idk? The flies will also lay eggs in the flowers.

This plant is native to parts of Africa and there are several sub-species with different sized, colored and shaped flowers.

Snap off a stalk and plant it. It’s that easy.

See also:
Plants of Africa: Stapelia
Floridata: Stapelia

Pencil plant ( Euphorbia tirucalli )

This is one of those cool finds you catch at the novelty plant section in Walmart. I find these, stick them in the ground and tell them ‘live or die it’s up to you’.

Pencil plant is only rated to 20’F so if we get a cold winter, it’s toast. Otherwise it should do just fine here. I’ve had it planted for about 2 months now and it’s wasted no time settling in and getting growing.

Height can get to 15′ and spread to 6′. I’m expecting Houston winters will keep it much smaller than that. It will naturally form into a shrub shaped plant.

I have mine in pretty close to full sun. Care information says it can handle partial shade.

This is a drought tolerant, loving plant. Do not over water it and plant it someplace dry.

The sap of this plant will burn you. Wear gloves to prune it. Prune it to what ever shape suits you, these are excellent for topiary fun.

It can be invasive in the right conditions, so consider carefully before planting this one. It can be a nightmare to remove because of the sap.

Not freeze tolerant.

Propagate by just not picking up fallen branches. Only slightly joking here. Propagate by stem cuttings. It is extremely easy to propagate and often fallen stems will root themselves.

Leaves can appear in the summer, and it does have tiny yellow flowers but they are of little interest.

This plant is native to southern Africa. It is in the same family as pointsettia. Treat it as you would a jade plant.

Ball moss ( Tillandsia recurvata )

Tillandsia recurvata is an epiphyte ( air plant ). Epiphytes are plants that grow above the ground, usually on another plant, ball moss can be found growing along electrical lines as well as trees. While ball moss favors oak family trees, it can be found on other species as well.

Ball moss does not harm the trees it grows on. It does favor trees that are not doing well. It uses them as anchors. Many people consider ball moss unsightly and remove it. I don’t mind it. Ball moss is easy to remove from your trees, just use your garden hose sprayer to knock them down. Fungicides that contain copper will kill ball moss, however these leave blue stains on your trees.

Ball moss loves high humidity and you find it more often in Houston proper or south and east of the city than you do up in the north west section. It grows from southern Arizona to southern Texas to southeast Georgia and Florida in humid, wet areas.

It can grow in full sun, but prefers part shade. These are very slow growing plants. Ball moss can handle temperatures down to 20’F. It also prefers locations that are protected from the wind.

Tillandsia recurvata can reach up to 10″ in a clump. Most of the clumps I see around here are just a few inches across. In the fall it sends out long stems that produce small purple flowers.

Propagate by dividing the balls.

Tillandsia plants are part of the bromeliad family and there are at least 400 known species of tillandsia. Most are small plants that are grown for foliage. They grow in warm, wet areas of the world. Some have smooth green leaves, others like ball moss have white scales ( trichomes ). These scales trap and hold water for the plant. Plants go dormant in dry times and can often be re-awakened by a warm shower or rainstorm. The tillansia with white scales can better handle sun than those with the smooth shiny leaves.

Ball moss is especially sensitive to lime, use rain or bottled ( low pH ) water for watering.
They do not like being both wet and cold.
Use only a very weak fertilizer during high growth times.

More information
Floridata: Tillandsia recurvata

String of bananas ( asteraceae senecio radicans )

This is a very easy to grow plant. North, east or a west window will do just fine, and it will forgive you many errors.

Water as needed to keep from drying out totally.

Trim strands occasionally to keep it looking nice. Trimmed strands will easily root in water.

This is a succulent that is related to the ‘string of pearls’ plant.

It will occasionally flower, flowers are small and I’m told cinnamon scented.

I find that these hanging succulent type plants really love some organic fertilizer now and again.