Graptopetalum paraguayense has been discovered among some succulents imported in New York in 1904. It was before deemed to be native to Paraguay (that’s the reason of its species name). Later on, they realized it was actually from central-eastern Mexico, probably Tamaulipas, though no plants have been found out in their supposed native environment ever since. By the way, it is now widespread and naturalized in Australia.
Graptopetalum paraguayense, also called “ghost plant”, probably due to its pale greyish-green colour, is a perennial, herbaceous, succulent plant native to Mexico. It consists in a cluster of curved woody branches ending up in terminal rosettes of bluish-grey leaves, reaching a maximum height of 10-20 centimeters. In addiction to being very easy to cultivate, this plant has also a highly-ornamental potential thanks to its ability to change its colour depending on the amount of light they receive. If it grows exposed to direct sunlight, it will take on dark, deep red tinges; if, instead, it grows in half-shaded condition, it will take on a strongly bluish colour. The common name “ghost plant” is also due to the diaphanous whitish pruine that covers the leaves, ephemeral and very delicate: any manipulation can damage it. These kind of hairy coatings are very common in succulent plants: they have the function to minimize water losses through evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is, simply put, the way in which plants “sweat”. Plants from arid climates, thus, to save water, have developed several mechanisms to reduce evapotranspiration, including that of coatings. Rosettes are crowded with leaves and can reach a diameter of 15 centimeter. Leaves, instead, are 3-8 centimers long and arranged in a pretty spiral around the stem. Older leaves at the base of the rosettes tend to wither and fall off, occasionally rooting as they tough the ground and thus contributing to expand the colony together with the new clumps growing at the base of the stems. The growth points is from the centre of the rosette, so, in time, the plant will form stems bare and woody at their base, elongated and ending up in a rosette at their top.
The inflorescences are called “racemes”. A raceme, in botany, is a cluster of peduncolated flowers. In the case of G. paraguayense, the raceme is borne at the top of an elongated stalk that sprouts in Spring-Summer. The flowers are very small, creamy-white with a central reddish part, star-shaped with five petals, and equipped with long peduncles. Though they are actually pretty, they aren’t the main reason why G. paraguayense is sought after: collectors appreciate more the elegance of its gut-shaped, bluish leaves.
Graptopetalum paraguayense is not difficult to grow. Here below are our cultivation tips:
Put your G. paraguayense in a bright spot. As already said above, it will turn red if exposed to sunlight. Otherwise, it will stay bluish-grey. Its condition of maximum ease, however, is light shade: that is to say a bright spot but not under direct sunlight.
G. paraguayense resists at temperatures down to -5 ° C, as long as its substrate is kept completely dry. To stay safe, on the other hand, we suggest to put it indoors with the incoming Winter.
Provide your G. paraguayense with plenty of water in spring and in summer, always waiting for the soil to dry up completely before each irrigation. In Autumn, gradually decrease the watering frequency until stopping completely in Winter.
Choose a light and well-drained substrate, but more rich nutrients than the soil you use for other succulents: an optimal solution could be mixing a standard soil for cacti with peat.
Fertilize during the growing season once every 15-20 days using a specific fertilizer for succulent. It should be rich in Phosphorus and Potassium and relatively poor in Nitrogen: dilute it in water during an irrigation.
This plant grows rather fast and therefore may need frequent repotting. Choose shallow and wide pots as it will grow much more in width than in height.
G. paraguayense, like any Graptopetalum, can be easily reproduced by division of its numerous clumps (the rosettes of leaves) or by cuttings. Among the possibilities, stem cuttings root with much more difficulty while, instead, leaf cuttings are generally successfull. The operation of dividing the clumps or burying the cuttings should be done preferably in spring. Sowing, instead, though possible in theory, is almost never used due to the scarce fertility of the seeds.
The genus name “Graptopetalum” comes from the greek words “graptos”, meaning “marked”, and “petalon”, “petal”. This is a reference to the marks present in many species of this genus.
The plants of the genus Graptopetalum in English are also called “Leatherpetal”, that means leather petals: they have flowers with particularly thick and sturdy petals, though small and grouped in inflorescences.
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