Among many succulents, string of dolphins is one of the cutest houseplants you can get. Even with its distinct foliage, its maintenance is not too hard. Since its first appearance, many people have been seeking for it as decorative plant.
For example, this plant became a trend in 2017, Japan. It happened after someone posted about it in Twitter. Here, we will share with you the reason behind its popularity and how to care of it.
A pollination process between String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) and Candle Plant (Senecio articulatus) produces String of Dolphins (Senecio peregrinus). This combination creates unique dusty blue-green leaves with dolphin-like shape. As a whole plant, many describe the leaves as a group of jumping dolphins on the sea.
As a matter of fact, Grisebach used the term Senecio peregrinus in 1879 to describe other species of South America. The establishment of Curio x peregrinus name in 1999 has become the current botanical name of string of dolphins. Nevertheless, many people still use Senecio to refer this plant. Moreover, it has other nicknames such as dolphin plant, dolphin necklace, flying dolphins, and Senecio hippogriff.
Size and Growth
Typically, younger plants have smaller leaves and short stems. The fleshy “dolphin” leaves has a unique feature called transparent “leaf window”. With this natural adaptation, sunlight could pass through the leaf interior. As a result, string of dolphins can tolerate low lighting.
Dolphin plants would grow 15 cm (6 inches) tall, before the stems start to trail along with the plant maturity. In a year, the green/dark green stems could grow up to 50 cm (20 inches) or more in natural habitat. Under ideal condition, string of dolphins could live around 20 years.
As a member of Asteraceae family, this plant also produces daisy-like flowers in warm months. The flowers are small, soft, and have a faint cinnamon smell. White, cream, or pink tiny flowers form a pompom with yellow or red filaments. After wilting, they change into delicate seed heads resembling dandelion poof.
An attempt to bloom the flowers indoor is more difficult than outdoor. It also depends on the plant condition during winter dormancy. Imperfect care would affect the flower quality, and the flowers might never bloom.
Nonetheless, here are the tips to promote the flowering at home.
- Keep a temperature around 59°F (15°C) from late autumn till early spring.
- The soil must dry completely before every thorough watering.
- Let the plant receives 2-3 hours of direct sunlight, but not the intense one.
- Only apply a little bit of fertilizer during this period.
- Leave the plant in its slightly root-bound condition, so don’t repot it for a mean time.
Location to Grow String of Dolphins
You may let string of dolphins grow outdoor in USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11b or region with warm weather all year around. Grow the plant in a pot/hanging basket or let it stays in the rock as a ground cover.
Place the plant in a shelter or shaded area under trees or patio to receive bright indirect sunlight. Thus, string of dolphins can avoid hot, direct, midday sun with this setting. Frequent watering might be necessary since the sun and wind dry the soil quickly.
In a cold region, it is possible to take the plant outdoor in summer. For this purpose, we suggest you to grow the plant in a shallow portable container. Take it out after the risk of frost has passed. Then, bring the plant indoor once the temperature falls to 12°C (55°F). To protect the plant, always check the temperature during the day and night.
An area where you can admire its beauty is good, but you must consider other factors. Placing the plant near bright window with good ventilation is the most ideal. If you prefer coffee table or bookshelves, ensure the plant get enough light.
Additionally, you must provide warm temperature and medium-low humidity. For safety, ensure the plant position is far from the pet and kid’s reach.
The plant itself has done a good job as an elegant display on its own. However, you can pair or add other houseplants with it. For instance, octopus agaves and Senecio madraliscae would enliven the ocean vibe of string of dolphins in your living place.
Dolphin plants requires 6 hours of bright indirect light on daily basis. The best spot for these plants is bright and sunny windowsill that provide ideal morning or evening sunlight. Many suggest occasional rotation so that the plant gets equal lighting distribution.
Improper lighting effects
Too low light
In low light condition, these plants may show leggy stem, sparse leaves, etc. Without enough chlorophyll, dolphin necklace could suffer for colorist. Moreover, they could lose their dolphin shape. It also means that the soil will dry slower, leading to overwatering issue.
Even though they can adapt to medium lighting, their growth will not be optimum. To fulfill the lighting needs, you may install LED grow light or T-5 fluorescent light indoor. It is really handy in winter and in a dark room.
Too bright light
Senecio peregrinus plants indeed love bright light, but at the same time their leaves are vulnerable to sunburn. Sunburn, yellow and scorched (brown) leaves, curling leaves, dry stems and soil are the effects of extreme sunlight.
In this situation, simply remove the damaged leaves straightway. This is a right way because you cannot recover the already damaged leaves. Then, move the plant in a less bright area.
Tips. Don’t put the plants directly near the window glass as the heat from the sun could hurt them.
Temperature and Humidity
Many plant collectors like the fact that string of dolphins is able to grow well in regular household temperature and humidity level.
Surprisingly, as a non-frost tolerant succulents they prefer cooler than hotter temperature. In fact, they can even tolerate cold temperature of 4°C (40°F). However, extreme frost will form ice crystals on the plant which damaging the growth mechanism.
Yet, these plants would thrive really well in warm and sunny climate. Therefore, try to keep indoor temperature between 18° and 22°C (65° and 72°F).
- Use incandescent light when temperature drops. It is a grow light that could increase the temperature. Kill two birds with one stone.
- Consider using frost blanket or heating pad to help the plant combating the frost.
Since the parent plants evolve in an arid region of South Africa, low humidity is more common. In other words, high humidity is not dolphin plants’ requirement. In addition, high humidity could lead to foliage and root rot.
While people spend their money and effort to increase the humidity level for tropical houseplants, you could leave this greenery as it is. Average humidity level (40%-50%) if fine, but a bit drier environment is more preferable. So, put the plant away from high humid area such as bathroom.
Light and loose soil with high mineral consistency is what this plant likes. These soil characteristics encourage proper draining and will not let the root and soil become too wet. Healthy roots will ensure smooth nutrients absorption for excellent growth.
The most effortless way here is to buy the soil mix products. Basically, choose those that intended for cacti or succulent which usually have pH 6.6-7.5. Several products help preventing overwatering, have balanced pH, and pathogen free. You don’t have to add other materials on this potting mix.
If you want to make your own soil mix, you may use the following combination:
- potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite (3:2:1)
- perlite, coarse sand, peat moss (1:2:2)
- potting soil and perlite (1:2)
- sand, pumice, and potting soil (1:1:2)
String of dolphin is not a heavy feeder plant that needs frequent fertilization. Instead, overfeeding may endanger the leave peculiar shape and make it susceptible to disease and pest. However, a light feeding still have benefits for the plant growth and blooming.
ONLY feed twice a year between early spring and early autumn. If you have finished repotting or propagating, wait for several weeks before applying fertilizer.
Many recommend using organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion, liquid kelp, or worm compost. General liquid houseplant fertilizer, specialty succulent fertilizers, and slow-release fertilizer work for string of dolphins too.
Follow the label instructions properly especially for commercial fertilizers. Always go with “diluted at half-strength” rule since less feeding is better than too much. Apply fertilizer on the soil NOT on the plant itself.
Like most succulents, the fleshy leaves of dolphin necklace plants could store water. With this ability, they can stand long drought period. ONLY water the plant if the soil is completely dry from previous watering. Typically, this plant will need water every week in summer and monthly in winter.
- First, put the pot in kitchen sink, bathtub, or a bucket.
- Second, run small stream of water on the pot for several minutes.
- Third, stop the water and leave the plant for 15-20 minutes for a complete draining. Throw the excess water on the saucer if any.
- Last, return the pot in its original spot.
- Use rainwater or distilled water at room temperature which is free from chemicals and minerals.
- Early morning a good time to water the plants as they are still fresh.
Signs of wrong watering
You can also use this signs to find out whether your plant is thirsty or not.
- Overwatering signs: yellow, brown, or transparent leaves, falling leaves, squishy/mushy leaves.
Remove the damaged leaves immediately since you won’t be able to heal them completely. Then, stop watering and reduce the water amount on the next watering after it recovers. Inspect the root condition too in case of rot.
- Under watering signs: dull, deflated, and dry foliage, shriveling, yellow spots, crispy texture leaf, soft and limp plant.
Lack of water is not the only cause of under watering. For instance, hot temperature and strong wind could dry the soil faster. Hence, give the plant deep watering by soaking it properly. Make sure it stays in favorable condition (e.g. indirect lighting, closed window, etc.).
Note. Depend on the area condition, different watering adjustment might be necessary. A good example is when you travel for weeks in summer. Although it is a drought tolerant succulent, you must provide the plant with enough water for storing before you leave.
Potting and Repotting
Excellent soil quality will be useless without the right pot. What kind of pot you use also determine how effective the watering is.
Selecting a pot
- Ensure the pot has one drainage hole at minimum. More drainage holes are better. Drill some if possible.
- Terracotta pot is the gardeners’ favorite since it help absorbing excess moisture.
- Use small pot because oversized pot slows down the drainage process.
As dolphin plants love staying in a little root-bound condition, repotting might take place every 2 or 3 years generally. The best time for repotting is during warm season. Repotting aims to give plant more space to grow and refresh the soil. Some noticeable signs of repotting are: roots occupy the space in the form of thick mat and the plant slowly pressing the pot sides.
Allowing root-bound has advantage to produce flowers. However, repotting becomes obligatory when the plant does not grow well anymore. Repotting can be the right time to check the plant health too.
- To lower the transplant risk, water the plant a day before.
- Prepare new pot which is one size larger than the old pot.
- Fill a quarter of the pot with fast-draining and coarse potting mix.
- Wear gloves and slide the plant out from the pot gently.
- While loosen the root and remove the soil, check for any abnormality.
- If the roots have become very thick, cut a minimum of one inch of the root balls. Use clean blade to encourage new growth.
- Insert the plant in the pot and add soil on the edges. Tap the soil lightly to fill the empty space.
To increase the chance of survival and success rate, propagate the plant in growing season.
- Choose stems with length between 7 and 15 cm.
- Take some cutting with 2 or more nodes.
- Leave the stem cuttings for a few days to allow callus development.
- When growing in soil, lay down the cuttings and keep the soil moist.
- If you choose water, remove the lowest leaves to prevent rot. The nodes should be under the water while the remaining leaves stay above. The roots usually develop after some weeks. Then, you may transfer them to the new soil.
- Place the cutting under bright indirect lighting.
- Either water or mist the soil once or twice a week to fasten the root development.
- Keep a warm temperature (minimum 15°C).
- Once the roots have established and new growths appear, you could transfer the plant in the main pot.
- Callus formation works to prevent the cutting from rotting.
- Some dropping leaves is common in propagation, so don’t worry too much.
- Applying rooting hormone on the cutting is optional. In particular, dolphin plants don’t need rooting hormone since their roots start growing fast.
- Callus development may take a few hours at the fastest and months for extreme case. Usually, thicker stems take longer time to heal.
- During growing season, cut some healthy leaves using sterilized shears to prevent infection.
- Wait until the leaves form the callus.
- Lay down the leaves on the fresh soil. More leaf cuttings on the soil is better in case one of them fails.
- Water the cuttings and cover with glass or plastic.
- Give water again when the soil almost dried up.
- Provide leaf cuttings with ample lighting.
- New growth may emerge after several weeks.
- After that, you can remove the cover and let the plant thrives.
- Leaf cutting works well with succulents that have thick fleshy leaves.
- Despite the growing roots, there is a chance that the leaf cuttings don’t produce new leaf and stem.
Dolphin necklace plants rarely become the pest target. With proper care you can protect the plants from the pest. If you find pest infestation earlier, you could get rid of them faster. Be aware that both the plant and pest have small size, so check the plant thoroughly.
These tiny pests has a trademark where they form white web undersides. After sucking the plant sap, the leaves will turn yellow and falling off. Spray the plant with cold water to remove spider mites. Use neem oil solution if the previous attempt fails.
Mealybugs have a white fluffy appearance which produce sticky substance. Wilting and curling leaves are some indications of mealybug attack.
Prepare cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol, then use it to remove the pests. Then, eliminate the rest of pests using insecticidal soap. Dilute it with water and you can go.
Thankfully, this plant is not prone to specific diseases. You just have to control the watering, as it often becomes the cause of some plant problems.
Moist condition may occur due to overwatering, lack of light, high humidity, clayey soil, etc. Once the roots experience waterlog, fungal issue may arise. Mushy stems and yellow leaves are some effects of root rot.
Try to improve the soil drainage and stop watering for a while. When root rot becomes a very dangerous situation, just take some cuttings from the healthy parts and replant them. This way, you won’t lose the plant completely.
Dolphin necklace plants need pruning and grooming as they can grow pretty fast. In the early age, the plants stay upright. After they reach 6 inches long, they start to trail outside the pot. Maintenance is able to manage the plant size and thicken the plant.
- When pruning, always use disinfected tools. Remove the dead and dying leaves. Make a clean cut on the healthy parts for faster recovery. Do this during spring and summer to avoid pruning shock.
- Never trim the plants more than one-third of its size since it could stress them. You can either throw the pruned stems or use them for propagation.
Rarity and Its Issues
It is a common understanding that hybrid plants or crossbreed plants are harder to find than their parent plants. And it is the same case with string of dolphins. If you eager to add this rare plant into your collection, you must search for the information diligently. Once it is on sale, grab it quickly before too late.
There might be a time when you will find dolphin plant seeds instead of the mature plant version on sale. Unfortunately, planting the plant from seed is quite challenging. The fact that there are people who success in producing the seeds is already amazing. Still, this is how to do the seed planting method for you who want to give it a try.
- To imitate the germination process, soak the seeds in warm water.
- Then, continue to soak them in cold water.
- Next, plant the seeds in pot/container with good soil.
- Wrap the pot with transparent plastic. Poke some holes for smooth aeration.
- Mist the seeds to maintain a slightly moist soil.
- Wait for the sprout to pop out.
- After the seedlings established well, open the plastic cover and move them.
Note. The result of seed planting is unpredictable even with the best care. Some of them might never root or don’t produce dolphin-shaped leaves.
Unable to find dolphin plants in garden centers, nurseries, or plant shops? Try online shops! With its popularity, there are specialty growers who sell this plant online.
The plant will already have root system in 2 or 3 inches pot. You may have to register for waiting list due to the limited supply.
Beside the pot size, you should expect that it will be more expensive than other common succulents. Also check the shipping detail, so that you can receive the plant safely.
Ask for one or some cuttings
If you brave enough, how about asking a cutting from plant collectors or people you know? Some people would gladly share what they have since they know it is not easy to get a hold of string of dolphins.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is String of Dolphins poisonous?
Sadly, yes. Similar to other Senecio plants, this plant is quite toxic to dog, cat, and horse. Actually, pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the stem and leaf works as secondary metabolite. If accidentally consumed, here are the symptoms you need to know.
Pets: anorexia, diarrhea, gray mucus membrane, vomiting, weakness, and liver damage (in severe condition).
Humans: diarrhea, anorexia, vomiting, hepatomegaly, and splenomegaly.
Why the leaves of String of Dolphins flatten?
Overwatering plus lack of light could trigger this problem. Let the soil to dry while moving it to a brighter place.
Why String of Dolphins shrivel?
It occurs due to under watering and excessive light and hot temperature.
Why the leaves of String of Dolphins grow upward?
Experts call this condition as etiolation. The stems stretch upwards than it usually did to follow the light source.