Mother Of Thousands: A Self-Sowing Succulent

Mother of Thousands may sound impressive, but better yet, it’s true! This unique plant goes by the botanical name of Bryophyllum daigremontiana. Sometimes called the Mexican hat plant or devil’s backbone, it’s an incredibly interesting xeriscape plant or houseplant.

Its common name comes from the many plantlets that form along its leaf edges. One plant very literally could be the mother of thousands! Those broad, fleshy leaves are the source of many gardener’s delight, but they also can pose a problem if the plantlets aren’t kept in check.

So let’s talk about this strange little succulent and discuss the best way to care for it!

Good Products For Growing Bryophyllum Daigremontiana:

Quick Care Guide

Mother of thousands
Mother of thousands is an unusual succulent to grow. Source: Scott Zona
Common Name(s): Mexican hat plant, devil’s backbone, alligator plant, mother of thousands
Scientific NameBryophyllum daigremontiana 
Family:Crassulaceae
Zone:9-11
Height & Spread:18″-24″ height (with flower stalks)
LightBright, indirect lighting (6+ hours per day)
SoilWell draining sandy soil, like a cactus and succulent mix
Water:Water only when soil is dry
Pests & Diseases:Aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, root rot

All About the Mother Of Thousands

Alligator plant alongside road
In an outdoor bed, it can rapidly self-sow if one doesn’t remain attentive. Source: wlcutler

There’s been some confusion about the botanical name for this Madagascar native plant. Technically, its botanical name is Bryophyllum daigremontiana. However, it’s often also referred to as Kalanchoe daigremontiana. 

While calling it Kalanchoe daigremontiana isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does confuse matters. After all, most kalanchoe plants are prized for their unique and unusual flowers. While mother of thousands does produce flowers, they’re a strange greyish-pink color instead of bright and cheerful.

Large, bluish-green leaves with pointed tips grow in pairs from the stem. As the plant grows, each pair of leaves is staggered directly opposite the other. New leaves pair up 90 degrees away from the older ones, enabling all leaves to have good access to sunlight.

These lovely leaves can be up to three inches wide and six inches in length. But what truly sets it apart are the baby plantlets that grow along the serrated leaf edges. Tiny miniatures of their mother plant, they act in lieu of seeds for the plant.

The pinkish-grey flowers are long and tubular, dangling downward from long slender flower stalks. Seeing the flowers appear is rare, but does occasionally happen. Most of the appeal of this succulent plant comes from its foliage instead of the flowers.

A close relative of mother of thousands, “Mother of millions”, has narrower leaves with plantlets forming at the tip. It too is a member of the Bryophyllum family, but it definitely doesn’t look like its cousin!

Some of the common names for this plant are Mexican hat plant, devil’s backbone, and the alligator plant. 

Mother Of Thousands Care

As a popular house plant, kalanchoe daigremontiana is fairly easy to take care of. Here’s everything you should know about its care and maintenance. 

Light & Temperature

You’ll find that your mother of thousands plant prefers a minimum of 6 hours of light per day, although in hot climates indirect sunlight is best. Its distinctive leaves are subject to sunburn if they’re in intense sunlight. These can be grown in west or north-facing windows to provide enough bright light, or you can supplement with a grow light.

Mexican hat plant grows best in temperatures ranging between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. While it can tolerate temperatures down into the 40’s, it’s best to bring these indoors when the weather gets cold.

Zones 9-11 are best for people growing these outdoors. Indoors, of course, they can be grown anywhere!

Water & Humidity

Extremely drought-tolerant, this succulent comes from an area that is often quite arid. It can survive periods of no water at all, but does perform best if it has at least a little moisture.

Avoid watering the leaves of the plant and focus on the soil. If the soil is dry to at least 2” below the surface, dampen it with room-temperature water and wait for a few minutes, then re-water once more. This enables the planting medium to rehydrate gradually. Be sure any excess moisture drains off readily.

These plants require the most water during their active growing season in spring and summer. During the fall and winter, you can reduce the watering frequency.

There’s no need to provide additional humidity for your kalanchoe daigremontiana. 

Soil

Mother of thousands flowers
The pinkish-grey flowers of mother of thousands are long and tubular. Source: RachidH

Well-drained, sandy soil is ideal for your bryophyllum daigremontiana. In fact, a succulent and cactus mix works beautifully. The goal is to ensure that it has good drainage and that standing water cannot form around your plant. Most cactus or succulent potting mixes have perlite, extra sand, and the like to guarantee good drainage.

The pH of the soil is not really a major concern for this succulent. If you do monitor your pH levels, aim for a healthy neutral and you’ll be fine.

Fertilizer

These plants don’t require a huge fertilizer supply. Instead, opt for fertilizing it once in the spring and once in the summer. Use a liquid fertilizer that’s been diluted to half-strength. Skip fertilizing in fall or winter.

Propagation

All you need to propagate this unique plant are its plantlets. Seed is not a viable method, and while cuttings are possible, the plantlets are far easier!

As the plant goes dormant towards the winter months, it will drop some plantlets. You can also use a light touch to see if any are ready to come free from the leaf on their own. Don’t apply much pressure, just a light touch, and if it’s ready it’ll come right off.

Moisten some potting soil and lay your plantlets on top. Keep the soil damp by misting it occasionally with water. You can provide a clear plastic cover if you’d like to slow down moisture evaporation, and keep it indoors until you see roots. The baby plantlets will stretch out their roots and dig in on their own!

Other than through its tiny little children, there’s no other reliable way to propagate this plant successfully. But trust me, it’ll handle that on its own.

Repotting

Mother of thousands rarely needs to be repotted. In all honesty, the only time you’ll need to repot is if plantlets have fallen and colonized your container, at which point you’ll want to remove the younger plants and put them in their own containers. Make sure the containers have good drainage holes.

Pruning

The only pruning your kalanchoe daigremontiana will require is to trim off spent flower stalks. Once the flowering ends, use clean pruning snips and trim off the stalk right where it emerges from the leaves.

Troubleshooting

Mexican hat plant along road
Spent and bare flower stalks poke out of this roadside stand of Mexican hat plant. Source: Starr

Although your mother of thousands plant is easy to maintain, it is extremely vulnerable to root rot and can have some pest issues. Here’s how you can manage these problems. 

Growing Problems

Mother of thousands is particularly susceptible to overwatering. It can go limp if there’s too much moisture. Keep your plant’s leaves firm by only watering when the soil has dried out to 2” below its surface.

The only problem people report is that they have too many of these little plants, because they do self-sow their plantlets with ease. Keep excess dropped plantlets picked up to prevent its spread. If it’s planted outdoors, you’ll have to stay on top of this or it can grow invasively if the climate’s to its liking! Indoors, you can grow these with very few issues, but may have to pick up baby plants as they drop off.

Pests

Mealybugs or other forms of scale insects are opportunistic little things. So are aphids. These sucking pests love the fact that your succulent has thick, juicy leaves, and they will latch on easily.

To keep these irritating pests at bay, spritz the plant regularly with neem oil. Introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings is also an excellent idea. Stubborn scale can be removed with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Diseases

Your largest disease potential comes from fungal root rots. These develop in overwatered soil conditions, and it can rapidly kill off your plant. Be sure that your potting mix is very well draining and make sure that the pot is not sitting in water. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is the Mother of Thousands plant poisonous?

A: Yes, all the parts of the plant are poisonous, especially for pets and young children. Keep this one well out of reach of your kids and your pets.

Q: Is the Mother of Thousands invasive?

A: They can be when grown outdoors. Indoors it’s less common, although you might find extra plants popping up in your planter. 

Thankfully, it’s easy to remove newly-spreading plants. Just grasp at the base of the plant and pull straight up, and it’ll come free from the ground. If you’d like to replant it elsewhere, loosen around the base of the plant first so that the roots can slide free easily.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

Clarisa Teodoro
Researcher

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