Graptopetalum paraguayense

mother-of-pearl plant


Graptopetalum paraguayense

(N.E.Br.) E.Walther 1938

pronounced: grap-toh-PET-al-um PAR-uh-gway-enss

(Crassulaceae — the stonecropfamily)

common names: mother-of-pearl plant

Graptopetalum is derived from two Greek words, γραπτος (graptos), marked as with letters, and πεταλον (petalon), a leaf, petal, referring to the marks on the petals of many species in the genus. The genus was erected in 1903 with the intention of handling certain “difficult to classify” plants that were at the time mostly included in Sedum. A distinct point of definition for the genus is that the stamens curve outwards and downwards between the petals shortly after the flower opens, when the stigmas become receptive. The species in this genus range from low plants with rosetted leaves to branching shrubs and hanging vines, from tiny plants to rather large ones. Graptopetalum paraguayense was originally thought to be native to Paraguay, having been found among cactus plants imported to New York in 1904, and only later determined to be from Mexico, although it has not been found in the wild there since then. A very similar plant, now known as G. paraguayense ssp. bernalense, was discovered in the state of Tamaulipas in north-eastern Mexico, so the origins of G. paraguayense are very likely nearby.

This is a small, rosette-forming succulent that normally has greyish white, opalescent leaves, and can give a unique colour contrast when paired with darker plants. The plant is something of a chameleon, and the colour of the leaves will vary considerably, even to pale blue and light purple, depending on the amount of shade where it is growing. In full hot sun, they will sometimes be a yellowish or a greyish pink. Even soil types, and the amount of watering received, can effect the colour. Each rosette is up to about 15 cm wide, and the overlapping rounded triangles of leaves form a Fibonacci spiral.

Individual leaves will root when broken off, eventually forming an attractive mass of rosettes. The rosettes spread on stems, creating a low spreading colony.

As well as the curving outwards of the stamens, the members of the genus have 5 or 6 petals and twice as many stamens, connate to the middle, radially spreading above. The flowers are white, about 2 cm wide, and with small red specks.

This is a good plant for the rock garden, or tucked into the crevices of dry walls, or spilling out of mixed containers. Rosettes grow at the tips of ever-lengthening stems that become pendant over time. The downside is that the old leaves wither and fall off, and, as new growth is at the centre of the rosette, over time the stem becomes long and denuded, with a single rosette at the end. If this becomes unsightly, the rosette can be broken off and replanted.

When planted indoors, the mother-of-pearl plant needs high light. Wherever it is grown, it prefers a coarse, well-drained soil that goes dry between waterings. Plants grow readily from cuttings, but should be handled carefully, as the leaves break off easily. In the garden, the plants should be kept well away from foot traffic, because of their fragility.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2014
Page last updated 7th January 2019