Sunday, July 5, 2009

An appalling plant

Some plants can appal you by the way they suddenly die, no matter how careful and attentive you are as a gardener (in my part of the world just by saying the word 'brown boronia' I could set many gardeners' heads nodding in ready agreement). Other plants appal by the alternative means – by how easily, far too easily, they grow, spread and colonise areas where you don't want them to be. Yes, I'm talking weeds here but mostly I want to blog about a special class of weeds – the ones I actually pay money for and now regret ever buying. Such as this one. Kalanchoe daigremontianum syn. Bryophyllum daigremontianum, otherwise named (as I only discovered while Googling this afternoon) 'Mother of Thousands' or 'Mother of Millions'. It's a native of Madagascar. I had heard it said and written many times that 'mother of millions' was an appalling weed, but I had never seen the whole plant, only a couple of photos of its flowers.

Here's another cohort of weedettes ready to colonise unsuspecting succulent pots below. Another common name for this chap is Mexican Hat Plant, and that's an appropriate one, too. Those little dark 'hats' poking out the side, looking like so many little ears, soon drop off the mother plant and sprout wherever they land. And the germination rate is super-high – about nine in ten of them seem to make it to planthood.

I do distinctly remember saying something to the effect of "wow, that's interesting" when Pammy wandered over with the pot in her hand at a gardening festival up in the Blue Mountains – but she bought it! It was only a couple of dollars and we're suckers for unusual succulents, so if she didn't buy it I probably would have done so later in the day.

The plant's ability to drop baby plants is prodigious. Virtually every other potted succulent in my succulent collection had several baby 'mother of millions' plants coming up. And I still keep finding them. Yes, I'm planning to get rid of this anti-social plant soon, but Pammy asked me to at least let it flower once, so she could see what they looked like. And so I've removed the pot to our paved pergola area, where the plant can no longer bother the other succulents. These babies are at the base of the 'mother' pot, and that's a pretty typical infestation.

I have to confess that I was more than a bit slow on the uptake about this plant's dangers. So when the very first baby plant came up I cheerfully, foolishly, rashly, idiotically potted it up, thinking 'freebie!'. Just two weeks, and a thousand babies later, I came to my senses.

As soon as I saw the flowers I went "oh oh" and recognised them, and this morning headed for Google to confirm my worst suspicions. We had actually paid money (not much, mind you) for one of the most notorious weeds going. For the record, this is the tubular, dusky pink, quite uninteresting flower which Pammy has been waiting for. Ho hum, I say!

Getting quite desperate, I tried some early morning backlighting on the flowers. Still it's still just an uneasy mixture of horror and 'ho hum'.

So you live and learn when buying cheap plants at a gardener's fair. You never know what you'll get. Buying mother of millions is a bit embarrassing and annoying, but it's not half as bad as bringing home a baby Triffid, so I ought to keep it all in perspective and just put it down to experience!


Chookie said...

Good luck with getting rid of it. BTW, you probably should ring Blue Mountains Council to tell them that a local is selling this weed at whatever fete you went to. Or the fete organisers. Yours looks like a hybrid form from here; is it?

Jamie said...

Might be. I think there are several different species of Bryophyllum, all of which have the common name of Mother of Millions. So it's probably an uncommon species, which explains the odd looks.
And it was bought at the Garden Gnome day at Glenbrook on the Australia Day weekend. The guy selling the plant was a backyarder probably. When I got it home and unpotted it, he had used an inch of potting mix on top and the rest was the dodgiest mix of garden soil and bits of chopped up white foam broccoli box! He presumably laughed all the way to the bank, or didn't even know what he had.

Kenneth Moore said...

Oh man, dude... I went to a shop-local event thing the other weekend and bought some plants--a pregnant onion, a prayer plant, and some begonias. I actually bought the pregnant onion because it had three or four little Kalanchoe babies on top of the soil from the older plant next to it on the table. I would never have bought Kalanchoe itself, but if it's a freebie with another plant... Well, I put them in a separate pot and they're rooting nicely. I plan on keeping them separate. I have heard too many horror stories not to treat them with respect, but I need to learn the lesson for myself before deciding not to keep the guys!

James Missier said...

I had fun time with mother of thousand. I also found that they don't grow well in wet soggy soil.

It happened to rain everyday for past 2 weeks and all them rotted and died. I have few which I kept them at the balcony garden and its well controlled.

They can grow without water for weeks, very beautiful to place them as small containers by the kitchen side.

The good news about this plant is that if you do get burned while cooking or scalded, you can crush these leaves and place them immediately, the burning sensation goes away immediately.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to disagree but I love this plant!

K Edwards said...

I also like this plant a lot. It is easy to grow & pretty too. it's adorable

Nan said...

I was glad to read this string, although it didn't answer my question: what do I do with it now that I have it?

I was bequeathed a potted Kalanchoe and took care of it in my office. I was delighted to see the babies pop out on the edges of the leaves, looked it up and found out about it. I further put some soil in a saucer with the rooted babies on it, misted it occasionally, and that in turn turned into many, many new plants.

I have learned since that it is an invasive species in Texas (I don't want to contribute to that problem) and that it is toxic to pets. I have several cats and dogs at home and in my neighborhood, so I don't want to poison anyone, either. I'm reluctant to destroy these plants because they are delightful to see, but I will euthanize them if necessary.

I even asked two plant experts (one a botany professor who specializes in succulents) at the University of Texas, and neither of them responded.

Jamie said...


Despite it looking nice, I would get rid of it, as it will be a constant headache for you. I have removed mine, but after doing that I then had to stay on the lookout for baby plants still coming up. With persistence I succeeded, and now it's gone.

For the sake of your pets, and the local environment, bid goodbye to it is my advice.

Best wishes


Shawn Marie said...

As adorable as they are, I've just taken ours out onto the balcony, where it will stay until I can find a better place for it (I don't want it bothering my other plants). I was noticing our 7-week-old kitten was vomiting at least once a day over a few days - not related to hair balls. While she didn't lose her appetite or stop drinking water, that was unusual. I also noticed that the Kalanchoe plant was being eaten by her so I hurried and looked it up. Kitten is fine and happy and the plant was removed. I'll hang on to my African violets for now. Everything else can stay outside.

keepcalmlaxmom said...

The owner at our local garden shop gave my son five tiny "babies" and told him to put them in a pot on the windowsill. Six years later we have a set of three adorable decorative 3" pots that thrive on the sill. I am a first class plant killer normally, but if I forget to water, these hardly little succulents are so forgiving. The babies mostly fall off and wither into the saucer and the size of the pot will limit the prolific growth.

Melissa Moon said...

Does anyone know how long it takes for this plant to flower? I got my "aligators tongue" aka mother of millions (it looks exactly the same as pictured above) in May and it's already about 12" tall. Its produced tons of babies and keeps producing more. Very healthy looking, but I was curious how long you had yours before the flowers bloomed? And did your plant die after blooming? I read that the mother plant does after she blooms so if you want to keep a plant around, you should pot some babies when they call off. Not sure if that's accurate.. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Kalanchoe is toxic, that is why the kitty was sick. Are there other varieties of Kalaheo other than the mother of thousands?

Unknown said...

My indoor plant is over 4 feet tall in 1 single stalk. The babies are well under controlled as I pluck them off weekly. Can I wack it down to a more manageable height like 1-2 feet?

Emma Bara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emma Bara said...

I have one of these that I both loathe and love....actually I say I have one but I think this is probably 10th generation of the one that I inherited from my grandmother 30 years ago! I have tried to kill them over the years but always end up saving one or two for nostalgia - I am in the UK, so outdoor infestation isn't a problem and just sweep up the babies periodically. We don't see them here often, so they are good to send in to school with the kids to have in the classroom - dual purpose as an interesting plant and for irritating grumpy teachers!;).

Anonymous said...

I have an acre of land over run by this terrible plant hours have turned into days of work trying to remove it. Dry conditions in Queensland not a problem for it and it grows very well under the septic tank sprinklers. I inherited a yard full of weeds when I bought this house. Lantana, Moses in a cradle, asparagus vine mother in laws tongue. This is by far the worst weed. It just runs riot and you end up with a carpet of it as it takes over everything else. I hand rake areas removing mulch to get rid of it. My advice kill it now while you can.