Photo: gilintx, via Flickr

Since Halloween is just around the corner, I thought I’d write about ghost plant today.

I can’t remember exactly when, or from where, I acquired ghost plant, but I’ve had it for many years. And I can never be sure I’m spelling its proper name correctly, so I’m always double-checking myself on it – Graptopetalum paraguayense.

At one point during an impromptu search I performed to check the Latin name, I also turned up the information that ghost plant is only winter hardy in zones 9 and 10 (meaning it survives temperatures no lower than 20 to 25 degrees). Really? Hmmm…I’ve been growing it in containers in Atlanta (zone 7) for over ten years now. And I know we’ve had plenty of clear, cold nights when the mercury has plunged into the low teens during that time, so I think the conventional wisdom about this plant is wrong.

Ghost plant with pansies and sedum

Here’s a shot I took two years ago. Ghost plant is cascading down the side of a strawberry pot that’s planted with blue pansies and some miscellaneous sedum. It sits on my kitchen porch in the western sun and looks very much like this all winter. In the summer I replace the pansies with a coral colored portulaca, or sometimes purple gomphrena (both of these are drought-tolerant plants that have roughly the same watering needs as the ghost plant).

little plantlet X-1

Every petal can become an entire rooted rosette.

I personally think ghost plant is one beautiful succulent. It forms grayish-green rosettes that shimmer with subtle highlights of pink and aqua, almost like a mother-of-pearl finish. As a desert native, it’s heat and drought tolerant. And it’s prolific. It multiplies much more fruitfully than hen-and-chicks ever has for me. A single rosette will put out long stems that form ever more rosettes, spilling over the sides of pots to make a nice display. (I’ve never grown ghost plant in the ground, but it probably works well in a dry climate and well drained soil.)

If you jostle ghost plant or bump into it, you’re very likely to knock off a petal or two. This is a plant that comes undone easily. Just pick up the fallen bits and lay them against the potting soil in your container. Each petal will form a tiny rosette at one end, just like in the photo to the right, and that rosette will grow to full size and put down roots – ensuring you’ll have plenty of passalong plants to spread around the neighborhood.

So what to make of the conflicting hardiness information I’m throwing at you? Here’s what I think: If you live in zone 7 or 8, maybe ghost plant will turn out to be as reliably perennial for you as it has been for me. And if you live in a colder climate, why not grow ghost plant as a three-season annual? Whether it turns out to be hardy to temperatures in the teens or the 20s is irrelevant, as long as you overwinter a few rosettes indoors. Then, you can use ghost plant as “bookends” to your growing season, the same way you use pansies during the cold days of early spring and late fall. The only difference is that ghost plant won’t melt away for you when the warm weather arrives!

Planting Tip

If you happen to see ghost plant in a friend’s garden, just ask for a piece or two to start your own plants with. Pinch off several petals and lay them on the surface of a pot of soil. Soon each one will develop a new plantlet at the tip, and roots will follow.
Otherwise, here are some mail order sources, though you most likely will have to order ghost plant in the spring.

 

 

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