Mother of thousands Plant (Saxifraga)
Mother of thousands Plant (Saxifraga)
Only one species of this very large genus is suitable for use as a house plant: S. stolonijera (formerly known as S. sarmentosa), which has been aptly termed mother-of-thousands because of its many offspring. It is also known by a number of such inappropriate and misleading common names as beefsteak geranium, strawberry geranium, and strawberry begonia. It is a stemless plant that grows no more than about 9 inches tall, with loose rosettes of almost circular leaves up to 4 inches across, graceful flower spikes, and attractive trailing shoots that carry miniature plantlets. The leaves are deep olive green, roundly toothed, netted above with fine silver veining, and colored reddish purple beneath.
They are borne on leafstalks up to about 4 inches long, and the stalks as well as the leaves are covered with short, soft hairs, which are reddish when young but gradually turn green. The red, threadlike stolons that bear the little plantlets closely resemble strawberry runners. They are of varying lengths (sometimes as much as 3 feet long); they emerge from the center of the plant and they occasionally divide into several threads. Some of the plantlets at the ends of stolons remain small while attached to the parent plant. Others grow larger, often attaining proportions almost as great as those of the parent plant, and can more readily be used for propagation.
The flower spikes, which are up to 18 inches long, are produced in late summer. They carry loose clusters of star-shaped flowers that are white with a yellow center. Each flower is about 1 inch across, with two of its petals appreciably longer than the rest. One of the forms, S.s. 'Tricolor' (magic carpet), is smaller than the others, and its leaves, which have cream-colored edges, turn rose-pink if the plant is grown in good light. 5.5. 'Tricolor' is less vigorous than the type plant in terms of both rate ofgro and of plantlet production, however these plants are not dense enough to fill hanging baskets by themselves, but they look most attractive in small hanging pots, where their trailing shoots and decorative, colorful leaves are displayed to full advantage.
LightA little direct sunlight every day (an hour or two of early-morning sun, if possible) helps saxifrages to keep their leaf coloring, but do not place them in hot, prolonged sunshine. The variegated-leaved form S.s. 'Tricolor,' however, must have at least three hours a day of direct sunlight or the leafstalks will become long and spindly, and much of the leaf contrast will be lost.
Temperature S. stolonifera grows best in fairly cool conditions—ideally, 50°-6o°F. It can, however, tolerate somewhat higher daytime temperatures during the active growth period (from spring to late fall). S.s. 'Tricolor' will thrive if it is kept in normally warm room temperatures throughout the year. If indoor temperatures rise above 650, all saxifrages require high humidity. Stand potted plants on trays of pebbles kept permanently moist, and suspend dishes of water under hanging baskets. Keep plants in a well-ventilated position, but out of drafts. Minimum tolerable temperature: 40°F.
Watering During the active growth period water plentifully, as much as necessary to make the potting mixture thoroughly moist, but never allow the pot to stand in water. After plants have flowered, gradually reduce the amount of water given over a period of about two weeks. During the rest period give only enough water to keep the potting mixture from completely drying out.
Feeding Give standard liquid fertilizer once a month during the active growth period only.
Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture. For extra drainage put an inch-deep layer of clay-pot fragments in the bottom of containers. In the spring move young plants into pots one size larger as needed. Old plants become straggly, and so these saxifrages are not normally retained for more than two or three years, especially since young plants not only look better than old ones but begin producing plantlet-bearing stolons early in life. Young plantlets attached to the parent and anchor them down with pegs in contact with rooting mixture in nearby pots. Cut them away from the parent when they have sent roots into the mixture. This process is similar to layering.
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