Senecio

Senecio

The genus Senecio (groundsel) is one of the largest genera of flower­ing plants. There is some confusion about the names of a number of species commonly grown as house plants. One form, S. cruentus, is so universally known as cineraria, for instance, that it is included in this book under the genus Cineraria for the sake of convenience. Similarly, certain suc­culent species that belong botanically in the genus Senecio will be found under their former name of Kleinia because they are still best known as such. Among the numerous other species there are two non-succulent climbing plants that have twining stems that can be trained up thin stakes or allowed to trail in hanging baskets. The leaves of these two senecios are smooth, soft, and fleshy, and they are shaped like ivy leaves (shallowly cut into blunt or slightly pointed lobes). Leaf shape, even on the same plant, is variable, however. Leaves are carried alternately on the stems and have leafstalks at least as long as the blade. Flowers are yellow and daisylike. These plants rarely flower indoors; but when they do, the flowering period coincides with the rest period.

RECOMMENDED SENECIOS S. macroglossus (waxvine) has rough­ly spear-shaped, three- to five-lobed, deep green leaves 2 ½  inches long and 2 inches wide. The more popular variegated-leaved form, S.m. 'Vari-egatum' (variegated waxvine), has slender, purple stems that carry purple-stalked, medium green leaves haphazardly marked with pale cream-colored streaks and patches. The leaves of some shoots are cream-colored all over. (These chlorophyll-free shoots cannot be used for propagation be­cause they are unable to survive when detached from the parent.) If flowers are produced, they appear singly or in small clusters at the ends of shoots and are up to 2 inches across. S. mikanioides (German, water, or parlor ivy) has medium green stems carrying dark green leaves 2-4 inches long and wide on medium green leafstalks. Each leaf has five to seven pointed lobes, with sunken veins radiating from the leafstalk to the tips of the lobes. Clusters of fragrant flow­ers about ¼  inch across are occasionally produced at the ends of shoots.

PROPER CARE

Light These senecios must have bright light, including two to three hours each day of direct sunlight, throughout the year.

Temperature Normal room tem­peratures are suitable during the active growth period. During the winter rest period cooler conditions (ideally, 50°-55°F) are advisable. Minimum tolerable temperature: 450.

Watering During the active growth period water moderately', allowing the top half-inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. During the winter rest period give only enough to keep the potting mixture from drying out completely.

Feeding Apply standard liquid ferti­lizer every two weeks during the active growth period.

Potting and repotting Use a mix­ture of one part of coarse sand or perlite to three parts of soil-based mixture. In the spring move overcrowded plants into pots one size larger, but do not retain these senecios longer than about 18 months because young plants are more attrac­tive than older ones. A 6- to 7-inch pot or hanging basket should be the largest needed.

Propagation Take tip cuttings at any time from early spring through sum­mer. Trim each 2- or 3-inch-long cutting just below a node, remove the lowest leaf, and stand two or three cuttings in an opaque glass jar of water. Keep them warm in bright filtered light until roots an inch long have formed. Then transfer the cut­tings together into a 3- or 4-inch pot of the mixture recommended for adult plants, and treat the potful as a mature senecio.

Alternatively, insert two or three prepared cuttings in a 3-inch pot containing a moistened equal-parts mixture of peat moss and coarse sand or perlite. Stand the pot in bright filtered light, watering just enough to keep the rooting mixture from drying out completely, for about seven weeks. Then repot the group of rooted cuttings in a 4-inch pot of the recommended potting mixture, and treat the potful as a mature plant. If planting in a hanging basket, group together at least six or eight of the rooted cuttings.

Special points Watch out for aphids, which tend to collect on the growing tips of these senecios.

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