Mother of Thousands is a curious plant that forms tiny plantlets on the edges of its leaves. It is also known as alligator plant or devil’s backbone. From Madagascar, the Mother of Thousands is a succulent that doesn’t require frequent watering to grow.
Keep this plant in an area where it will receive plenty of bright sunlight, but too much time in the sun can cause sunburned leaves. With many plantlets, it’s easy to grow multiple plants from the mother. Some even view it as a pest for how quickly the plant can spread by dropping plantlets.
What is Mother of Thousands?
Mother of Thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) has several names, including alligator plant and Mexican hat plant.
It’s a succulent which grows entirely from one stem and part of the Crassulaceae family. The Jade plant and Flaming Katy are in the same family of plants.
Mother of Thousands originated in Madagascar. In its natural habitat, Mother of Thousands can survive droughts by storing water in its leaves. The leaves grow up to 6 in (15 cm) long and are usually 3 in (7 cm) wide. The whole plant can grow up to 3 feet or 1 meter tall.
A unique feature of this plant are the plantlets that grow along the edges of each leaf. These miniatures grow quickly, even developing roots, and later drop off and sprout. This constant production of offspring is where the Mother of Thousands gets its name.
The bumpy appearance of this plant has also given it the nickname, the devil’s backbone.
However, the rate and ease with which this plant creates plantlets can cause a headache for some. Mother of Thousands can spread very rapidly when planted outdoors, which has led some people to consider it a nuisance or even a weed.
When growing Mother of Thousands indoors, this spread isn’t much of a concern. For those wanting to propagate their plant, this property is welcome. However, you may find unexpected new sprouts in the same pot as the mother or nearby pots.
When grown outdoors, the Mother of Thousands produces flowers in late winter and then dies. It is replaced by replaced by one of its many offspring in the following year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies the plant as suitable for plant hardiness zones 9 to 11 when grown outdoors.
This plant produces flowers that are a gray-lavender color, but indoor plants rarely bloom.
Planting Mother of Thousands
Mother of Thousands needs plenty of bright light and can be taken outdoors on warm spring and summer days. However, make sure you introduce your plant to the outdoors gradually, to avoid sunburn on its leaves.
Soil and Container
When planting your Mother of Thousands, it’s best to use a cactus potting mix. The sandy consistency allows water to drain quickly, which is essential for a succulent plant.
If you only have a standard potting mix, you can add coarse sand to produce a mix with faster drainage. Perlite, pumice, and vermiculite are also acceptable choices to combine with your potting mix.
Make sure whatever container you use has holes to let any excess water drain out.
Repotting and Propagating
Propagation is easy work with a Mother of Thousands since the plant does much of the work for you. Somewhere along its evolutionary line, the Mother of Thousands plant lost the ability to produce seeds, so now it relies solely on plantlets.
Carefully pull off the small plantlets and repot them in a cactus potting mix. If you let the plantlets fall off the mother plant on their own, there’s a good chance you’ll see sprouts in the same or nearby pots.
This demonstration from Diane Mumm Garden Videos shows how easy it is to collect and plant Mother of Thousands plantlets:
Caring for Mother of Thousands
Mother of Thousands plants are hardy and easy to grow indoors. They need ample light, not too much water, and warm temperatures to thrive.
Mother of Thousands needs plenty of bright light. You can even move the plant outside for summer. Direct morning sunlight is fine with this plant, but it’s best to avoid direct sun in the afternoon when the light is harsher. Avoid leaving your Mother of Thousands in areas with mostly shade or deep shade.
Mother of Thousands plants are sensitive to water, so using well-draining soil is a must. When watering, you should thoroughly saturate the soil and allow the excess to drain out.
Let the top two inches of soil dry out between each watering. Overwatering can cause rot in the plant’s roots, so make sure the soil doesn’t feel moist to the touch before you water.
In the winter, water your Mother of Thousands less, since shorter days will prompt your plant to go into a resting period. However, don’t let the soil dry out entirely.
If you’re trying to coax your Mother of Thousands into blooming, it’s even more important to give it a resting period with less water and cooler temperatures.
Mother of Thousands can survive in various types of humidity. Normal room humidity is perfectly suitable for growing.
The Mother of Thousands does well in the heat but not the cold. Average, ideal temperatures for growing this plant are 60°F (16°C) to 75°F (24°C). Avoid temperatures below 40°F (4°C).
This plant doesn’t need much fertilizer. However, if you do decide to feed your Mother of Thousands, only do so once every few months or quarterly. Make sure to use a diluted liquid fertilizer or one intended for cacti.
A Word of Caution
The Mother of Thousands plant contains daigremontianin, a type of toxic steroid. It’s toxic to cats, dogs, and infants. This plant can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and in rare cases, an abnormal heart beat. If your pet or child consumes any part of the plant, see a doctor or veterinarian immediately.