Wednesday, April 7, 2010

List: Houseplants Which Can Be Propagated From Single Leaves

It seems like being able to reproduce from a single detached leaf would be so convenient that you'd think every plant would have figured out how to do it, but it's actually a pretty rare quality, limited mostly to succulents, most gesneriads,1 and a few random others.

One of the big problems when starting regular stem cuttings2 of a plant is that until there are roots to take up water from the soil (or rooting medium), the cutting will transpire3 a lot of water through the leaves. For some plants, like Ficus elastica, it's actually recommended that you either remove most of the leaves before trying to root the cutting, or that you cut the leaves in half, so that they'll be able to hang on to more of their moisture instead of transpiring it away.

My theory is that plants that can propagate from single leaves have this same problem, but even more so: they don't even have any stem in which to store water, so they run an even bigger risk of breathing all their water away. Therefore, the plants which are already adapted to hang on to their water, i.e., succulents, would be the ones that would have the easiest time getting by while they wait for roots to start. It's just a theory, and it doesn't account for some of the plants on the list so it's obviously not the entire story, but it seems more or less logical to me, anyway.

As ever, I'm open to additional suggestions, if the reader thinks of something I've left out.

Aeschynanthus speciosus, goldfish plant. The process is slow, but we stuck individual leaves into vermiculite at work, watered the vermiculite when we thought to, and they did eventually root and grow into new plants. Can't remember how long that took; I want to say we planted them in winter and they were putting out new growth by the following fall, or something. I assume this would probably also work for other Aeschynanthus spp., like A. lobbianus (lipstick plant), but I haven't tried.

Begonia NOID (angel-wing begonia). This particular type of Begonia is usually propagated through stem cuttings, but they'll also grow from leaf section cuttings or a single leaf's petiole4 stuck into damp soil. For best results, keep the leaf in an enclosed container of some kind to keep the humidity high, until the plant shows new growth.

Crassula ovata (jade plant). This tends to be a much slower process, in my experience, than rooting a stem cutting, but a single, healthy leaf, removed from the stem and allowed to dry for a day or two, will usually start to grow roots almost immediately, whether or not it's lying on soil. For best results indoors, bury the base of the leaf in a gritty, fast-drying medium, place in bright light, and water sparingly.

Echeveria cvv. Process is basically the same as for Crassula ovata. Leaves will root in almost anything; I had crazy wild success with vermiculite at work.

Kalanchoe orgyalis. Also as for Crassula ovata.

Pachyphytum spp. (moonstones) As for Crassula ovata.

Peperomia caperata. New plants will emerge (if they're going to) from the point where the petiole contacts the leaf. The best way I've found to propagate these is to dig a small, narrow trench in a 3-inch pot containing a regular potting mix, cut most of the petiole off the leaf, place the leaf vertically into the trench with the petiole side down (the leaves are more or less heart-shaped; you're putting them into the soil "upside-down"), and cover the pot with a clear drinking glass, or put the whole thing into a closed container of some kind -- the added humidity will help. New plants will appear from what used to be the underside of the leaf. If the leaf goes black and crispy, it's dead and you'll have to try again.

Saintpaulia ionantha cv. (African violet). African violets propagate very much like Peperomia caperata, though a few details are different. You don't want to cut off the petiole; leaving an inch to an inch and a half (2.5 to 3.8 cm) is good. I've had the best luck with planting them in vermiculite, at about a 45-degree angle, petiole end down. Cover and place in a warm, bright spot out of direct sunlight. You may need to remoisten the vermiculite from time to time. A single leaf may produce more than one new plant; if this happens, divide the plants and pot each of them separately. In many cases, the leaf can be cut away from the new plants and its petiole re-buried, where it can produce more plantlets.

Sedum morganianum (burro's tail). As for Crassula ovata. Leaves fall off very easily.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant, eternity plant). The actual stem of a Zamioculcas is usually mostly under the soil; each stalk is actually a single leaf that's been divided into leaflets. The individual leaflets each have the ability to produce new plants, though the process takes a really long time. Remove leaflets from their stalks and plant in a fast-drying potting mix with the base of the leaf under the soil. Water thoroughly when the soil is almost completely dry, then let dry again. Protect from cold (below 60F/16C). Sunlight may speed the process along. Leaflets form small tubers below ground, so unlike Peperomia caperata, the new plant is not necessarily dead even if the original leaflet turns brown and dies.5 In my experience, new leaves will begin to appear after about 12-18 months, if they intend to.

Not pictured:

Crassula arborescens
Episcia cvv? (flame violet) -- ought to in theory, though I've never seen anybody say they did it, so I'm not sure about this.
Haemanthus albiflos (shaving brush plant, elephant's tongue)
some Hoya spp. -- by rumor only. Species like H. kerrii (sweetheart hoya) will root on individual leaves fairly easily, but I'm unclear about whether they'll produce new vines from a single leaf, or if so how long that might take.
Kalanchoe beharensis
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (flaming Katy, florist's kalanchoe)
Kalanchoe bracteata 'Silver Teaspoons' -- see post.
Kalanchoe tomentosa (panda plant)
probably most Kalanchoe spp., really
Nematanthus cvv.? -- like Episcia: it's a gesneriad, so it ought to, but that doesn't mean it actually does. (Nematanthus leaves tend to be small, so they may not be able to store enough water for this to work.)
Peperomia argyreia (watermelon peperomia)
Peperomia scandens (false philodendron)
most Pinguicula spp. (butterworts)
Sansevieria trifasciata cvv. -- though some variegated varieties won't come true from leaves and can only be propagated via runners.
Sedum burrito, Sedum rubrotinctum, most other Sedum spp.
Streptocarpus cvv. -- usually propagated by leaf section cuttings, as for Begonia. New plants can only arise from the leaf midribs, so usually leaves are cut into chevron-shaped pieces and planted in vermiculite or a similar medium.


1 Gesneriad = one of the plants in the family Gesneriaceae. African violets (Saintpaulia) are the most commonly-encountered gesneriads, but Streptocarpus (cape primrose), Aeschynanthus (lipstick plant, goldfish plant), Nematanthus (guppy plant, goldfish plant), and Columnea are also sold pretty routinely.
2 Stem cutting = most commonly a short (3-4 inch / 8-10 cm) piece of stem, plus leaves or side branches or whatever, rooted in soil, water, or a sterile medium like vermiculite or perlite, for propagation. The most common method of do-it-yourself plant propagation.
3 Transpiration = the loss of water through pores on the leaf surface. Most plants have these pores (called stomata) open during the day, where they can take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Along with oxygen, a certain amount of water is also lost, depending on the temperature, humidity, wind, and so forth. In a plant which is growing normally, the roots replace the water lost to transpiration by taking new water up from the soil.
4 Petiole = the "stem" connecting a leaf to the plant's main stalk.
5 It's not a particularly good sign, but it doesn't mean that everything's lost, either.


Diana/ Garden on the Edge said...

You made it sound like rooting African Violets takes work. Not in my experience. Here is one of my favorite plant stories.

While in Graduate School I lived in an apartment building. One day I noticed a leaf on the floor of the hallway. Hmmm. I thought. African Violets can be propagated from a leaf. Free plant. But I don't have time today, got to get to lab.

That night I came home and noticed the leaf was still there. Hmm. I thought again. But not tonight. I'm tired and hungry.

Ditto the next morning, rushing to lab. The second night, however, I gave in to the idea and picked the leaf up and stuck it in some potting soil. Nothing fancy. Just straight out of the bag potting soil.

Being a busy grad student who wasn't studying plants I watered it when I remembered it, did not cover the pot to keep in the humidity or anything and now, untold years later, I still have that violet, grown large and blooming.

Plants are amazing.

Anonymous said...

Streptocarpus, with their huge leaves, can create more plants than you know what to do with. A leaf, cut along the midrib and placed in soil, vermiculite, whatever, may give you a multitude of plants arising along the mid-line. OK until your friends start to say, uh, no thanks, I've run out of windowsills. Almost too easy.

Lzyjo said...

Great post I was reading up on the same topic, after my dad said I could root the leaves from a begonia he gave me. It's probably easier to use a stem cutting, but wthay it's still pretty cool!

mr_subjunctive said...

Diana/ Garden on the Edge:

I've had more trouble than that. A lot of the leaves I've tried to start have died before getting anywhere; I suspect non-sterile rooting media of being the problem but don't really know.

Lance said...

I've tried both Saintpaulia and Begonias, they evidently don't like me at all. I've had great luck with Crassula ovata and it's relatives. Also with Zamioculcas zamiifolia, it seems to do things for me when I'm not trying and not even looking at it. And I can't give away enough aloe vera, (although those aren't leaf cuttings)

I think some plants just respond well to some people and not to others - not sure why. Kind of like a friend of mine in school could stop any watch she put near her.

Ivynettle said...

Your Begonia NOID goes by B. corallina in my plant list (or B. x corallina, my sources say different things, and I've so far been too lazy for more research) - though I've recently seen it referred to as B. maculata, too.
Which reminds me that I need to take some cuttings of my B. bowerae.

Can't really think of anything to add to your list - or wait a moment, actually I can. According to what we learned in school, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana can be propagated by leaf cuttings, too (even though hardly anyone does it, because it takes longer than stem cuttings). I would assume that it would work for most, if not all, Kalanchoe species.
It certainly did for K. beharensis AKA the F***ing Heavy, Thorny Monstrosity. Not that we ever intentionally tried to get more of them (we had quite enough with the one plant we had), but dropped leaves did sprout baby plants.

Andrew in NZ said...

Most Pinguicula species will root and grow quickly from their winter rosette leaves.

Anonymous said...

Haemanthus albiflos is another one. If they don't rot, they eventually root and develop one or two new plants, though they're slow. The new plants are miniature versions of the adults.

James David said...

I propagate Mother in law tongue & Golden Hahnii using the leaves.

I had no success using leaves with flame violets but can say a great chance of success using stem cuttings.

No success at all with African violets. I gave up trying.

Its been said you can propagate Gloxonia using leafs too but the process takes a lot of care (not too much water, lighting, etc)

Also you can propagate - Orchid Cactus using the leaves. Also some few types of caladiums.

I have tried using False Philodendron (Peperomia Scandens)
leaves to propagate - just stick it in the soil and they grow.

My fav are mother of thousands & mother of millions - they are hardy and the best - if you considering having some greens without any care in the garden that is.

mr_subjunctive said...

Caladiums? How would that even work?

Finding My Green Thumb said...

Thank you for posting this info, very informational..i had no idea that you could propagate a jade plant using a single leaf.

Diana/ Garden on the Edge said...

Wow. I'm surprised to hear how many of the comments mention difficulty propagating African Violets. I've been accused of inheriting my Grandmother's green thumbs, I guess I got her green big toes, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised at how many people are having problems with African violets, too! Sure, a few die here and there but we've made over a dozen new plants from leaves from my original AV here at the office. The best success seems to come from making sure the plants get lots of light. The AV also seems to know when it's growing season -- it takes a lot less time to root in the spring and summer than if I try to root one during the winter. Maybe you guys are picking "old" leaves (the ones on the bottom) -- you'll have better success by picking one of the newer leaves on top to use for propagation.

Chris and his Sweet Basil said...

You can do that apparently with Basil. Single leaf rooting.

Andrew said...

Many of the jungle cacti (epiphyllum and schlumbergera, for example) can be rooted from a single cladode (the things that look like leaves, but which are actually stems). :)

mr_subjunctive said...


Yeah, I debated whether to put those on the list, and decided I'd be nitpicky about the meaning of "leaf" and leave them out. But you're right: Schlumbergera, Pseudorhipsalis, Epiphyllum, etc. can be rooted too.

Kristol said...

I'm wondering how long it takes for a new succulent (small, but full blossomed plant) to grow from a single leaf?
I've started the process for my wedding that's in 6 months and although most all of the cutting have roots, none have grown much in the last 2 months.
I am in a dessert climate (highs will reach 115 in the summer, but currently around 90). I think I will move them inside before it gets too much hotter.
Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

mr_subjunctive said...


It's pretty much impossible to answer the question without knowing which succulents you have or how big you need them to be in six months. I would definitely have a backup plan in mind.