‘String of Dolphins’ Senecio peregrinus: A Comprehensive Succulent Care Guide

One of my favorite succulents is the ‘String of Dolphins’, scientifically known as Senecio peregrinus. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to care for this fascinating plant.

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Understanding the Unique ‘String of Dolphins’

Origin and Other Names

The ‘String of Dolphins’ is a hybrid of Senecio rowleyanus (String of Pearls) and Senecio articulatus (Hot Dog Cactus). This succulent originates in South Africa and is also known as Dolphin Necklace, Dolphin Plant, or Flying Dolphins due to its unique dolphin-shaped leaves.

Unique Adaptations

This rare variety has leaves that resemble a pod of leaping dolphins, making it a visual delight. The trailing nature of the plant, with vines that can grow up to 1-3 feet long, adds to its charm.

Distinct Features and Growth Size

The ‘String of Dolphins’ has a blue-green hue and can grow up to 3 feet long. The leaves of this plant are fleshy and shaped like small jumping dolphins. When in bloom, the plant produces small, white flowers that have a cinnamon-like fragrance.

Recognizing the ‘String of Dolphins’

Flower Color and Blooming

The flowers of the ‘String of Dolphins’ are white and bloom in the fall. The blooming process is triggered by specific conditions such as ample sunlight and proper watering.

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How do you make ‘String of Dolphins’ bloom?

Getting a ‘String of Dolphins’ to bloom can be a challenge as it often requires specific conditions. Here are some tips that might help:

  1. Provide Adequate Light: This plant needs plenty of bright, indirect light to bloom. Position it near a south or west-facing window where it can receive at least six hours of morning sunlight per day.
  2. Proper Watering: Overwatering can prevent the plant from blooming. Water your ‘String of Dolphins’ thoroughly until water runs out of the drainage hole, and then allow the soil to dry completely before watering again.
  3. Summer  Dormancy: The quality of the flowers can depend on the care it receives during its summer dormancy. Ensure the soil dries out completely between very infrequent waterings, and provide 2-3 hours of off-peak direct sunlight with little fertilization.
  4. Keep it Root-Bound: ‘String of Dolphins’ may bloom more readily when it is slightly root-bound, which means its roots fill up the pot it’s in. Don’t rush to repot it into a larger pot if it appears to be outgrowing its current one.
  5. Fertilize Sparingly (If at all.): Over-fertilizing can cause the plant to focus on producing foliage rather than flowers. Fertilize only once or twice a year, ideally at the beginning of spring and when they start to bloom.

Decoding Monocarpic Nature

Unlike some succulents, ‘String of Dolphins’ is not monocarpic, meaning it does not die after flowering. Instead, it continues to grow and produce flowers year after year.

Growth Rate and Season

The ‘String of Dolphins’ is a fast-growing succulent that grows most actively during the spring and summer seasons.

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Ideal Conditions for Growth

Light Requirements and Cold Hardiness

The plant thrives in bright indirect light but can tolerate direct sunlight if acclimated slowly. It is not frost-hardy, so it should be moved indoors when temperatures drop below 50°F. 

Why is my ‘String of Dolphins’ purple?

If your ‘String of Dolphins’ is turning purple, it could be a response to stress factors such as sun exposure, temperature changes, or water issues. Keep in mind, this kind of stress isn’t necessarily bad for the plant. 

  1. Sun Stress: Succulents like the ‘String of Dolphins’ can change color when exposed to intense sunlight. This is a protective mechanism known as sun stress. Though this plant prefers bright light, too much direct sunlight can cause it to sunburn or change color.
  2. Temperature Stress: Cold temperatures can also cause succulents to change color. If your ‘String of Dolphins’ is exposed to cooler temperatures than it is used to, it may turn a purple or reddish hue.
  3. Water Stress: Overwatering or underwatering can also cause color changes in succulents. If the plant is underwatered, it can turn purple as it starts to use its own water reserves, leading to stress.
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Watering Frequency

‘String of Dolphins’ needs more frequent watering than most succulents. However, watering should be regulated to avoid overwatering, which can lead to root rot.

Temperature Tolerance

This succulent prefers room temperatures between 65°F and 80°F. It can withstand temperatures as low as 40°F but will not survive frost.

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Caring for ‘String of Dolphins’

Fertilizer Needs

The ‘String of Dolphins’ plant does not require frequent fertilizing. Feeding it once or twice a year at the start of spring should suffice.

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Propagation Techniques

Propagation is easy and can be done through stem cuttings. Simply cut a healthy stem, let it dry for a few days, and then plant it in well-draining soil.

Can I propagate ‘String of Dolphins’ in water?

Yes, you can propagate the ‘String of Dolphins’ in water. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Use a clean, sharp knife or scissors to cut a healthy, sturdy stem from the mother plant. Make sure the stem is around 5 inches or more.
  2. Remove the bottom leaves to expose the stem and let it dry out for about 2 days.
  3. Once the cut end has calloused well, place it in a jar of water. Make sure the leaves are above the water level and only the stem is submerged.
  4. Place the jar in a bright location but out of direct sunlight.
  5. Change the water every few days to prevent algae build-up or bacterial growth.
  6. Within a few weeks, you should see roots developing from the submerged stem.
  7. Once the roots are a few inches long, you can plant the cutting in a pot with well-draining succulent or cactus mix. Start with indirect light, and once the plant is established, slowly introduce it to brighter light.

Water propagation can be a fun and interesting way to multiply your ‘String of Dolphins’ plant. Just remember to be patient as root growth can take some time.

Pruning Tips

Pruning can help maintain the plant’s shape and promote fuller growth. It is best to start pruning early in the plant’s growth to achieve a dense and lush appearance.

How do you make a ‘String of Dolphins’ bushier?

To make a ‘String of Dolphins’ bushier, you can prune it to encourage fuller and denser growth. Here are a few steps:

  1. Start pruning early in the plant’s growth to achieve a dense and lush appearance.
  2. Use a sharp, clean pair of shears or scissors to cut the stems. Make sure not to damage the plant.
  3. After cutting, new growth should start from the cut points, resulting in a bushier appearance.
  4. You can also lay long growth back over the soil in the pot. This allows newer growth to re-root wherever it is making contact with the soil, leading to a fuller appearance.
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Common Problems and Solutions

Attracting Pests

‘String of Dolphins’ may attract pests like mealybugs and spider mites. These can be controlled using neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Overcoming Plant Issues

Overwatering and inadequate light can lead to problems like root rot and sunburn. These can be avoided by regulating watering and providing the right amount of light.

Flat Leaves

If your ‘String of Dolphins’ has flat leaves and is starting to look like a string of stingrays, it could be due to a few reasons:

Insufficient Light

This plant needs plenty of bright, indirect sunlight to maintain its unique shape. If it’s not getting enough light, the leaves may start to flatten out. Make sure your plant is in a well-lit location, but avoid direct sunlight which can cause sunburn.

Watering Issues

Overwatering or underwatering can also cause the leaves to change shape. These plants prefer a thorough watering but then like to dry out completely before being watered again. If the leaves are flat and shriveled, it might be underwatered. If they are flat and mushy, it could be overwatered.

Genetic Variability

Sometimes, plants just grow differently due to their genetic makeup. If your plant has always had flatter leaves, it might just be a variation within the species.

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Growing ‘String of Dolphins’ Indoors

The ‘String of Dolphins’ plant thrives in bright indirect light, making it ideal for a location with a south or west-facing window in your home. However, it can also adapt to artificial light, which allows for versatility in placement. Although it loves light, avoid exposing the plant to too much direct sunlight as it can get sunburned. I’ve never really been successful with growing any senecio ‘strings’ indoors. 

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Growing ‘String of Dolphins Outdoors’

If you are growing it outdoors, place it in a shaded spot where it can receive indirect or filtered sunlight. Always remember to bring it indoors when temperatures drop below 50°F as it is not frost-hardy. 

My senecio ‘strings’ (pearls, bananas, fish hooks, dolphins) do best outside on my covered porch where they get bright, indirect light all day and very little direct light in the late afternoon. I think the key to thriving for them is lots of airflow so bacteria and fungi don’t have the opportunity to grow. 

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Toxicity for Pets and Humans

While the ‘String of Dolphins’ adds a unique touch to any space, it is toxic to pets and humans. Therefore, it should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

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Detecting Dormancy

The ‘String of Dolphins’ goes dormant in the warm summer season. During this time, it requires less watering and can withstand warmer temperatures.

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Fun Facts

Etymology of the Name

The name ‘String of Dolphins’ perfectly describes the unique shape of the plant’s leaves, which resemble a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water.

Unique Adaptations

The ‘String of Dolphins’ has leaf windows, a unique adaptation that allows sunlight to penetrate the leaf’s interior, helping the plant tolerate low light conditions.

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