Mother of Thousands, Alligator Plant, ETC.
Bryophyllum daigremontianum (Raym.-Hamet & H. Perrier) A. Berger is the correct and accepted scientific name for this plant. It was named and described as such by Alwin Berger in Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien in 1930. Tropicos lists Heinrich Gustav Adolf Engler and Karl Anton Eugen Prantl as “in authors”.
This plant was first named and described as Kalanchoe daigremontiana Raym.-Hamet & H. Perrier. It was named and first described by Raymond-Hamet and Joseph Marie Henry Alfred Perrier de la Bâthie in Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille in 1914.
The genus, Bryophyllum Salisb., was named and described by Richard Anthony Salisbury in Paradisus Londinensis in 1805. Plants of the World Online lists 45 accepted species in this genus.
To do thorough research about this plant online, you have to search both names or just type in the common name “Mother of Thousands”. Although the current and correct scientific name is “probably” Bryophyllum daigremontianum, there are many sites that list it either way, even up-to-date databases. You can read about my research below.
Common names include Mother-Of-Thousands, Alligator Plant, Maternity Plant, Devil’s Backbone, Mexican Hat Plant, Evil Genius and maybe others.
My first, um, Mother-Of-Thousands was given to me by the owner of Wagler’s Greenhouse in 2014. It was a very beautiful plant with a few small “plantlets” along its phylloclades. This was my first experience with this plant and little did I know why its common name was “Mother of Thousands”. I was about to find out… What appears to be leaves on Bryophyllum species are actually phylloclades which are flattened branches modified for photosynthesis. Ummm… Flattened stems are called cladodes. Interesting that phylloclades still have a petiole that attach to the stem. I wonder if a plant with a cladode that produces a phylloclade attached to it by a petiole?
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Back in 2014 when I did my first name research on this plant I was still relying on The Plant List and Tropicos. I was also using Llifle (Encyclopedia of Living Forms), the SucculentGuide.com, GRIN (Germplasm Resource Information Network-USDA), and the International Crassulaceae Network. The Plant List, which is no longer maintained, said BOTH Kalanchoe diagremontiana and Bryophyllum daigremontianum were accepted names. That was weird and I never saw two accepted names for the same plant before! The Llifle website said that Kalanchoe diagremontiana was the accepted name and so did the International Crassulaceae Network, GRIN, Dave’s Garden and SucculentGuide.com by Daiv Freeman. They all said Bryophyllum daigremontianum was a synonym.
As a result, I have been calling this plant a Kalanchoe diagremontiana for several years.
Now, on February 10, 2018, as I am writing this page, I checked with Plants of the World Online which is a fairly new site by Kew (Royal Botanical Gardens). I found out The Plant List was no longer maintained a while back and the new website by Kew was basically taking its place. The Plant List was a cooperative effort of The Missouri Botanical Garden and the Royal Botanical Garden. Plants of the World Online will be a great site but they are still uploading data.
Anyway, when I checked with Plants of the World Online, it said Kalanchoe diagremontiana was a synonym of Bryophyllum daigremontianum. GEEZ! Of course, The Plant List still says both names are accepted because it hasn’t been updated since 2013. Llifle, SucculentGuide, and the International Crassulaceae Network STILL maintain Kalanchoe diagremontiana is the accepted name. It appears that Tropicos, which is part of The Missouri Botanical Garden, also agrees that Bryophyllum daigremontianum is the accepted name because it says Kalanchoe diagremontiana is the basionym which also means it is a synonym.The Wikipedia says Bryophyllum daigremontianum is the correct name. The USDA Plants Database, which used to be GRIN, maintains Kalanchoe diagremontiana is the correct name as does Dave’s Garden…
So what will it be? Bryophyllum or Kalanchoe? Well, I suppose, based on evidence and research, this plant is actually a Bryophyllum daigremontianum. I have not found any articles by the APG folks so I don’t know if it has underdone any phylogenetic testing (or whatever you call it). Time will tell.
I gave up many succulents in the late summer of 2014 then had to start all over. I went back out to Wagler’s Greenhouse and got another one of these strange plants.
Zones: USDA Zones 9b-11 (25 to 40° F)
Size: 36” to 48” tall
Light: Sun to part shade
Soil: Fast-draining mix amended with grit and pumice or perlite
Water: Normal watering during growing period, barely in winter
Propagation: Plantlets from their phylloclades, stem cuttings
Many members of the Kalanchoe genus, I mean Bryophyllum, are quite variable. Some of this species have darker leaves with purple markings. They also hybridize with other members in the genus.
To say this plant multiplies by plantlets is such a vague understatement. It isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Maybe I should say the beginning of the flood as the iceberg melts. Those little plants grow aerial roots so when they fall off they are completely ready to grow.
These plantlets come up everywhere! Every pot nearby had its offspring as well as the cracks in the table, between bricks, etc. I was surprised they didn’t grow in the carpet when inside. I actually left a few on the floor to see if they would.
Seriously, though, there are many plants with certain hang-ups we deal with because we like them. We have to learn to adapt with their personalities just like we do with other people, chickens, cows, cats, birds and everything else. We all have to survive and nature has adapted many ways to do so without our help. Sometimes, though, we need to intervene so there isn’t a population explosion. Nature does that with the changes in seasons but we go and take the plant in the house…
I know this looks weird but I just let it grow to see what would happen. You can whack the stem off before it does this and it will bush out and look much better. I need to also mention I had this plant in too much shade for a while. That didn’t help because this plant likes and does much better in more light.
This pot was FULL of plantlets at one time. They have shallow roots so they are easy to pull up. I know, that seems like such a waste, kind of like murder, but sometimes you just have to do it. I always ask forgiveness and eventually we move forward.
One reason I yanked up the plantlets was because they were crowded and taking a long time to grow. Guess what? After I removed most of them, the ones I left started growing… The main plant died so it was a good thing I left some of the plantlets.
The above photo was taken about four months after the one before and you can see how fast they grew. The temperatures were starting to get cooler, so I moved the plants into the basement temporarily. I took photos and measured some of them.
I moved some of the succulents to the windowsill in the kitchen and others to the table in my bedroom. I put the larger pots on the floor under the table where they received a lot of sun from a southern exposure. When the temps warm up and the plants are back outside I will put these plants in their own pots. I have some experimenting to do and more plants always make it easier.
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