The string of bananas, Curio radicans or Senecio radicans, is a decorative succulent also known by common names such as the banana vine or string of fishhooks. It is a ground cover in its native environment in South Africa but grows well hanging downwards or even upwards if provided with sufficient support.
Nevertheless, the string of bananas is a fast-growing, low maintenance and hardy plant. For instance, its close relative, the string of pearls, is also a popular houseplant, but way more challenging to keep thriving.
Native to South Africa, the string of bananas is a part of the Asteraceae family and is characterized by glossy, banana-shaped leaves that grow on long, hanging tendrils.
The string of bananas is a relatively low-maintenance houseplant, as they are naturally drought-tolerant and do not require regular pruning, repotting or fertilizing. Remember to keep it away from pets and small children though – ingesting the toxic plant may cause skin irritation, dermatitis, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
How To Grow?
The string of bananas is a tolerant houseplant and can be grown both in- and outdoors. A hanging pot is ideal, but placing the pot on an upper shelf or other high surface works well, too – as long as it allows the long vines to hang down.
When the plant has enough sunlight, you can expect a moderate growth rate indoors. Either way, it trails down way faster than it spreads, and the fast-growing vines can reach a length of 36 inches (90 cm).
String of bananas flower at the height of their growing season during spring, and more likely when kept outdoors. They can also grow blooms indoors, as long as the light conditions are right. The white puffy flowers have a cinnamon-like smell and are borne on long stems which bend slightly upwards.
The string of bananas is native to southern regions of Africa, growing naturally around Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa. As any plant, it thrives in a climate similar to its natural habitat, which can be found in USDA zones 9–11.
Regardless of living in hot and dry climates, they do well in normal household temperatures and humidity levels. As it doesn’t tolerate rapid changes or extremes in temperature, make sure to keep your succulent away from heaters, air conditioning vents or cold windows, and safe from both hot and cold drafts.
This decorative plant can successfully be grown in a garden, but only in regions with year-round warm weather. String of bananas is not frost-tolerant and should be brought indoors, once the temperatures drop below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).
Watering your string of bananas is relatively straightforward. Once every two to three weeks is a good ballpark, but regulate this according to the season and reduce it during cooler months, when your plant goes dormant.
Make sure to water your string of bananas thoroughly and let the soil dry out completely before the next watering. When in doubt about whether it’s time to water again, just stick your finger about two inches (5 cm) into the soil: if your finger comes out dry, it’s likely your succulent is thirsty.
Soil & Fertilizer
Similar to most succulents, string of bananas does not need regular fertilizing. But should you want to give your plant a boost, do it in early spring. Dilute a well-balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer, liquid kelp or fish emulsion to half strength before applying or top the soil with some compost: for example 1/4 inch (6 mm) of worm compost & 1/4 inch of compost over that.
As the soil should dry out between waterings, a light and well-drained succulent and cactus mix or another chunky soil type would work best for this plant. Make sure that the pot has a drainage hole in the bottom. Potting your string of bananas in a concrete, clay or terracotta pot contributes to healthy moisture levels in the soil as well.
String of bananas loves medium to high exposure to bright light when grown indoors, but thrives in partial sun and light shade outdoors. However, it is better to avoid intense afternoon sunlight during hot summer months, be it in a garden or a windowsill. Also, make sure your succulent is not touching any hot glass and rotate your plant every three to six months to ensure getting light from all sides.
If you notice very little or almost no new growth, it is likely your string of bananas needs more light. Choose a location that receives at least six hours of mild sunlight throughout the day. This trailing succulent also does well under grow lights if natural light is scarce.
The best times for repotting or propagating are spring and summer. You can propagate your string of bananas using one of the plant’s fallen leaves or a cutting from the stem. To take a cutting, use a sharp, clean knife or a pair of scissors to cut a portion of the stem as close to the root as possible. Let the cutting callous over for a few days before laying it on a pot of soil similar to its previous home. Keep the cutting moist by misting it with water, but don’t let it get too soggy. The cutting has successfully rooted when you see healthy new growth on the plant.
When repotting your succulent, make sure you don’t plant it too deep in the new pot. The top part of the plant where the stems grow out should not be further down in the soil than 1 inch (2,5 cm) – otherwise the plant might get root rot. If a couple of stems come loose when repotting the plant, just pop them back in the pot: they will eventually grow their own roots.
Growth problems are mainly resulting from low-light conditions. If your string of bananas is not receiving enough sunlight, the stems will stretch out and become leggy. Also, the leaves will become significantly more spaced out along the stem.
Overwatering your plant or poor drainage of the soil might cause root rot. The first symptom of this is the stems and leaves darkening or turning purple, and becoming eventually soft and mushy.
Pests & Diseases
As with many other plants, a string of bananas can be susceptible to pests like aphids and mealybugs. Mealybug infestation can be diagnosed by a white cottony egg mass on the plant and white cast skins of aphids can be seen accumulating on the upper surface of the leaves.
To rid your plant of these pests, clean the leaves and stems gently with rubbing alcohol or soapy water, and then mist with insecticidal soap or rub with neem oil. Whenever you suspect a disease or a pest infestation, move the infected string of bananas away from other houseplants to prevent further outbreaks.
String of bananas is an eye-catching decorative plant with relatively easy maintenance. They don’t need regular fertilizing, pruning or repotting, and are tolerant to some drought. They also go dormant during winter months, when they require even less care.
As long as you provide them with enough bright light and keep them safe from extreme air drafts, the undemanding string of bananas will bring life and unique greenery to any space.