What’s a senecio?

by Lynn KirkJul 11, 2022


What's a sececio? Well, first it's a plant that's pronounced "sen-ess-ee-o" or 
"sen-ess-she-o" -- depending on who you ask.

Second, it's a plant with . . . 

Nifty nicknames. Pickle plant. Pickle cactus. Candle stick plant. These are none other than the Senecio Stapeliaeformis, a succulent whose common names hint at its stop-and-stare appearance. Slender stems sprout up from the plant base as a product of underground rhizomes. At first glance these side-by-side, vertical growths resemble a batch of upright pickles or speckled candle sticks, hence its strange nicknames.

Common kin. So what’s a senecio? It’s a cactus, yet also a relative of the daisy and sunflower! Each is a member of the Asteraceae family, which has more than 30,000 species of flowering plants that sport something botanically unique: a 'shared-flower' structure.

Flowers of flowers. Speaking of flowers, look closely. The ‘single’ flower of a pickle cactus is actually a cluster of 30-or-so tiny florets, each an individual contributor to a glorious flower head (yep, just like the sunflower and daisy). These beauties bring bold color to the garden, ranging from rowdy red to opulent orange.

Funky form. Some stems grow up to 10 inches in length (now that’s a pickle you can’t ignore!). However, unlike many other cacti, this one is covered with soft spines, so no ‘pricklies’ to watch out for. While most pickle plants’ stems stand erect, there are those that present a lazy lean.

Overseas origin. What's a senecio? It's also a desert-loving cactus that hails from across the world, namely the Eastern Cape of South Africa. That’s why it prefers frost-free regions (USDA Zone 9b to 12) and about 4 to 5 hours of direct sun each day (though please, no super harsh rays).

Useful uses. Pickle cactus works as a distinctive container plant, as well as a fast-growing ground cover. Either way, it’s sure to add visual interest.

Simple soil. Since well-drained soil is its preference, gardeners plant pickle cactus in a growing medium containing non-organic material, such as pumice. Better yet, a specially prepared succulent soil mix ensures that the soil-to-additive mix is just right.

Minimal maintenance. Senecio requires no pruning, unless stems get leggy or a tidy-up is desired. If space is a challenge, older growth can be cut out to make room for new stems.

Weeks without watering. Senecio, like most other succulents, prefers life on the dry side. It’s truly fuss-free since it needs water only when completely dry -- usually every 3 or 4 weeks. In fact, overwatering is its nemesis since standing water can cause root rot. Caveat: A tad more watering is appropriate during the senecio's spring-through-summer blooming season. 

You're sure to adore. Now that you know "what’s a senecio," why not buy your own! Log onto Succulent Market.com: a family farm with more than 55 years of experience growing these striking succulents and more. While you’re online, check out another succulent of the same species: Senecio Radicins, commonly called string of bananas. Both feature a plant ‘personality,’ form, and hardiness that's worthy of collection!