Many people confuse the Mother of Millions with Mother of Thousand, due largely in part to the similarity of their names. However, these are two distinct plants. The easiest way to distinguish one from the other is to look at their leaves.
Mother of Millions vs. Mother of Thousands, which is which?
The Mother of Thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) has broad, tear-shaped leaves that grow in pairs that are located on the opposite side of the stem. One pair is positioned about 90 degrees away from the other pair.
This leaf growth pattern ensures that one pair of leaves does not block out the sun for the other leaves. The leaves of the Mother of Thousands contain ridges where the plantlets grow.
On the other hand, the Mother of Millions (Kalanchoe delagoensis) has narrow leaves. Typically, this succulent has four leaves that grow from the same node. Additionally, the plantlets of the Mother of Millions only grow on the tips of the leaves. As such, the plant has fewer plantlets, usually between two to five per leaf.
Apart from their leaves, the plants are different in their growth patterns. The Mother of Thousands has only one central stalk that grows upward. As the plant grows heavy with the sheer number of leaves and plantlets, the central stalk will droop.
The Mother of Millions, on the other hand, has several stems that also grow upward. However, these stems typically cause the plant to grow like a bush.
Similarities between the Mother of Millions and the Mother of Thousands
If you look closely at both plants, you will notice that they share a few similarities, apart from their names and their production of plantlets on their leaves. For starters, both plants come from Madagascar.
Both share similar care requirements. Both thrive under direct sunlight but can tolerate partial shade. As succulents, both plants need to be watered deeply but infrequently. They also thrive in well-draining soil.
But if there is one uncanny similarity between the two, that would be their ability to spread their plantlets with such great ease. In fact, both species can easily overgrow a garden. That is why these plants are often considered invasive species because of their efficiency in crowding out native plant species.
The plantlets produced by both plants are more than ready to grow upon reaching the ground. In essence, these plantlets are just miniature versions of the main plants. They can grow and survive even before they drop to the ground. All of these give the plantlets a distinct advantage over most plants.
Although both plants produce flowers and seeds, they do not flower often and rely almost exclusively on their plantlets for propagation.
Finally, both plants are known to be poisonous, especially to animals. That is why many governments seek to actively control the growth of these plants. Both plants secrete a milky sap when their stems are broken. This sap contains a dangerous toxin that is poisonous to pets and livestock.
A tale of 2 Kalanchoes
Kalanchoes are succulents that originate from Madagascar and Africa. This plant genus consists of 125 species, including the Mother of Thousands and Mother of Millions.
Kalanchoes share a few similarities. For one, their leaves are thick. Second, these plants open their flowers by producing new cells on the inner surface of the petals. The production of these new cells forces the flower to open outwards.
The flowers are star-shaped and bloom from winter to spring.
Kalanchoes thrive best in fast-draining soil and mild temperatures.
Like most succulents, Kalanchoes need minimal care and are susceptible to only a handful of pests and diseases.
Mother of Thousands
Also known as the Devil’s Backbone, Alligator Plant, and Mexican Hat Plant, the Mother of Thousands is a succulent that originates from Madagascar. Typically kept as a foliage plant, the succulent is often recommended to beginners because it is easy to care for and propagate.
Like most succulents, the Mother of Thousands requires soil with good drainage. If you are planning on keeping this plant, you can use a commercial cactus potting mix. Some succulent keepers use common potting soil mixed with coarse sand to boost drainage.
Unlike other succulents, the Mother of Thousands likes its soil moist. However, do not water the soil to the point that it gets too soggy.
This plant prefers bright but indirect sunlight. If you are keeping this plant outdoors, do not place it under direct sunlight.
Terracotta pots work best for these plants. Remember to repot your Mother of Thousands only after it outgrows its current container, ideally during spring.
The most interesting aspect of this plant is that it is easy to propagate. The Mother of Thousands is a prolific multiplier, evolved to reproduce like no other. While other plants reproduce through seeds or cuttings, this succulent relies on its plantlets. Although the Mother of Thousands produces flowers, it rarely does so, especially when kept indoors.
Upon reaching maturity, spoon-shaped spurs develop on the edges of the leaves. These spurs carry plantlets which, in essence, are clones of the mother plant. Over time, these plantlets grow bigger and produce their own roots. As the plantlets continue growing, the leaves carrying these droop due to the weight they carry.
To propagate this plant, you will need to take one to two plantlets and store these in a plastic bag. Keeping the plantlets is essential to keep these moist. Otherwise, the plantlets can become dry and eventually die.
After securing viable plantlets, you can then put these on top of a pot of soil. Avoid pushing the plantlets into the soil and give them enough space apart from each other. Once you have planted the plantlets, cover the pot with cling wrap. This ensures that the baby plants are moist. Place the pot in a place with ample sunlight. Keep the plantlets covered in plastic wrap just until they grow taller.
Mother of Millions
Like the Mother of Thousands, the Mother of Millions originally comes from Madagascar.
Also known as the Chandelier Plant, Mission Bells, and Christmas Bells, this flowering succulent can grow over two feet tall.
The Mother of Millions can be grown outdoors and indoors. Like most succulents, it prefers well-draining soil and partial shade. The plant should be repotted every two to three years, ideally with fresh soil.
The Mother of Millions can tolerate warm temperatures and prefers sunny locations. However, the plant should not be placed under direct sunlight.
Although the succulent is drought-tolerant, it should be watered one to two times a week, especially between spring and fall. You can water it less frequently during winter. When overwatered, the leaves begin to droop and the plant drops its plantlets.
Like the Mother of Thousands, the Mother of Millions is easy to propagate. To propagate this succulent, you will need to wait until the plantlets found on the edges of the leaves start to drop and take root. The plantlets can be planted in separate containers or small groups in a single pot. Either way, you have to make sure that you use well-draining soil. As the plantlets grow, these should be transplanted to larger pots.
The Mother of Millions is a resilient plant and rarely succumbs to pests and diseases. One particular problem to watch out for is mildew infection which typically arises when the air is too dry.
The plant has long been associated with cattle deaths. In the wild, the plant can be easily spread in pasturelands through floodwater, animals, and vehicles. This, combined with the plant’s toxicity, make the succulent a threat to livestock. When cows ingest the plant and its flowers, the animals can become poisoned, and when left untreated, die.
Keeping your plants in check
There is no doubt that both the Mother of Millions and Mother of Thousands are interesting plants because of their unique ability to propagate. But these same qualities can make these plants pests, especially when left on their own devices. This is particularly true if you live in an area where the climate provides these plants with the right living conditions.
To put it succinctly, keeping either of these plants entails responsibility, especially in terms of controlling the spread of their plantlets. Keep these plants in separate containers. This will make it easier for you to control the spread of the plantlets and prevent the young plants from making their way outside of your property.
Unless you are planning to propagate either of these plants, you should regularly check the mother plants and remove the plantlets before these take root and grow.
What makes a plant invasive?
Plants that are deemed invasive, like the Mother of Millions and Mother of Thousands, are not inherently harmful. The qualities that make these plants invasive are in fact adaptations that allowed them to survive and compete with other organisms in their native locations.
In their natural habitat, numerous factors keep their populations in check, ranging from predators to environmental conditions. Invasive plants cause problems when they are brought from their places of origin to locations where they may have an unfair advantage over indigenous plants.
When you bring a plant to a new location, two things can happen. It can die because it is unfit to survive in that new location or it can thrive because there is little to no competition that will keep its population in check.
Invasive plant species share a few qualities that make them successful. These include the ability to multiply and grow rapidly, qualities present in both the Mother of Thousands and Mother of Millions.
These qualities are not inherently bad, especially when seen in the context of surviving in their places of origin. However, these same qualities put native plants at a disadvantage when both types of Kalanchoes are released outdoors.
A big responsibility
There is no doubt that both the Mother of Millions and Mother of Thousands make excellent additions to any succulent collection, but due to the nature of their reproduction, you should be aware of the associated responsibilities of keeping both plants in your garden.
Be aware of the tendencies of both plants and put into place protective measures to prevent their spread in your local environment.
Image: istockphoto.com / skymoon13