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What Is Graptopetalum?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Encompassing 12 species, Graptopetalum is a plant genus in the family Crassulaceae. Most species are native to Mexico, but two Graptopetalum bartramii and Graptopetalum rusbyi are native to the southwestern United States. Succulent, these plants are adapted to arid climates and store water in their leaves, as well as in their roots and stems.

Plump, thick leaves in shades of silver, green, or pink form rosettes on these plants. Usually, the leaves are roughly heart shaped and pointed, but there is variation between leaf shape among species. For example, Graptopetalum amethorum has small, oval leaves with rounded tips, and Graptopetalum bellum's leaves are nearly triangular.

Flower-producing plants, Graptopetalum species all have small star-shaped blossoms. Petals are usually shades of white, pink, or red and often have spots or speckles. Long-blooming, many species flower throughout the summer and fall. These plants do not produce fruit. Instead, small seed pods appear after the flowering is complete.

All species need a lot of sun, but most can tolerate small amounts of shade. Since they are so adept at conserving water, the species in this genus are extremely drought tolerant. Additionally, most species are minimally frost resistant but do not do well in extreme heat.

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Only two species are native to the United States. Both are rare and grow in Arizona. Also, both are protected by the state so cannot be destroyed or collected. Graptopetalum rusbyi prefers shadier, moist areas protected by shrubs or rocks. Small, dark green rosettes growing in clusters mark this species, and the small flowers have mostly red petals with white bases.

Graptopetalum bartramii grows at higher elevations than its counterpart and can be found in direct sunlight. Preferring evergreen woodlands and the upland desert, this species has light green or gray rosettes that may have slightly pink hues. Rosettes grow singly and sport larger flowers than the rusbyi species. Flowers are white with dark pink speckles.

Some species are also popular as garden plants because of their desirable appearance. Graptopetalum paraguayense, commonly called a ghost plant or mother of pearl plant, is one of the most popular for this purpose. Its shiny gray leaves have a slightly pink undertone making it resemble the mother of pearl used for jewelry. These plants are fragile though, with very brittle leaves that may break if handled.

Graptopetalum pentandrum is also a popular plant used for gardens. Dusky pink leaves make up this plant's flat rosettes. The heart-shaped leaves are pointed, and small white flowers accent them.

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