String of hearts and variegated string of hearts (VSOH) are some of the most popular succulents on the planet. Our nursery grows both varieties and we just cannot produce enough.
The appeal of these succulents is in the colour, in particular the variegated string of hearts, and the heart shaped leaves growing on thin strings or vines.
The elegance of string of hearts has a wide appeal and can be grown in a bright spot indoors and out.
In this article I will cover all there is to know about the string of hearts and variegated string of hearts. The information and advice is based on growing tens of thousands of these beautiful succulents.
String of Hearts History
Ceropegia Woodii was first discovered in 1881 by John Medley Wood who collected native African plants. He was also the curator of Durban Botanical Gardens and has sent a living String of Hearts specimen to the Kew Botanical Gardens in England.
The species name honors Wood who found the hearts hanging off rock on Groenberg Mountain, Natal, South Africa.
After its arrival in the UK, Ceropegia Woodii appeared in the Curtis’ Botanical Magazine in 1900.
The variegated string of hearts or Ceropegia woodii variegata is a variegated, mutated version of Ceropegia woodii and it is not clear when or who first discovered this plant. It is just pure speculation, but my guess is that a stable mutation has occurred in a nursery and the plant has been propagated, then distributed all over the world.
Scientific Classification of Ceropegia Woodii
Chain of hearts
String of hearts
Collar of Hearts
Hearts on a string
String of hearts is endemic to South Africa, Eswatini and Zimbabwe. It is found on stony hillsides and its natural habitat is thought to go as far as Tanzania. Ceropegia Woodii can also be found growing on Madagascar.
These days the string of hearts can be found in homes and gardens all over the world.
String of Hearts Appearance
Ceropegia Woodii is very recognizable as it looks exactly like its nickname. Let’s have a closer look at each part of this magnificent succulent.
The leaves of Ceropegia Woodii or string of hearts/ variegated string of hearts are simple and quite small. They grow on a pink-purple stem and are arranged in a opposite fashion at the nodes. Just like its common name suggests, the leaves are heart shaped.
The size of the leaves can range from about 30mm-2 cm. If string of hearts is grown in a large pot and dappled light, the leaves will grow bigger. Rootbound or stressed plants are likely to produce smaller leaves as the plant conserves energy.
The leaves also tend to grow on the larger side in the growing season, which is spring and small when dormant over winter.
Colour of the leaves will change throughout the year, based on conditions. String of hearts plants exposed to bright light or filtered light will have strong marbling and purple undersides. The marbling is dark green with hints of purple and cream splashes. The darker its environment, the more washed out colour will be.
Variegated string of hearts grow beautiful cream, light green and pink leaves. The stalk of the leaf is also pinkish. When the plant is in its growing stage or not exposed to bright light the pink will subside.
The colours of string of hearts and variegated string of hearts are at their most vibrant in cool weather and winter. When exposed to some sun during winter, the pinks in variegated ceropegia woodii will almost take over the whole leaf.
The texture of the leaf on string of hearts is quite interesting and textured. The green parts are slightly raised while the cream marbling creates dips.
The stems or ‘strings’ of Ceropegia woodii ‘chain of hearts’ are thin and round in shape. Based on the environment and roots space the stem can grow indefinitely, especially when the plant is allowed to ramble on the ground.
The stems will produce small tubers at the nodes. The tubers will send roots when in contact with soil. This growing habit aids the string of hearts to grow quite a distance.
When grown in a hanging basket the length of the stems will be dictated by the size of the pot. Bigger pot equals longer stems.
String of hearts is a rambler and in its native habitat the stems would trail through the vegetation. In cultivation, ceropegia woodii can be trained up a trellis or a structure. The stems will twine themselves around smaller object quite easily, though sometimes they may need a helping hand.
I’ve seen some spectacular creations of string of hearts plants trained up a heart shape or loop trellis.
String of hearts can bloom randomly throughout the year, depending on the climate. In their natural habitat Ceropegia Woodii flowers in June and Semptember.
Flowers of Ceropegia Woodii and Ceropegia Woodii Variegata are very interesting and peculiar looking. The overall shape looks like a vase.
There are three main floral parts- the basal inflation, the tube and segments. The basal inflation is the swollen bottom part of the flower, the tube is the long thin middle section and segments are the fused bits right at the top.
The colour of Chain of hearts flowers is pink-purple with dark purple tips (segments)
The fusing of the petals serves a purpose and is meant to transform the flower into a cage, once the pollinating insect found its way inside. Small hair facing downwards also grow on the inside, further preventing the insects from getting out until they do their business and collect/ spread the pollen. The hair will eventually dry out and subside allowing the insect to fly out.
The pollination is most likely done by small flies that are attracted inside the flower by its scent. Humans are unlikely to smell anything as the scent is not strong enough.
The length of the flower is approximately 25cm.
When flowers are pollinated, seed pods will start to form. This usually happens during the warmer months of the year as more pollinating insects are flying around.
The seed pods often grow as a pair and are long and thin. They start of looking like green horns with a pointy end and mature to dark brown-grey colour.
Length of mature seed pods can reach anywhere between 5-10cm. It takes time for them to ripen and release the seeds.
Once the seeds are ready, the pods will twist open. Each pod contains a bunch of seeds. To help them spread far and wide, the seeds are light, thin and have a cotton like hairs attached the them.
When exposed to air and moisture the hair spreads out. This will help the seeds get picked up by the wind and get carried to a new location, where they can establish without competing for space with the mother plant.
Ceropegia Woodii and Ceropegia Woodii Variegata roots or tubers grow both, under the soil level and on top. Tubers under ground are white and round-ish while tubers growing on the surface are grey-brown.
Stems rambling on the ground can produce tubers when they hit good soil. Tubers have the ability to produce further stems so that the plant can spread from that point.
They are filled with water and are, for this reason, favoured as a source of water by animals when in drought.
In its natural habitat, String of hearts is found growing between rock cracks in hummus rich soil. Thanks to the vines being able to climb, the plant can also be seen growing up bushes which provide shade and protection.
If the String of hearts is trailing on the ground, it will grow tubers along the way and hang or grow over parts where it is not able to send roots. This helps it survive if any part of the plant gets damaged further up the line.
In cultivation, Ceropegia Woodii is widely used as a hanging plant, though it can also be trained growing up a trellis.
Baskets or pots positioned at an edge can utilize the trailing habit perfectly as the stems will just hang and grow towards the ground, in the hope they will reach fertile ground where they can grow tubers/roots.
Ceropegia Woodii is mainly used in the horticultural industry as an ornamental plant for hanging baskets or tall pots. String of hearts is rarely used as a garden plant, though it can be trained up a trellis or a fence.
In its natural habitat, String of hearts are used as a source of food and water. The swollen roots are full of water and both animals and humans seek it out for this reason in times of drought or crisis.
Native tribes also use Ceropegia as medicine for chest complaints.
Ceropegia Woodii is not a difficult plant to grow, but there are a few tricks to make it happy.
Position & light
String of hearts will grow in a bright spot indoors, outside in bright shade, filtered light or even in full sun when it’s not too hot. The ideal spot for Chain of Hearts is outdoors, in filtered light during the warmer months.
String of hearts or variegated string of hearts are not frost hardy and will die when temperatures dip below the freezing point. Our nursery grows these plants outdoors all year round, however, our minimal temperatures in winter rarely go below 1C/33.8F.
Light is the key to keeping this succulent happy. More bright light the hearts receive the more vibrant the colours should be. Variegated String of Hearts will turn mostly pink in a spot with a little bit of sun but care should be taken, as sun can burn this plant when too hot.
Variegated plants do not fare well in hot sun as white or cream variegation means they lack chlorophyll and, therefore, cannot process sun’s rays too well.
In hot climates where temperatures often go north of 40 C (104F) Ceropegia Woodii should be kept out of strong summer sun altogether as it can burn and younger plants would almost certainly die.
In the wild, String of hearts grow in areas with decent rainfall and do like to be watered regularly.
Indoors, this succulent should be watered when the potting mix has dried up as water evaporates a lot slower inside the house.
As long as the potting mix is a good quality succulent mix and the pot has a drainage hole, Ceropegia Woodii should not suffer any adverse effects when watered more often.
String of hearts will grow outdoors well, even in wetter climates.
Because of the large, swollen tubers, Ceropegia Woodii and Variegata will easily withstand drought and can survive without being watered for quite some time. If you’re going on holidays, you won’t need to worry the String of hearts will die.
Ceropegia Woodii and variegated String of hearts prefer good quality succulent potting mix. The potting mix should not be too gritty and should be able to hold some water back.
If planting in the garden, Ceropegia Woodii can go straight in the soil. Just remember this plant is frost tender and so it is not recommended to grow it in the garden, in cold climates.
Succulents do not need to be fertilized much. A sprinkling of slow release fertilizer on top of the potting mix in Spring will give them a bit of a boost.
The fertilizer should not be high in Nitrogen and the Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium ratio should be 8-8-8 or 10-10-10.
Do not feed Ceropegia Woodii with fertilizers high in Nitrogen, such as manure, compost or pellets. Slow release fertilizer is best and will ensure a balanced distribution of nutrients.
To keep the strings growing, re-potting is recommended every other year. It can be quite difficult to re-pot String of hearts as the vines get tangled up and get in the way but not impossible. Extra pair of hands can hold the strings while another person does the re-potting.
Old, big plants in heavy pots can be fed extra fertilizer throughout the growing season to maintain the nutrient levels. It is likely that the plant will not grow much once it becomes rootbound.
Quality succulent potting mix should be used when re-potting.
String of hearts Ceropegia Woodii and the variegated string of hearts can be propagated by cuttings, seed or leaf.
By far the easiest and most reliable way to propagate String of hearts succulent is by taking cuttings of mature vines. Ceropegia does not grow much or send roots in winter and so should only be propagated in the warmer months. Most succulents grow and propagate best in mid-late spring as it’s not too cold and not too warm either. String of hearts is no exception and will root very fast in Spring.
Always choose a mature vine, not one that is thin/ has tiny leaves or just sprouted out as these tend not to root well and are likely to die off. The hearts on a mature vine should be big and plump.
Cut with clean scissors 1 cm (0.4 inch) above a leaf or where there is an obvious node (a bulbous growth on the vine). Leave the wound to dry for a day. To get a nice, full new plant, cut as many strings off the existing plant as possible. If the vines are long enough, they can be divided further. A mature vine of one meter can be divided 5 or more times.
The tender end of the vine with new growth should not be divided. This would generally be about the last 20cm of the plant.
After the cuttings had time to dry for a day, they can be bunched together and potted up. Make a hole in the potting mix with your finger and insert the whole bunch. It’s fine if a few leaves go in as well. It will all look rather messy, but once the string of hearts starts growing and sending new shoots you will not be disappointed.
Leave the pot in a protected, bright spot with no strong sun. Filtered light, bright shade or under a 30% shade-cloth is ideal.
To grow Ceropegia Woodii from home grown seeds, the pods will need to harden up first and start opening. The seeds are designed to fall out and be blown away by the wind and to stop them from flying away, the seedpods can be bagged in breathable small bags (similar to tea bags).
The seeds can then be planted in a seed raising potting mix or succulent potting mix and should sprout within a month during the growing season. Raising seeds should not be attempted in autumn-winter as they may have trouble germinating. Ceropegia Woodii is winter dormant.
Best time to plant seed is mid-late spring or summer. Keep the seeds in a warm spot, in bright shade. The potting mix should be moist all the time, but not over-saturated. A clear plastic bag can be put placed over the pots or the tray the seeds are planted in to keep the moisture levels up. After the seeds have germinated, the plastic can be taken away.
Seeds can also be bought online which can be much cheaper than buying a whole new plant.
Variegated string of hearts can prove tricky to propagate from seed as the variegation does not carry over to the seedling often. Out of the many times I have tried at our nursery the seedlings have either reverted back to non-variegated, grown albino only leaves which lack chlorophyll and then died. Personally, I would not recommend raising the variegated string of hearts from seed.
Ceropegia Woodii can prove difficult to propagate from leaf. Some leaves do form roots, but many rot/ dry out. If the root does form, it also takes a very long time (sometimes over a year) before it grows new shoots and vines.
Leaf propagation of Ceropegia Woodii is different to leaf propagation of other succulents. Normally, succulents will start growing from leaves when the leaf is sitting on top of the soil, but String of hearts leaf will need to planted in with the leaf stem. Roots are unlikely to form on the leaf otherwise.
In the growing season, the roots should start forming in a month or two. The leaf should be watered but the potting mix is not to be completely saturated and soggy.
The leaf will need to grow a big enough tuber which will then shoot new branches out. It will take a very lang time for this to happen and, in my opinion, is not really worth it.
Ceropegia Woodii does not often attract pests, but can still get attacked occasionally.
Both root and leaf mealy bugs can attack String of hearts. This is why re-potting is recommended every so often. Mealy bugs on roots can go undetected for a long time as they are conveniently out of sight. Although, it is unlikely root mealy bugs will kill a plant even if the infestation is bad, they can impact on the appearance and health.
Mealybugs feeding on stems and leaves are more likely to be seen. The cottony pouch these pests cover themselves with helps to protect against predators and outside threats.
Mealybugs are notoriously resilient pests and can become resistant to pesticides. Moreover, they can spread incredibly fast.
String of hearts is not a favourite of mealybugs but can get attacked. The best and most reliable method of getting rid of mealybugs is to squash them. Pesticides often don’t work all that well.
To read an in-depth article about mealybugs, go here.
Aphids are a small sucking insect that spreads like a wildfire but, thankfully, Ceropegia Woodii or variegata is not something they seek out. I’ve only seen aphids on our String of hearts plants a couple of times in my 10 years of growing these wonderful succulents.
If aphids do attack the String of hearts or VSOH they are most likely to go after the most tender, new growth at the end of the vine.
Aphids ae easily killed by pyrethrum sprays or can be squashed. I have written a full article on aphids here.
Slugs & Snails
In hanging pots, it is unlikely slugs or snails will ever get the chance to climb all the way to the pots, but when the vines hit the ground, they will definitely take the opportunity for an easy meal.
Slugs and snails are masters at hiding and can tuck themselves under the pots or even in the pots, in soil if there’s enough space.
Slug pellets can take care of slugs and snails, though they can be sneaky and avoid them. Traps with beer work very well.
String of hearts will get eaten by caterpillars if eggs have been laid nearby. It is not common as caterpillars tend to seek out more juicy succulents, but it can well happen.
I never kill caterpillars I find on my nursery plants as chances are they are of a butterfly or moth. These insects are fantastic pollinators and are dying out at alarming rates.
Relocating caterpillars to another part of the garden is, in my opinion, the best thing to do.
String of hearts problems
Although Ceropegia Woodii and its variegated cousin are quite easy to look after a few problems or annoyances can arise
The most common problems people experience with the String of Hearts are
Leaves falling off
Leaves growing too small
Leaves growing thin rather than plump
Dark spots on the leaves
Loss of colour
Leaves curling on String of hearts or VSOH can happen due to three factors. Lack of light, natural growth and animals can all cause Ceropegia Woodii leaves to curl. Sometimes, when the chain of hearts is kept indoors, the growth slows, and the leaves do not become as thick as plants grown outdoors. Ceropegia Woodii that is grown outside, especially the ones that will get a little filtered sun, will have thicker leaves that are unlikely to curl.
String of hearts indoors in a poor light position may end up with curled leaves. Although this will not kill the plant, it can distort the look. To fix the curly leaf in this scenario, move the plant closer to a source of light.
The natural curl can happen when the leaves are young and not thick enough. New growth is
thinner than more mature leaves and, therefore, they are prone to bending. As they grow older, the leaves should eventually straighten. Also, having the plant in as much light as possible will help. Young leaves in a dark spot can be a bit of double whammy for the hearts and cause a more pronounced curl.
Despite Ceropegia Woodii being fairly pest free the odd mealy bug or a bunch of aphids can sometimes attack and may cause the leaves to curl as a result of the damage they have done to the leaves. Other animals can cause leaves to curl such as some species of spiders, moth or butterfly caterpillars and other insect eggs. They commonly reside in a web which is strong enough to bend the leaves inwards.
This is a very common problem with Ceropegia Woodii. Despite this plant being a succulent, it does like to be watered regularly. Many people make the mistake of keeping the Chain of Hearts too dry which usually results in leaves drying up and looking shrivelled, especially on new growth as these leaves are still quite thin and not filled with water much.
Older leaves have much higher water content and can deal with a bit of dry. The remedy for drying leaves is nearly always more water, though do make sure the plant is in well-draining succulent potting mix that will not stay soggy for too long.
Leaves may also start drying out when the plant is root-bound. When this happens, the plant responds by drying and losing some of its leaves. Re-potting will help fix this problem, although, as we’ve mentioned above, it may be a bit tricky when the plants are mature and have very long vines.
The leaves can dry when the plant is in too much sun. Ceropegia Woodii can handle direct sun in the cold months, but not during summer when the temperatures are high. The sun will dry the leaves out and can also cause burns.
Moving the plant into bright shade will stop the drying. Variegated string of hearts is particularly prone to sun damage as the cream parts of the leaves lack chlorophyll.
Leaves falling off
Leaves can fall off for a number of reasons. It usually happens after they have dried up. So all the causes here are the same as in the previous paragraph.
Leaves abruptly falling can be caused by lack of light as well. Even though Chain of Hearts is shade tolerant and prefers bright shade to direct sun, too much shade can cause the leaves falling off as a stress response. Shade-tolerant plants need bright light to survive too.
Ceropegia Woodii in soggy and oversaturated potting mix can loose leaves. Very few plants that are not aquatic like being in overly wet potting mix for too long. If the potting mix well draining, this will never be an issue though. In most cases, the leaves falling off due to wet roots will be yellow/ brownish or mushy.
The String of hearts plants in our nursery are kept outdoors and do not mind if it rains a lot, and so in our opinion, this plant is not easily killed by over-watering as long as the potting mix is good.
Indoors water evaporation from the potting mix is slower. If the mix is heavy and retains too much water, the roots will become over-saturated fast, and this is when the plant can suffer. The roots may also get waterlogged in a pot with no drainage hole. This can literally drown the plant as the roots need to breathe. For the Chain of Hearts not loose leaves because of water, it should be planted in well-draining potting mix and in a pot with a hole at the bottom.
Perlite, pumice or lava rock can be added for extra drainage. Indoors, water when the potting mix has dried out, but do not leave dry for too long.
Leaves growing too small
Leaves usually grow small when the String of hearts is root-bound, thirsty or exposed to too much sun.
When there’s no space in the pot, the plant will slow its growth, and the leaves will become smaller. To get bigger leaves, the plant should be re-potted into a larger pot once a year.
Lack of water can also cause the leaves shrink as the plant tries to lessen the chance of water evaporating from a larger leaf surface.
Ceropegia Woodii that is grown in a spot with quite a bit of sun exposure may also grow smaller leaves. Sun causes many succulents to grow more compact and String of hearts is no exception. Placing the plant in shadier area will result in leaves growing bigger.
Lastly, new growth is always small, and it may take some time, especially for indoor plants, before these young leaves grow bigger. Remedy for this particular problem is patience.
Leaves growing thin rather than plump
In our experience, Ceropegia Woodii grown indoors or in deeper shade will always have thinner leaves compared to plants grown outside in plenty of light. There is not much that can be done about this other than moving the plant in a bright spot outdoors.
New growth is also always thin, but as the leaves mature, they will grow thicker.
Rotting leaves are unlikely to be a problem with the Chain of hearts if the potting mix is well-draining and the plant lives in a pot with a drainage hole. Leaves will rot when the plant has been sitting in waterlogged soil for too long.
Leaves may also rot if the plant is placed in dark and damp spaces (bathroom with very little light etc.). Chain of hearts is not a good plant for rooms that lack light.
During extreme weather such as heatwaves, String of hearts can have its leaves turn to mush and rot due to very string UV. We would not recommend leaving this succulent in direct sun on hot days as even a short exposure can damage the plant.
Dark spots on the leaves
Dark spots on Ceropegia Woodii leaves are usually caused by fungal diseases, pests or the sun.
When Ceropegia Woodii is grown somewhere dark and damp, it is quite likely black or brown spots will appear on the leaves. This plant should be grown in a bright and airy spot.
Sucking pests like aphids or mealybugs will create small holes in plants leaves to feed on the juices. When these wounds heal, they can permanently darken. Unfortunately, not much can be done about this once the damage is done.
Sun can burn plants just like it can burn human skin. The difference is that our skin can regenerate, whereas the plants will stay permanently damaged. The burns on String of hearts leave everlasting dark marks on leaves. The leaves can be pinched off, so the dark spots do not spoil the looks.
Loss of colour
Colour loss in String of hearts can be caused by lack of light, seasons and temperature.
Loss of colour is usually noticed on the Variegated Ceropegia Woodii VSOH. The leaves have a pink hue when exposed to a bit of morning sun. But in complete shade the pink can disappear.
Loss of colour is hard to manage indoors as the plants will often not be able to get the same amount of light as plants outdoors. Closer to a sunny window the Chain of hearts is, the more colourful it will get.
The colour can also change with the seasons and temperature. Most succulents, including the String of hearts, are more colourful once the temperature starts dropping. In winter, the hearts are at their most pink. Please note that Ceropegia Woodii is not frost tolerant and should not stay outdoors when frost or snow is expected. This change is natural and very hard to be forced and is completely natural.
Seasons also affect the colour in another way- growth. In spring the plants race ahead with new growth and are likely to lose some colour, even when it’s cool or when the plant is exposed to some sun. This can also happen when repotting into a bigger planter as the roots, all of a sudden, have more space, and the plant starts growing. Eventually, the plant will colour up again.
String of hearts is likely to grow slower indoors, when the plant is in too much shade, rootbound in a small pot and during the cooler months.
Brighter the spot, faster the growth. Light and sun’s rays provide growing energy for all plants and when this energy is taken away, the growth will naturally slow its growth.
When it comes to pots bigger the pot, faster the plant will grow. When the String of Hearts or Variegated String of hearts is rootbound or in a small pot, it is likely to slow all growth, even in the growing season.
The growth rate is also affected by the seasons. Ceropegia Woodii is dormant during the cold months and does not produce much growth in this time. In cold climates, it almost stops growing. In more temperate climates, it will still produce new branches but not as much as it would in spring and summer.
How do you make String of Hearts grow faster?
R-potting into a bigger pot will help the String of hearts access more nutrients and, in turn, make it grow faster. Good quality succulent potting mix with slow release fertilizer mixed in will also help.
In winter String of hearts plants are dormant and will not grow much, even when re-potted and fertilized.
What are the white balls on my string of hearts?
The white balls on string of hearts are swollen roots or tubers. They store water and turn white when completely covered in soil.
Tubers and roots also grow on the surface but their colour is the grey-brown.
Should I mist my string of hearts?
String of hearts should not be misted. This can encourage fungal diseases and does not help the plant at all. Misting can, ironically, starve a plant of water as it doesn’t deliver enough water to the roots.
Watering Ceropegia woodii and VSOH can easily be watered by thoroughly drenching when the potting mix has dried out.
Can you propagate string of hearts from leaf?
String of hearts can be propagated from leaf, however, it takes quite some time for the roots and any new vines to form. It is much quicker to propagate cuttings and even seeds.