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The Plant Lady: Try using leaves to make more succulents, begonias and African violets

African violets are easy to propagate from their leaves.
African violets are easy to propagate from their leaves. Bee file photo

Almost all plants can be cloned by stem cuttings because they have an important component called meristematic tissue. This tissue allows the plant to form roots when stem cuttings are made. Some plants’ leaves can be used to propagate. In this lesser-known technique, when leaves are cut and/or buried, they form a cluster of cells called a callus. This callus will eventually grow roots and stems, resulting in a new plant.

Before starting, it is a good idea to know some basic terminology:

A leaf generally consists of a petiole and a leaf blade.

The petiole is the “stalk.”

The blade is the main portion of the leaf.

Some leaves do not have noticeable petioles.

The blade is composed of a tip and a base end.

Within the blade are noticeable veins, one usually slightly more prominent going through the center.

The ideal time to take leaf cuttings is when the plant is actively growing. By using these young leaves, the addition of rooting hormone (Auxin) is typically not required. Leaf propagation is a straightforward process, with a few variations based on the plant.

The media should be any that has water-holding ability, but also fast draining and significant air space. My go-to mix at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory is a 50/50 blend of perlite and vermiculite. Sphagnum moss, 100% perlite, pumice or peat moss can also be used.

Cuttings can be placed close together with many in a pot. Since they don’t have roots, there is no competition for space or nutrients.

Place in bright but indirect light.

As there are no roots, they are acquiring all moisture through their leaves. Place a clear plastic bag over the pot or mist regularly.

The new plant will form at the base of the leaf, with the leaf cutting withering away over time.

There are countless plants that can be propagated from leaves. I am going to cover some of the more common, easy, and a few unusual ones.

African violets

One of the most common plants to propagate from leaves.

Pinch off a leaf and bury either the petiole or the base below the soil media. I have had success doing either way.

Begonias

Many begonia species can be cloned by leaf propagation.

Leaf cuttings are often done for Rex Begonia types or those without elongated stems.

Clip a single leaf, remove the petiole and bury the base of the leaf blade slightly under the media.

If the leaf is large you can cut the leaf in half.

If more plants are desired you can use the “confetti” method.

One leaf can be cut into 1-inch sections containing a portion of the main leaf vein.

Lay the portions on top of your planting media in a pot.

To ensure good media to leaf connection, it is best practice to pin the leaf section down.

Succulents

Most succulents will naturally produce offsets, but to grow a significant number you can use leaves to clone.

Sedums, Echeverias, Kalanchoes and Jade plants are some that are easy to clone.

Simply lay the leaves down on top of the rooting media of your choice.

The new plants will form at the base of the leaf.

Below the donor plant you will often see leaves that have fallen off and are growing plantlets all on their own.

Gasteria and Sansevieria

These two have long succulent leaves.

Either a single leaf can be planted or 2- 4-inch sections of leaves can be buried to grow new plants.

I recommend using straight pumice or red lava rock to grow these.

Make sure to keep track of which way is up!

Do not cover these in plastic. Too much moisture can cause rot.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia

We call this the “easy ZZ.”

It is by far the most abundant leaf cutting we do at the conservatory.

Indoors, this plant will grow in both very low light and bright light.

It is an ideal plant if you tend to forget to water.

It puts on long leaves with many leaflets.

Cut the leaflets off and bury slightly upright in your planting media.

Tubers will form and soon you will see a new plant form at the base of the leaf.

The older leaf will wither away.

Venus Fly Traps

The traps we all know so well are actually the leaf blade, with the petiole extending down to the stem at soil level.

The key is to tug the leaf off and make sure you get the white colored plant tissue at the base of the petiole.

Lay the leaves on the surface of your media with the base of the petiole slightly buried.

These are best propagated on peat moss and need to be kept moist with distilled, rain or reverse osmosis water.

Corpse plant

And finally, here is a rare plant we have had success with. Over the years, we have added to our collection of the corpse plant, Amorphophallus titanum, via leaf propagation. This plant is known for its very smelly inflorescence (cluster of flowers).

To generate more plants without having to produce seeds, we have successfully cloned plants by using sections of leaves. The individual leaves on these plants can reach as high as 20 feet, but only a small portion is needed to propagate. The key here is stripping the blade away from the midrib and burying a portion of what remains.

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