How to Grow and Care For Stephania Erecta

Stephania Erecta (or Stephania Pierrei) is a great addition to your houseplant collection. If you love “fat plants”, look no further! You found one! With vining branches, shield-shaped leaves, and a large caudex (this is what makes it a fat plant), it brings a lot of personality to your home.

Stephania Erecta (or Stephania Pierrei) is a great addition to your houseplant collection.
If you love “fat plants”, look no further! You found one! With vining branches, shield-shaped leaves, and a large caudex (this is what makes it a fat plant), it brings a lot of personality to your home.
This plant guide provides the information you need to successfully grow and care for your Stephania Erecta. We will walk you through planting, sprouting, and dormancy.

What is a Stephania Erecta?

Stephania Erecta comes from Southeast Asia including Thailand and Cambodia. It gets its common name from the “erect” branches that sprout from its caudex (fat stem). Originally described by William Grant Craib, it is called Stephania Erecta ‘Craib’ by some plant lovers.
The Stephania Erecta is a caudiciform plant. Its stem is a large caudex that looks like a coconut. This is a water storage system for the plant and makes it drought-hardy. It does well when treated like a succulent or cactus.

Quick Stephania Erecta Care Guide

Botanical Name

Stephania pierrei

Common Names

Stephania Erecta, Stephania erecta ‘Craib’

Plant Type

Caudiciform plant

Family

Menispermaceae

Sun Exposure

Bright Indirect Light

Water

1-2x a week

Propagate

Seeds

Bloom Time

Summer

Flower Color

Yellow

Great For These Spaces

Windowsill, Shelves, Office, Terrariums, Desk

Window Locations (Ideal)

East or West Facing Windows

USDA Hardiness Zones (USDA Zones)

10, 11

Toxicity

Toxic to dogs and cats

What is a Caudiciform Plant?

Caudiciform plants:
  • They have fat stems (ball or cone-shaped)
  • They are flowering plants
  • They are deciduous and have dormant seasons
  • The caudex is a water storage system, so they survive long periods without water.
A caudiciform plant is a category of plant distinguished by its fat stem. This fat stem (sometimes in the shape of a ball or cone) is called a caudex. The caudex separates these plants from the more common flowering plants with thin stems.
Caudiciform plants use the caudex as a water storage system to survive through dry seasons. While it looks like a bulb or tuber, it has a different purpose. Bulbs are modified leaves and store energy and food for the plant. Tubers are a food storage system for a plant.
The caudex is typically planted with the top half above soil level. The roots grow from the bottom half of the caudex, and the stems grow from the top.
These plants are deciduous and have a dormant season. This means the plant will have yellow leaves in the late fall/early winter that eventually fall off. The plant will store energy during the colder months before sprouting new growth the next year!

Examples of Caudiciform plants

Stephania Erecta is not the only caudiciform plant. If you like this style of the stem, here are some other plants to add to your collection:
  • The Elephant Tree (Bursera microphylla) is another favorite houseplant with a caudex. This tree is related to Frankincense; its leaves have an earthy/woodsy fragrance. This tree proliferates, which makes it a rewarding houseplant.
  • Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) is a slow-growing caudiciform plant with large green fronds. Sago Palms are toxic to pets.
  • Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco) is an attractive houseplant and beginner-friendly plant. The Dragon Tree is spiky with a thick trunk and is closely related to the more common Corn Plant.
  • Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is a fun and easy plant to cultivate. Despite its common name, it is not a palm tree and is closely related to asparagus. This is a relatively fast-growing caudex, which makes it a rewarding plant to own.
  • Rock Fig (Ficus petiolaris) has a caudex that wraps itself around rocks with exciting patterns, bumps, and curves. This makes it very attractive to bonsai collectors.

How to Grow Stephania Erecta

When you buy a Stephania Erecta (check out the Enter Neverland app to get yours), it will come as a coconut-looking caudex. Planting the caudex correctly will help your new houseplant flourish.

How to Sprout Stephania Erecta

  • Step 1: The first thing is to identify the top and the bottom of the caudex. The top of the caudex will have a small node. It looks like a circular malformation in the center of one of the flattened sides. This node is where the branches of the Stephania will sprout from.
  • Step 2: Once you know which way is up, place the caudex in a bowl with warm water covering the bottom half. Make sure the node is facing up! Leave the plant in the water for 24 hours. This step will alert the plant that it will have enough water to start putting its energy into sprouting.
  • Step 3: While that is soaking, you can prepare your pot for planting. A terracotta pot with a drainage hole is ideal. You can place rocks at the bottom for water drainage. Fill the pot with chunky, well-aerated soil such as cactus or succulent soil. This soil may be a mix of potting soil, perlite, bark, pebbles, and sand.
  • Step 4: After 24 hours, you can place the caudex in the cactus/succulent-friendly soil mix. Only cover 1/3 to 1/2 of the caudex with soil. Again, make sure the node is on top and exposed. Don’t be afraid to let the caudex show off. This reduces the risk of basal rot. 
  • Step 5: Once planted, you can water the soil until water starts to drip from the drainage hole. After this initial watering, be careful not to overwater. Overwatering will result in basal or root rot, and your plant will die. Remember that it stores water in that caudex, so it's rarely thirsty.
  • Step 6: Water whenever the top 2-3 inches of the soil are dry. Because there are no roots to soak up the water in the soil, it can take 7-14 days for the soil to dry out. Be patient!
  • Step 7: Keep high humidity! You may need to cover the caudex in a glass dome or place a humidity tray beneath it. Remember, this is a tropical plant! 
  • Step 8: Your plant will likely want to grow roots before it starts sprouting. You may not see new growth on the node until 1-3 months after planting. You will see small green bumps at the node when sprouting begins.

How to Care For Stephania Erecta

Hooray! Your Stephania Erecta sprouted! You’re a new plant parent!
Now let’s keep it that way! Here are some essential care tips to ensure that your houseplant lives its best.

Water

Wait until the soil is completely dry between watering. Water with room temperature or warm water.
Watering is the most important part of caring for this houseplant. Remember, the caudex stores water! Overwatering is one of the most common reasons why they die. Signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves, poor growth, or a squishy/rotting caudex. If leaves are brown and crispy, you may be underwatering your plant, but check the soil before adding water.

Sunlight

This plant loves bright indirect light. It will thrive between 1-3 feet away from a north-, east-, or west-facing window or within 1-foot of a grow light. The leaves will burn in direct sunlight. Too dark of a location will result in overwatering.

Temperature

Stephania Erecta is a tropical plant and likes to stay in temperatures between 60-80ºF. Keep in a warm place away from drafts like doors and vents.

Humidity

This plant thrives in high humidity (60%+). You may need the help of a humidity tray or a small humidifier. If the leaves start to have crispy, brown edges, you may need to increase the humidity around the plant.

Soil

Soil for a Stephania Erecta should drain well. Succulent/cactus soil mixes are best for this. If making your own soil, you will want a combination of potting soil, perlite, chunky bark or pebbles, and some sand. This will keep the water from sitting too long on the base or roots of the plant and causing root/basal rot.

Fertilizer

Do not over-fertilize! During the summer and fall, you can fertilize once every 6-8 weeks. Avoid fertilizing during the dormant season. We recommend using a cactus or houseplant fertilizer.

Dormancy and New Growth

The dormant season is the winter and early spring for Stephania Erecta. Signs that your plant is transitioning to dormancy may be yellow leaves dropping. Though sometimes, the branches/leaves may not continue to grow instead of dying. Either way, just let it happen!
Don’t water or fertilize once this plant is dormant. You can even move it into a darker space (like a closet) when it is in dormancy. Let it store up all its energy so it can flourish during its next growing season.
In late spring, you can bring the caudex back into a sunny spot and begin to water when the soil is completely dry. Increasing humidity will also tell the plant that it is time to grow.
You should see new growth as the summer starts, but it can take weeks or even months for new growth to sprout. Be patient!

How to Propagate Stephania Erecta

Stephania Erecta is propagated from seeds harvested from the branches during the growing season. Propagating from seeds can be difficult. So it is essential to do it correctly to set yourself up for success.
In the late summer months, you can harvest seeds from the seed pods on your pollinated Stephania Erecta’s branches.
 Wait for the seeds to turn black and fall off the branch. Or purchase seeds here!

From Stephania Erecta Seeds

  • Step 1: Place the seeds in warm water in a darker spot in your home for about 24 hours.
  • Step 2: Place the seeds in a cactus/succulent soil mix about 0.2 inches below the surface. You can do this in a small pot or tray and place it in a plastic bag. This helps maintain the humidity level around the seed for the best chance of sprouting.
  • Step 3: Keep the soil moist and the humidity high in the bag/container.
  • Step 4: Keep in a spot with bright indirect light like your adult plant
  • Step 5: Once the seeds have sprouted 2-3 leaves, repot each seed into a 2-inch pot.

How to Repot Stephania Erecta

We recommend repotting your Stephania Erecta every three years or so. The best time to repot is in the early summer. This is when the plant is transitioning from dormancy to growing season.
  • Step 1: Prepare your new pot. Grab a pot with a good drainage hole that is about 2-inches bigger than your current pot. You can also add rocks or perlite to the bottom 0.5-1 inch of the pot for improved drainage. Then cover with 2-3 inches with a cactus/succulent soil mix.
  • Step 2: Remove the caudex from the old pot. Do not remove the dirt from the roots! This may send the plant into shock and hinder growth. Just loosen the root ends from the soil to encourage them to grow into the new soil in the new pot.
  • Step 3: Place the caudex in the new pot. Place the caudex on top of the 2-3 inches of soil that you prepared in the new pot.
  • Step 4: Surround the roots and caudex with new soil. Add soil mix around the roots and 1/3 of the caudex. Do not fill to the top of the pot. Do not push on the soil to compact it.
  • Step 5) Water thoroughly. Water until you can see the water dripping from the drainage hole. This may compact the soil, and you can add more if needed.
  • Step 6) Place back in bright indirect light. Replace the new pot in a similar location as the old one.

How to Protect Stephania Erecta from Pests and Problems like Root Rot

Protecting your plant from pests and problems is part of being a great plant parent! Here are some possible things to watch out for and how to deal with them.

Yellowing Leaves or Leaf Drop

Yellowing and falling leaves are common as your plant goes dormant. This occurs in the late fall. It may be a sign of overwatering if you see yellow leaves in the summertime. Wait for the soil to dry completely between watering to avoid this problem.

Leaf Spot

Leaf spot occurs the leaves of the plant stay wet for prolonged periods. Make sure to keep the leaves dry for healthy, happy green leaves.

Root Rot

Root rot is the most common problem with Stephanias due to overwatering. Signs of root rot include stunted growth, yellowing leaves, or rotting of the caudex. Root rot is very difficult to reverse, so it is best to avoid it by watering only when the soil is completely dry.

Pests

Common pests for Stephania Erecta include spider mites, mealy bugs, and aphids.

5 Tips on How To Take Good Care of Stephania Erecta

Our five best tips for growing a healthy Stephania Erecta!
  1. Remember that a Stephania can take several months to “wake up”
  2. DO NOT OVERWATER. Wait until the soil is completely dry before watering. The caudex will store water for the plant. The chances are high that it is NOT thirsty. This will also help you avoid common problems such as root rot.
  3. Only fertilize 1-2x per year. Overfertilizing can cause damage.
  4. Place in bright, indirect light! It will do best in north-, east-, or west-facing windows between 1-3 feet from the window.
  5. The loss of leaves in late fall is common and signifies that the plant is going into its dormant season. Leave it alone!
 
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