Stephania Erecta


 Stephania pierrei (Originally & commercially known as Stephania erecta until the early 1920s). Copyright: Agriculture Weekly.



Contents

  1. Top Tips
  2. Placing Your Bulb in Soil for the First Time (Includes Step-by-Step Guide!)
  3. Location, Water, Humidity & Fertilisation
  4. Dormancy Care
  5. Common Issues
  6. Origins, Temperature, Propagation, Repotting & Toxicity.


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1. Top Tips & Info

  • Care Difficulty - Moderate
  • If you've recently purchased a bulb, scroll down to 'Placing Your Bulb in Soil for the First Time' to learn more about how deep to place it, in comparison to the soil line. This includes top tips and a step-by-step guide on transplantation, too!
  • Although most people call it a 'bulb', the correct terminology is a 'caudex'. We'll refer this part as 'bulb' to save confusion in the article though. 
  • Whilst your plant has foliage, keep it on the drier-side to life, only rehydrating once the majority of the soil dries out. Once the bulb enters its dormancy in the winter, reduce watering to almost none. Keep the potting mix dry until new signs of growth emerge in the spring. 
  • Due to the bulb, its ability to endure prolonged droughts exceptional compared to other houseplants, so if you're unsure, wait a few more days before re-watering it! This species is highly tolerable to root or basal rot, so always be cautious of too-frequent watering. 
  • Provide a bright location with little to no direct sunlight. As this species is rather expensive, keeping yours under a grow light is also acceptable for more reliable conditions. 
  • Use either a 'Houseplant' or 'Cactus' labelled fertiliser every four to six waters, depending on the season. 
  • A loss of leaves over the winter and early spring period is natural due to its dormancy period behaviour. This species of Stephania is classed as deciduous, meaning that some or all of its leaves will be lost at some point of the year, during a state of dormancy




2. Placing Your Bulb In Soil for the First Time

If you've recently purchased a Stephania, the chances are it's nothing but the bulb itself. You may begin to ask yourself questions like, "what soil and pot do I need?", or "how deep do I transplant it into the soil?". Well, luckily for you, this section is all about which compost, pot size and potting tips to get yours to thriving in no time!


Pictured above is its 'node'. This is where the bulb's new stem will emerge, so it's important to know that this end must stay upwards when planting it in soil.



Compost 

The most fundamental aspect of a happy Stephania is to ace its soil requirements. Because of its swollen bulb, you won't need a highly water-retentive potting mix and instead should opt for a grit or sand-based soil. We'd recommend a 'Cactus & Succulent' labelled potting mix, as it has a good blend of compost, perlite (to help airflow), grit and sand. You can even add some additional small stones or pebbles into the potting mix to increase the drainage further. 


Pot

Chose between using a decorative pot with drainage holes (like terracotta, ceramic, etc.) or through a plastic nursery pot with an additional decorative pot. We'd recommend using terracotta as it'll absorb moisture and provide a more aesthetically-pleasing contrast to the woody bulb and foliage, but others are just as good. Remember, never place your plant in a pot with no drainage holes as this will be a one-way ticket to plant death.

In terms of the size, make sure there is a gap between the pot's edge and the bulb's base of around a few inches. Although it's better to keep the roots snug, as supposed to over-potting them, you may not have enough room to pour soil in between the gaps, for example. The image above illustrates this well. 


Additional Tips

The depth of the bulb in relation to the soil line is the final piece to the puzzle. We'd recommend placing the bottom half into the soil, with the rest sitting above the potting mix. It's unadvised to pot yours too deeply, as the risk of basal rot will dramatically increase the further into the soil it goes. Keep reading to learn more about which is it's top and bottom half, along with the all-important step-by-step guide!



Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Place the bulb's bottom half in warm water for 24hrs. If you're unsure as to which side is the top, look for its node (a small circular ring located at one of the flattened ends.) Scroll up to the image above for a visual reference.



  2. After the 24hr period has finished, it's now time to pot it up! Place a thin layer of large stones or broken ceramic into the pot's base, before filling the bottom half with the 'Cactus & Succulent' labelled potting mix.




  3. Continue to pour soil until it reaches two-thirds of the pot's height and place the bulb in the middle. Do not push the bulb into the soil and instead rest it ON TOP.

    The red arrows signify how you must have the soil line up to around half of the bulb's height. Any deeper and it could cause it to rot if over-watered. 
  4. Add a thin layer of compost between the pot and bulb, and water the soil until small droplets emerge from the drainage holes. We would angle and pour the water directly over the bulb to wash off any compost that may have stuck to it. If the potting mix becomes uneven, finely sprinkle some more soil to even it out again. 
  5. As the potting mix is largely uninhabited with its roots, it'll stay moist for a long while. Water the soil again in around ten days time to rehydrate the specimen. Remember, over-watering is very likely at this stage, so be sure to keep it on the drier side to help the roots thrive.
  6. Its roots will always develop first and THEN the foliage. To gain an understanding as to when yours is close to producing its first leaf, have a peek around the bulb's node for any signs of small, green bumps. This is the primary node of the plant, whereby the new foliage will develop in due course. In some cases, this could take as little as a month, with others experiencing waits of over four months. Scroll down to 'Light & Location' to learn more about where to situate your Stephania!


The final product! As mentioned above, pour water directly over the bulb when hydrating your bulb for the first time. This will wash off any attached compost bits from the bulb (pictured above).


Within a few weeks, your Stephania will produce an active node, signalling the start of its awakening!




3. Location & Light - 🔸🔸

A location with a splash of morning or evening sun is the ideal setting for this species, as too dark scenes will heighten the chance of weakened health and over-watering related issues. Although direct sunlight is beneficial for a Stephania, avoid scorching the leaves with too intense rays as this will quickly lead to a murky green appearance, especially in the summer.

In terms of the ideal location around the house, as long as the desired location is above 15ºC (59ºF) and is on a north, east or west-facing windowsill, it'll be accepted. Do not situate it in a dark location metres away from a light source, as this will only increase the chance of over-watering. Those kept around 30cm (1ft) from a grow light is also acceptable, as this will provide a more reliable environment and reduce the risk of sun-scorch. 


Water - 🔸

Allow the top half of the soil to dry out in between waters during blooms in autumn or winter. Once the pot feels light when lifted, compared to when you last watered it, this is the best time to rehydrate. Once the leaves begin to yellow or drop in succession, reduce the frequency of irrigations further to replicate its dormancy from late winter onwards. As long as the bulb never sits in soggy or standing water unnecessarily, it can be happy for years to come. It's always better to under-water a Stephania than over-do it, as they naturally grow in semi-dry conditions of Cambodia, Laos & Thailand. Under-watering symptoms include curled or crispy leaves, wilted foliage, yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Over-watering symptoms include yellowing or browning leaves, stunted growth, wilting and a rotten base. Avoid the soil becoming overly saturated due to the species' susceptibility to root rot and other soilborne diseases. If this has happened to your specimen, increase the intensity light somewhat with fewer irrigations - a fully softened over base most likely will spell the end of its life. Over-watering is commonly caused by too little light or heat or a lack of drying soil in between irrigations. We would take the plant out of its pot and have a quick scan of its root systems, too. Click here to learn more about root rot. 


Humidity - 🔸

Create a humidity tray to provide a moist and stable environment for your plant. If the surrounding saturation is too low or the heat too high, its leaf-tips may start to excessively brown over and curl, especially in direct sunlight. Gently mist the foliage from time to time to hydrate the leaves and keep the dust levels down. A humidity level of 60% or higher is acceptable for Stephania.


Fertilisation - 🔸🔸

Regular fertilisation isn't always needed for this species, as overly fertile soil may cause chemical salts to build-up over time. We'd recommend fertilising your specimen every four waters in the summer and autumn period, while reducing this to every six waters thereafter.

If all of the leaves yellow and drop off during the winter, don't be alarmed. Reduce watering and fertilisation dramatically to ease the plant into its dormancy. Give the specimen one final water with fertiliser before allowing all of the soil to dry out, until the new growth appears in the late spring. 




4. Dormancy Care (Winter & Spring)

A good dormancy at the end of its growing period will allow the bulb to regain its strength for the following season. There's no need to cut the leaves off, but removing them won't be a detriment either. We'd recommend leaving the specimen as it is, allowing the leaves to drop naturally. Here are the key tips for keeping a Stephania for years to come, and how to prepare for its dormancy from winter onwards.

N. B. - In some cases, the specimen won't drop its leaves an will continue to appear like it's growing. If this happens to yours during the winter and spring, reduce watering to every few weeks while still keeping it in the same location. Allow the plant to take control of what it wants and go with the flow!


What Happens if it becomes leafless?

Stephania is considered 'deciduous', meaning that it'll drop some (or all) of its leaves at some point of the year. This is most likely to occur in the winter and summer, while the plant serves its dormant period.

Your plant will do either of two things - keep its leaves or begin to shed them until it becomes 'naked'. This is a totally natural process of its life, which will help it flourish in the following season (late spring onwards). If the leaves begin to yellow and crisp over, this could be the sign of the change in its appearance. Once all of its leaves are gone, maintain a warm, dry location with little to no watering during this period. You can store the plant in a darker area until there are new signs of life, or keep it in the original location. Once spring comes to an end, increase the ambient temperature (or relocate to a sunnier area) to stimulate new growth in its roots and node (where the stem will regrow, at the bulb's top). Give the plant a good thorough water, diluted with a 'Houseplant' labelled fertiliser, and wait for the new growth. This could take either a matter of weeks or even months. Give the plant time and always keep the soil dry until the growth emerges.

Should I Repot It?

We wouldn't. It's better to allow the plant to rest during the dormancy period, as disturbed roots could cause poor future growth rates and weakened health. Only if you're worried about root rot, should you remove the plant from its pot. Otherwise, leave it alone!

Scroll down to 'Repotting' to learn more about transplanting a mature, rooted specimen. 




The length of its branch will be directly governed by the bulb-size and light levels received when easing out of its dormancy. 




5. Common Issues with Stephania Erecta

Yellowing foliage, accompanied by a sudden loss of leaves, is most likely caused by the specimen entering its dormancy period. Scroll up to 'Dormancy Care' to learn more about this phenomenon.

Yellowed leaf-areas with browned halos can be caused by an array of simultaneous issues, but equally could be a sign of it entering the dormancy period. If the base of the plant still feels plump and you know for certain that you haven't over-watered it, scroll up to 'Dormancy Care' to learn more. If, however, your plant is showing signs of probable illness, carry on reading.
Firstly, the location may be too dark, with its compost staying too saturated in-between waters; if mould is growing across the soil, this is usually a bad sign. As mentioned above, partial exposure to the warmth of the sunlight will stimulate better growth, meaning that shaded areas must be avoided at all costs. Further, you're potentially using too cold water or tap water that hasn't been allowed to sit for 24hrs. This period of rest will not only bunk-up its temperature, but the harsh chemicals used to preserve water hygiene (fluoride & chloride) will begin to settle after a few hours. If possible, use fresh bottled water from a shop or supermarket to prevent chemical burns. The final culprit might be lack of fertilisation, with infrequent feeds being paramount for long-lasting, healthy specimens. If the specimen hasn't been nourished in over two months, it'll begin to show signs of nutrient deficiencies seen in this article.
If this common problem has occurred with your specimen, remove the affected leaves (not sections on the leaf) and improve the growing conditions considerably. Fertilise regularly with lukewarm water and be sure to allow the top third to dry out in between hydrations. Its new growth should be problem-free, but if you'd like to speak to ukhouseplants for more advice, don't be afraid to book a 1-to-1 call with our friendly author, Joe Bagley!

Over-watering is the biggest issue with Stephania. Avoid keeping the compost wet for extended periods, especially in the dormant period of winter-spring. Allow the top half of the soil to become dry in between waters, and always remember to use tepid water to avert shocking the tender root systems. Typical signs of over-watering include yellowed leaves, stunted or wilted growth and a softened base. Click here if you are worried about root rot. 

Too little light could cause a lack of new growth. If you're scared that the location is too dark, we would recommend increasing the light slightly. Stephania do best in bright locations that offer a period of morning or evening sunlight, especially in the height of winter (if your specimen has leaves still). Give the specimen a good feed when you next come to water it, to increase the overall health levels within the plant. 

Too much sunlight will lead to sun-scorch, with typical signs including browning or crispy leaves, dry leaf-edges, curled leaves or little growth. Although too low light will cause over-watering issues, too much sunlight will also be a detriment in the likes of dehydration. A location that offers a little to no direct sunlight will bring the optimum growth for the specimen.




6. Origins

This species was initially described by William Grant Craib in the early 20th-century - possibly the 1920s. He placed it in the already-constructed genus of Stephania, which can be translated from Greek to mean 'crown'. This is in reference to the crown-shaped arrangement of the anthers, the area that holds its pollen in the flowers. Within twenty years, the species was reclassified as Stephania pierrei, honouring French botanist, Jean Baptiste Louis Pierre. The original specific epithet, erecta, refers to the pointed branches that emerge from a dormant caudex. The species has natural distributions across Cambodia, Laos, Thailand & Vietnam. 


The Distribution of Sephania pierrei


Temperature

16° - 26°C  (61° - 79°F)
H1a (Hardiness Zone 13) - Must be grown indoors or under glass all year round. Never allow temperatures to dip below 15℃ (59℉) or permanent damage may occur in the likes of flower loss, stunted growth and blackened/yellowed leaves.


Spread

Caudex (Bulb) - Up to 17cm in diameter.
Branches - Up to 1m in length.
Individual Leaves - 6cm in diameter.

Maturity can take over twenty years in some cases, with the overall height surpassing 1.1m (when it supports branches & leaves).


Pruning & Maintenance

Remove yellowed or dying leaves and plant debris to encourage better growth and improve the all-round appearance. Pruning must be done with clean scissors or pruners to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases; remember to make clean incisions as too much damage can shock the plant. 

Scroll up to 'Dormancy Care' to learn more about pruning over the winter period. 


Propagation

Via Seeds.

Seeds (Moderate to Difficult) - Soak the seeds in lukewarm water for around 24hrs in a dark location, preferably on top of an operating radiator. The best soil to use is a Cactus-labelled potting mix; however, multipurpose compost with added perlite and sand is as good. Set the seeds around 0.5cm deep (0.2 inches), resisting the temptation to compact it. Maintain evenly moist soil and allow the excess water to freely drain from the pot's base to prevent water-logged conditions. You can sprinkle a fine layer of Vermiculite onto the soil's surface to maintain better moisture levels - key for quicker germination rates. The ideal location for successful growth is in a bright, indirect setting with temperatures above 18℃ (64℉) with bottom-heat. Keep the pot in a transparent bag to provide a stable level of humidity, along with longer-lasting soil moisture. Germination may take up to five months, so don't discard any unsuccessful seeds until this threshold has been surpassed. Remove the bag once the seedlings produce their second leaf and then split them into their own 5cm (2 inch) pots.


Flowers

There isn't much information about its flowers in reputable sites or books, so describing its blooms is near impossible at this stage. We'll regularly search for further information on this for you.


Repotting

Once your specimen has been happily growing in its original potting mix for around three years, it'll be time for a transplant. We'd recommend repotting the plant in the early summer, using the next sized pot with drainage holes and a 'Cactus & Succulent' labelled potting mix.


Step-by-Step Guide on Repotting a Mature Specimen

  1. With the new, slightly larger pot, fill the pot's bottom 3cm (1.5 inches) with the 'Cactus' potting mix, before resting the plant's rootball in the middle. Remember not to remove soil from the roots or over-touch this area as Transplant Shock may kill your specimen in some cases. 
  2. Continue to pour soil in the gap between the pot and plant, until the soil line reaches 3/4 of the pot's height. Adding too much soil may result in water runoff when you next come to water it.
  3. Similarly to potting a newly-purchased bulb, never compact the soil down for stability, and instead tap the pot's sides a few times for consolidation.
  4. Finally, water the soil well until the small droplets emerge from the drainage holes. If the potting mix becomes uneven, sprinkle some fresh compost into the mounts. 


Book a 1-to-1 video call with Joe Bagley if you'd like a personal guide to repotting your houseplant. This will include recommending the right branded-compost and pot size, followed by a live video call whilst you transplant the specimen for step-by-step guidance and answer any further questions!


Pests & Diseases

Keep an eye out for spider mites, aphids, thrips, whitefly & mealybugs. Common diseases with Stephania are root or basal rot, powdery mildew & leaf-spot disease. Most diseases are caused by excess moisture in the soil or the foliage; maintain dry leaves and always avoid water-logging for best results.


Toxicity

This plant is classified as poisonous. If parts of the plants are eaten, vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite could occur. Consumption of large quantities must be dealt with quickly; acquire medical assistance for further information.


Retail Locations

This species is only available on internet stores and almost never in physical stores. 



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