How To Grow And Care For Dischidia Plants

A relative of the beautiful Hoya plant, Dischidia succulents are unusual because they are also epiphytes, which grow on other plants, such as tree trunks or branches.

These plants are an excellent choice for a houseplant, thanks to their unique looks, and how easy they are to grow, unlike other epiphytes such as orchids which can be a little more tricky to understand.

Not sure if a Dischidia plant is for you? Let’s take a look at how to grow them.

At A Glance: All About Dischidia Plants

Dischidia plants belong to the Apocynaceae plant family, also known as the dogbane plant family. 

You might know Dischidia by some of its other names, including the shingle plant, or the string of nickels.

These plants hail from the tropical parts of India and China, Thailand, and other parts of Indo-China.

You can easily recognize these plants by their disk-like leaves, formed on trailing stems. Some cultivars feature leaves as large as coins or small fruits, while others form leaves smaller than your fingernail and look like ferns from a distance.

In the wild, they attach themselves to other plants to extract nutrients and water from both the air and the plants they attach themselves to. 

So they need a somewhat humid environment in order to thrive, and don’t do well in dry and windy environments.

Depending on the light levels, the foliage may be a bright green, yellow, or even gray.

You can grow them in terrariums, hanging baskets, or containers. Some species are capable of reaching up to 12 feet tall and wide, but outside their native habitat, this is unlikely.

How To Grow Dischidia Plants

Dischidia plants are striking, and rewarding to grow, thanks to how easy-going they are, but you do need to get the conditions right in order for them to thrive (see also Growing The Million Hearts Plant: Dischidia Ruscifolia).

It’s possible to grow them outdoors or indoors, but the conditions do need to change depending on the environment.

Growing Dischidia Indoors

Indoors, Dischidia plants add a wealth of greenery and interest into any room. But one thing to keep in mind is that they don’t like dry air, so you’re better off growing them in a room with higher humidity, such as a bathroom or kitchen.

Grouping houseplants with similar needs together can help raise the humidity, and the occasional misting will also give the plants a boost.

You could also grow these plants in a terrarium if you have the room, and this will help lock in the humidity that these plants need.

They like indirect sunlight, and while they will withstand an hour or two of direct sunlight, it’s best to put them in a very bright position instead, where they are less likely to dry out. 

Completely drying out can stress or damage the plant, so avoid it where possible.

Growing Dischidia Outdoors

If you want to grow Dischidia plants outside, you need to live in USDA zones 10 and 11, otherwise take them outside during the summer and bring them back inside before the weather gets cooler.

These plants are not frost-hardy, as you might expect, so bring them inside before the temperature drops, otherwise the plant will be damaged by frost.

If you do live in the recommended zones, one unique way of displaying Dischidia plants is to encourage them to grow up trees, teaching them to climb instead of trail. Simply attach the pot to the tree with a bit of twine, and let the plant do its thing.

This is a good way of growing them, not only to provide an excellent display, but also to give them some shelter from the harsh sunlight that can be too much for them.

Ditch The Compost

A vital part of Dischidia care is to make sure you don’t plant them in conventional compost (see also How To Grow The Watermelon Dischidia). While they look like normal succulent plants, potting them up in a cacti or succulent soil mix would be a mistake.

You will need to plant them in an epiphyte-suitable potting mix, such as a commercial orchid potting mix. You could also use coconut husk or shredded bark if you prefer.

Or, to truly mimic the Dischidia plants’ natural habitat, you could simply attach them to a tree outdoors, or indoors, on a moss pole (see also Moss Pole DIY), sphagnum moss ball, or piece of wood in a humid and warm area.

How To Prune Dischidia

It’s not often that a Dischidia plant needs a good trim, if it all. But one thing you should regularly do is to remove yellowing leaves, vines, or dead plant matter to keep your plant healthy.

If you want to keep your Dischidia a certain size, it is worth trimming it back occasionally, using sharp and clean scissors or plant clippers. 

You should always use sharp scissors or cutters, as this provides a clean cut, stopping bacteria from forming in the wound, and preventing the plant from going into shock.

How To Propagate Dischidia

The easiest way to make new Dischidia plants is to take cuttings from an existing and healthy plant. 

For Dischidia, take cuttings from healthy stems during spring or summer, and always cut below a leaf node.

Take a few cuttings to ensure your success, and pop them somewhere to dry and heal. Once the cut has calloused over, lie the cuttings on top of some moist sphagnum moss. 

Keep them damp at all times, somewhere away from direct sunlight and drafts. Once you see new growth, you can transfer them into their new homes.

How And When To Repot Dischidia

If you’re growing these plants in pots, repot your Dischidia when the roots start to emerge from the drainage holes, which should roughly be every couple of years. 

You will need to be very careful when handling the roots, as you could cause the plant transplant shock, so avoid handling them more than necessary. 

Always choose a container one size up from its current pot, and use a fresh potting mix suitable for epiphytes.

Care And Maintenance

Dischidia plants are easy to grow and care for, but you do need to be careful where and how you grow them, as there are some conditions that they simply won’t tolerate. 

Sunlight And Position

Dischidia plants need a bright position, somewhere warm and humid, but with plenty of airflow to prevent disease. 

You might put them in a bathroom where you have frosted glass or a screen over the window, and this provides filtered sunlight which stops the plant from being scorched.

If you’re growing Dischidia outdoors, you might choose a log or tree in a sheltered area that gets plenty of light but perhaps only an hour or two of direct sunlight.

Make sure you don’t place Dischidia plants in a windy site, as this will make them dry out, and this isn’t a condition that these plants can cope with.

Watering And Fertilizer Needs

As Dischidia plants are epiphytes, they like their atmosphere on the humid side, but they need to dry out at least a little between watering. This will stop the plants from rotting. 

Depending on the growing conditions, this might be as often as once a week, or less. 

It’s worth noting that they don’t need as much water in the winter, so scale it back slightly, but make sure the plants don’t dry out completely.

You’ll also want to avoid overwatering, as this will lead to root rot. 

In terms of fertilizer, this isn’t really necessary. Unlike other epiphytes like orchids, it’s not vital to the health of a Dischidia to feed it regularly. 

They will happily grow without extra nutrients, but if you do want to give them a boost, you can.

Use a general houseplant fertilizer, making sure that the dose is half the recommended amount, and fertilize only when you are watering. 

Fertilize sparingly, perhaps once or twice during spring and summer, and avoid doing so in fall and winter entirely to give the plant a rest.

Temperature Requirements

Dischidia plants need temperatures to be between 50°F and 85°F (10°C and 29°C) to thrive, away from sources of heat, drafts, or wind. 

The more constant you can keep the atmosphere, the better the plants will cope.

It’s also worth noting that Dischidia plants need at least some humidity to thrive, as they get a lot of the moisture they need from the air directly. 

This is why it’s a good idea to grow your Dischidia in a terrarium, which has a higher level of humidity than if you just placed it in a normal room.

You can mist the plant which will increase the humidity for a short amount of time, invest in a humidifier if you’re growing indoor plants anyway, or use a tray filled with water and pebbles underneath the pot.

Pests And Diseases To Watch Out For

Dischidia plants aren’t difficult to grow, and as long as you get the conditions right, they will be resilient to most pests and disease. But that doesn’t mean that they are completely invulnerable, however.

You will need to look out for the likes of scale and mealybugs, which can damage or even kill your plant if left untreated. 

If you do see signs of these pests, you can use your shower head or garden hose with cool water to hose them off, and apply an insecticide soap to make sure these pests don’t make a reappearance.

One thing that Dischidia plants are particularly susceptible to is root rot. You might see early signs of root rot in yellowing or dying leaves. 

If the substrate or soil becomes moldy, this is another sign that root rot is a problem, and it also affects the growth, too.

If you think for a minute that your Dischidia plant is suffering from root rot, it’s important to take steps immediately. 

Don’t wait, as root rot will kill the plant quickly, and when signs do become obvious, it may already be too late. 

That doesn’t mean all is lost, however. There are a few things you can try. The first step is to get the Dischidia plant out of its container and substrate, and cut away any rotten roots with clean scissors.

Rinse the healthy roots with cool water, and pot up in fresh substrate, making sure that you hold off on watering for a while. 

Another common disease you might see in a Dischidia plant is powdery mildew. If the area is too humid and there isn’t enough airflow, this build up of moisture will affect the plant and start to kill the leaves.

Cut off any affected foliage, and reduce the humidity slightly and improve the airflow around the plant. 

Dischidia Varieties To Consider

Dischidia imbricata

One of the most striking forms of Dischidia is Dischidia imbricata, producing large and coin-like leaves that look perfect trailing in hanging pots, or climbing trees outdoors or coconut husks indoors.

Dischidia nummularia ‘String Of Nickels’

For particularly full stems with small, bright green leaves, the ‘String Of Nickels’ Dischidia might be the one for you (see also String Of Nickels Care). It looks particularly beautiful in a hanging basket, allowed to trail towards the floor.

Dischidia ovata ‘Watermelon Dischidia’

Featuring flat oval leaves with white veins, this particular Dischidia is very striking. It also helps that the leaves can be different colors on the same plant, ranging from a bright emerald green, to a deep purple.

Dischidia pectinoides

One of the larger varieties of Dischidia, this particular cultivar produces balloon-like leaves that are sure to make a statement in any home or garden. 

Dischidia pectinoides ‘Variegata’

To add another level of interest, this is a variegated form of Dischidia, producing grayish green leaves streaked with white.

Dischidia ruscifolia ‘Million Hearts Plant’

As you might imagine from the name, this cultivar features heart-shaped leaves on the trailing stems. 

From a distance, this plant almost looks like a fern, and would make a great addition to any houseplant collection.

Final Thoughts

Dischidia plants are very beautiful, grown for their unusual foliage in warm climates outdoors, and as a houseplant in colder areas. You can also regularly propagate them to make new plants in spring and summer.

They are very low maintenance, especially compared with other epiphytes like orchids that can be difficult for beginners. 

It also helps that you don’t need to buy a huge bag of compost to care for these plants, instead, you could use an orchid potting mix. 

You could even mount them on driftwood or larger houseplants in a humid area to mimic their native conditions, making for a unique display in any warm and bright room.

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