You’d be forgiven for confusing a string of tears with a string of pearls. These stringy vining succulents both hail from the arid regions of South and East Africa.
However, these closely related plants have evolved slightly different growing needs and habits – all of which I will detail in this article.
A string of tears has characteristic tiny, teardrop-shaped succulent leaves that point upwards. The stem can grow 1 ft. long. A string of pearls is recognizable for its small, pea-shaped succulent leaves and longer stem which can stretch 1-3 ft long.
Stick around as I will walk you through the various differences and similarities between the string of tears and the string of pearls.
|String of Tears||String of Pearls|
|USDA Hardiness Zone||Zones 10a-11b||Zones 9-12|
|Scientific Name||Curio citriformis or Senecio citriformis||Senecio rowleyanus orCurio rowleyanus|
|Mature Height||1 ft. (30 cm)||1-2ft. (30-60 cm)|
|Mature Width||1.6 ft. (50 cm)||1-3 ft. (30-90 cm)|
|Growth Rate||2 years to maturity||1-2 inches per month|
|Habit||Trailing or vining habit||Trailing or creeping habit|
|Light Requirement||Partial shade or bright, indirect light||6-8 hours daily of a combination of direct and indirect sunlight|
|Soil Type||Extremely draining succulent or cactus soil||Succulent, cactus, or sandy soil with inorganic chunks|
|Soil pH||Neutral pH||6.6-7.5|
|Watering Frequency||7-10 days||7-14 days (or when top ½-inch of soil has dried out)|
|Pests||Mealybugs and fungus gnats||Usually pest-free, but watch out for aphids and mealybugs|
|Diseases||Fungal root rot||Fungal root rot|
Difference between String of Tears and String of Pearls
I must get something straight right out of the gate. The string of tears (aka Curio citriformis) was previously named Senecio citriformis.
Likewise, the string of pearls is sometimes known as Curio rowleyanus following the change of genus to Curio.
That being said, I will go through the major differences between the two.
String Shape and Texture
You probably know that these plants are both succulents, which pays homage to their water-storing leaves.
That’s partly thanks to the unique shape, color, and texture of the leaves. All of these adaptive foliage features help minimize water loss in arid conditions.
Meanwhile, the unique shapes of the leaves that have come to define these plants are what has made them such treasured houseplants in recent years.
On the one hand, string tears plants have small, teardrop-shaped leaves (up to 0.3 inches in diameter). You’ll also find a characteristic vertical tip on each string, pointing upwards.
You could say the leaves of a string of tears are shaped like raindrops that settled along the length of the stiff stem.
Each leaf has a clear window into the inside, where you’ll find purple stripes. The leaves have a waxy coating which makes them slightly sticky to the touch.
On the other hand, the leaves of the string of pearls are tiny, nearly spherical (about ¼-inch in diameter) with a pea-like shape. They are fairly smooth to the touch and grown on trailing stems.
The string of tears is a low-growing succulent. In native environments, the stringy stem trails along the ground.
You’ll find nodes with roots along the stem, which helps the plant create a ground cover and absorb as much water/nutrients as possible.
Curio citriformis can achieve a height of around 1 foot (30 cm). The stringy leaves can have a spread of up to 1.6 ft. (50 cm) when mature.
The string of pearls is a bigger plant than a string of tears. The creeping stems with pea-shaped leaves can creep along the ground or fall over the container.
When mature, the stem can be 1-3 feet but can reach four feet in some cases. You’ll also find roots at the nodes, which help ensure a dense trailing ground cover.
The raindrop-shaped leaves are prominent on a string of tears. They range in color from soft green to deep green with translucent stripes that run longitudinally.
The waxy coating may give the plant a slightly glossy look.
A string of pearls has gray-green stems with fleshy light green leaves. The foliage can turn slightly deep green when thriving during spring and summer.
When the conditions are right, a string of tears will bloom from late summer through early winter. They appear as small yellowish cream heads on wiry stalks that grow up to 6 inches (15 cm) tall.
On its end, the string of pearls blooms white flowers sometime in spring to early summer. They exude a delightful scent that hits your nose with some hints of cinnamon.
Note, however, that your string of pearls will not likely floor indoors.
The string of tears plants can have a creeping or trailing growth habit. This will depend on how it’s grown or planted.
In its natural habit, the stringy stems will run a trail along the ground. In either case, the string of pearls has a creeping and trailing growth habit.
That’s exactly why they are so loved; this flowing and trailing habit makes for an excellent talking point.
Height and Structure
The stems of a string of tears can be stiff and stretch up to a foot long. The plant can attain a height of up to one foot tall, as well, when mature.
The stems form a group of strings that dazzle when the cream-colored, trumpet-shaped flowers emerge from the mat of the foliage.
As a mature plant, the string of pearls can grow to a maximum height of 1-2ft (30-60 cm). The plant has a central base where the stems originate as if strings of peas are springing out of the container.
They usually overflow or fall over the container, creating an interesting presentation.
The string of tears does best in part sun and part bright, indirect sunlight. Although it’s an arid-climate plant, it doesn’t love too much direct sunlight.
You can place it in a west-facing or east-facing window, as long as it gets more than 6 hours of sunlight.
On its part, the string of pearls needs a blend of bright, indirect sunlight and direct sun exposure. Make sure your precious pearls get 6-8 hours of the combination.
When it comes to soil, the string of tears prefers cactus or succulent soil with a good portion of loamy soil; it loves neutral pH soil.
The string of pearls can do well in extremely well-draining sandy soil, as well; it prefers neutral to acidic soil pH.
Similarities between String of Tears Vs String of Pearls
They both require plenty of bright light. Ideally, they should receive at least six hours of bright, indirect light. However, the string of pearls can tolerate several hours of direct sunlight.
In other words, park these stringy beauties in an area that receives part sun and partial shade.
Both the spring of tears and the spring of pearls can tolerate infrequent watering. However, you should never let the potting soil dry out completely for long.
When their characteristic spherical and teardrop-shaped leaves begin to flatten, that’s a good indication that you need to water.
However, the soil will tell you more precisely when to water.
Make sure the soil is slightly moist during the high-growth period of early spring through summer.
For good measure, check whether the top 2-3 inches of soil has dried out. If it has, water again – if not, check again after every 4-5 days.
Be careful not to water your string of pearls or tears too much. Wet or soggy soil will inevitably attract diseases, pests, and root rot.
Both plants will thrive splendidly in either well-draining cactus or succulent potting mix. You can add chunks of wood, pebbles, or fibers to improve drainage if the soil has some clay.
In particular, the string of tears loves when potted in sandy, loamy, or gravely mix, which should be on the dry side.
The plants love soil at a neutral pH level. However, the string of pearls can do okay in slightly acidic soil in the PH range of 6.6-7.5.
The string of tears doesn’t require much fertilizing, especially if the soil is fertile enough.
You should use standard water-soluble or liquid houseplant fertilizer. Dilute to half strength and apply only once in summer.
Feed your string of pearls twice a month during spring and summer with a water-soluble fertilizer.
Also, reformulate to half-strength before application. Note that you should only feed your string of pearls once during winter.
Pest and Diseases
Both plants are generally pest-free and disease-free when kept indoors. However, they can be affected by root and stem rot due to high humidity, overwatering, or poor circulation.
Although rare, these plants can be infested by mealybugs, aphids, or fungus gnats. Use commercial insecticides. Alternatively, you can apply some horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
All Curio plants are toxic. Specifically, the leaves of both the string of tears and the string of pearls are mild to moderately toxic to humans, cats, and dogs.
In humans, they produce sap that irritates the skin. And when ingested, may cause diarrhea, rash, nausea, or vomiting.
In pets, toxic infliction may result in lethargy, drooling, rash breakout, mouth irritation, skin irritation, diarrhea, and vomiting.
(Sources: University of Wisconsin, Missouri Botanical Garden)