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What is a Bead Plant?

By Carey Reeve
Updated: May 16, 2024

The term “bead plant” is a common name for several different species of plant. One type of plant that the term describes has tiny leaves and forms dense mats that spread over the ground and is named for its bead-like berries. This type of bead plant includes the species Nertera granadensis and Nertera depressa, both known as coral bead plant or pincushion. Senecio rowleyanus, which is called string of pearls, has long, hanging stems with bead shaped leaves. Other plants that are referred to as bead plant are Job’s tears or Coix lacryma-jobi and holy bead plant or Ocimum sanctum.

The two species of coral bead plant are originally from the Andes Mountains and also grow naturally in New Zealand. They make good ground cover plants as long as their requirements are met, but they can be grown in planters as well. They prefer bright but indirect sunlight and moderate humidity with a quick draining soil.

String of pearls is a succulent that is found in South Africa, and its leaves are modified into round bead-like shapes to allow them to store water. This plant needs a position that offers a covering of light shade with a few hours of direct sunlight. Due to the storage of water in the leaves, string of pearls is a very drought resistant type of plant and needs a soil with a high sand content to allow thorough drainage.

Job’s tears is a grass that is native to the tropics and is often called bead plant because the large grains that it produces are actually used as beads. In this case, the grains are also edible and used as a regular food source in Asia where the plants are found. It is often grown as a decorative grass in the United States but is seen as a weed in countries like Japan, Korea, Iran, and Polynesia. Job’s tears requires quite a bit of water and will grow well in wetlands.

Holy bead plant, also known as holy basil, doesn’t have a naturally formed bead-like appearance, but its stems and parts of the roots are cut and shaped into beads. This plant has been used since ancient times in cooking in countries in Asia and the Middle East as well as in Ayurvedic medicine and in religious ceremonies. It grows well in direct sunlight but can tolerate partial shade and prefers well drained soil.

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