How to Care for the Callisia Navicularis (Chain Plant)

The Callisia navicularis (Chain Plant) is easy to grow, which makes it an excellent beginner’s plant. However, it possesses some unique features that may make it attractive to houseplant veterans.

Sometimes called a Tradescantia navicularis, the plant is native to Mexico and is something of a chameleon, depending on where you decide to grow the plant.

The Chain Plant is quite at home in gardens, but it’s also happy to hang out in the house, too. When grown outdoors in northern climates, the Chain Plant will grow as an annual, which means it dies when the weather freezes.

How to Care for the Callisia Navicularis (Chain Plant)
Photo by Léna, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Suppose you’re in a region where the temperature doesn’t dip much below freezing—say hardiness zone 10 or above. In that case, the plant will live as a perennial rather than dying at the end of the year.

One of the most interesting facets of this uniquely shaped plant is that the conditions in which you grow it can change its appearance. If you place the plant in a sunny place, the leaves will grow quite close together.

However, if you reduce the amount of light it receives, the petals on each plant’s vines will grow more spread out as the plant searches for more light.

The Callisia Navicularis or Chain Plant

Scientific NameCallisia navicularis
Common Name(s)Chain Plant, Tradescantia Navicularis
FamilyCommelinaceae
SizeAt least 12 inches with vines
LightBright indirect light or partial sun
SoilSucculent soil mix plus pumice
WaterWater gently and prevent soil from drying out
TemperatureBetween 40 to 95 degrees Farenheit
HumidityAverage humidity
FertilizerNot required when regularly repotted
PropagationSmall cuttings planted after the end callouses
Pests and DiseasesMealybugs, spider mites, and aphids
ToxicityMildly toxic to pets and people when ingested

Callisia Navicularis Quick Care Guide

The Callisia navicularis or Chain Plant enjoys a bright window but can’t tolerate sitting in direct sunlight all day. 

The plant will thrive on a table just a few feet from a window. Chain Plants like regular watering; you’ll know when to water the plant when the soil becomes dryish but not parched.

As for fertilizing, you don’t need to fertilize a Callisia navicularis. However, they will respond favorably to occasional fertilizing during the growing season—late spring through early fall.

Use succulent potting mix when potting a Chain Plant, or add some pumice or perlite to help drainage.

All About Caring for the Callisia Navicularis “Chain Plant”

The Callisia navicularis is a succulent that grows grayish-green leaves on vines and will grow quite a lot of these leaves when given enough sun. The plant will thin out and grow rather spindly if you put the plant in a dim corner of your home.

The plant remains green year-round and will grow lavender or pink flowers in the summer. The plant grows rather well outside in warm climates, but it’s also a popular houseplant for virtually any climate.

The plant isn’t particularly difficult to care for, and you’ll grow a beautiful Chain Plant when you follow a few simple rules on lighting, watering, soil composition, and feeding.

Callisia Navicularis Care

Light

The Callisia navicularis is a succulent that enjoys some sunlight but not a ton each day. If you live near the ocean and regularly see overcast, cloudy, or foggy days, you can hang your Callisia navicularis in a sunny window. 

However, if you live in a drier area with lots of sunlight, you should limit the hours of direct sunlight the plant receives daily.

You can even place your Chain Plant right outside the direct sunlight, and it should grow well with ample bright light throughout the day.

Water

The Callisia navicularis needs a medium amount of water and shouldn’t dry out too much or remain too moist.

Tip: water the soil rather than the leaves to make the most of the water. Plants drink through their roots, not their leaves.

If you’re not sure how much to water your Chain Plant, try giving it a drink once a week. If the soil dries out completely by the end of the week, try watering the plant a day earlier.

If the soil remains damp for the week, try increasing the schedule by a day or giving the plant a little less water with each watering.

Soil

Callisia navicularis enjoy soil that drains well, so your best bet is some cactus or succulent potting mix from your garden center. The best way to describe ideal Chain Plant soil is course rather than soft.

Ensure the pot has a few drainage holes so the soil doesn’t become waterlogged.

If you don’t have any succulent potting soil handy, you can use any soil you might have and add some sand or perlite to the mixture to aid in draining. The soil should dry out (but not crack) by the end of the week when it’s time to water the plant again.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing the Callisia navicularis is optional because the plant can survive without it as long as it gets the right amount of light and water. However, you can add liquid fertilizer drops to your water to encourage swift growth.

If you decide to fertilize the plant, make sure that the food you choose is meant for succulents and cactuses or has a low nitrogen level. You can also encourage more growth by giving the plant a larger pot.

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate a Chain Plant is to cut a stem off and use it to make a new plant. Cut a stem that has at least a few leaves on it and allow the cutting to sit for a few days until the end calluses.

You don’t need to put it in water to grow roots before putting it in some soil.

The stems should develop roots in about two months. Keep them out of direct sunlight, and consider putting a plastic bag on top of the pot to help it retain moisture. You should only need to water the cuttings sparingly in those first few months.

Troubleshooting

Overwatering or Underwatering

A Callisia navicularis that starts to die usually receives too much or too little water. Getting the watering schedule right is one of the most essential parts of becoming a successful Callisia navicularis plant parent.

A sign that you might be watering the plant at an improper interval is brown leaves and stems. Check the soil when you water it to see if it’s still damp or parched.

Don’t water the plant if the soil is damp; consider watering it more often if it is very dry.

You can usually save the plant if you catch the brown leaves early.

However, if too many leaves fall off the plant and most of its stems turn brown, you may need to take a cutting from the plant and try to make a new Callisia navicularis from it.

Not Enough or Too Much Sun

Other than improper watering, the other common reason a plant may start to die is because of too much sun. Callisia navicularis are generally tolerant of low light conditions and will change shape as they stretch to try and find the sun.

However, too much sunlight can cause problems, too.

The easiest way to determine whether a Chain Plant receives too much sun is to look at its leaves. If they start to turn brown and feel crispy, the plant is probably sitting in the sun for too long each day.

Oddly, too much sunlight may even stunt the growth of the Callisia navicularis. You can move the plant each season to ensure it gets the proper amount of sun all year.