I was shocked and a bit devastated when I found out that some succulents die after flowering. It’s not something you should blurt out to a novice succulent lover! But do not worry, of the thousands of different succulents there are only a very small number that are ‘monocarpic’.
Monocarpic plants flower, set seed and then die. Other words with the same meaning are hapaxanth and semelparous. However monocarpic is the term that is used to describe the succulent process. Probably because it is easier to say!
Monocarpic plants can be divided into annuals, biennials and perennials. Annuals flower and set seed in one year, biennials two seasons and perennials sometimes take many years to flower.
So the question is: how long does a succulent live before it flowers?? The good new is: Succulents that are monocarpic can still live a long life as they are perennials. Below are the succulents that I am aware are monocarpic.
Agave – Attenuata/Americana (Century Plant)
The above monocarpic Agave’s can take 10 -25 years before the parent plant flowers. When it is ready the plant uses all its energy to produce a thick stem which grows from the centre of the rosette in a relatively short period of time – sometimes less than a week. The stem can grow up to 2.5 metres (8 feet) high. The Americana (Century Plant) has a stem that can grow to 9 metres (30 feet). Once it flowers the parent plant will wither and die, Compared to other succulents the Agave parent plant can take months or even years to die. Agave pups grow along the stem of the flower, these can be harvested and replanted. Any pups that have grown off to the side of the plant will not die, only the rosette that has produced the flower stem.
Some, but not all, Agave are moncarpic.
All succulents in the Sempervivum genus are monocarpic. At first this made me think twice about buying Sempervivum succulents. Each rosette only flowers once and then dies. However, most species produce lots of offsets which makes up for any loss after flowering. It will take 3 to 4 years for the rosette to produce a flower and die, in this time the parent plant would have produced many pups/babies to continue on in your garden.
In Europe they are known as ‘houseleeks’ but in the USA Sempevervivum are known as Hen & Chicks. However, some people call the Echeveria genus Hen & Chicks as well. Thus, it can get very confusing and people think that their Echeveria succulents are monocarpic. It is ‘only’ Sempervivum Hen & Chicks which are monocarpic not Echeveria.
There are some Sempervivum and Echeveria that look very similar, they both have rosettes. If you think your succulent is a Sempervivum and it flowers – from the centre of the rosette- and does not die – suffice to say this is an Echeveria.
The photos of the sempervivum below show small offsets from the sides. These can be mistaken for flowers. They are not flowers but new plants/pups sprouting. When a Sempervivum flowers it is from the centre of its rosette, not to the side.
Some Aeonium will flower within two years while others may take 10-20 years before they flower. They die completely after flowering but before do they will have produced offsets as well as large numbers of seeds. Not all Aeonium die after flowering, but for the one’s that do it is too late for the plant once the flower stalk starts to develop.
I found this Aeonium (below) in a nursery. It looks very pretty, but as it was flowering I figured it wouldn’t have a very long life span in my garden if it was an Aeonium that was monocarpic! Something to be aware of for monocarpic succulents.
The Kalanchoe ‘Flapjack’ is a monocarpic plant, once the Kalanchoe flowers new “baby plants” can be seen at the base of the plant and along the flower stalk. They can easily be propagated from the stalk.
So, if you have any of the monocarpic succulents you should be prepared for its dramatic flowering death at some point!
The human race is a very impatient species. Even more so nowadays with Gen Z wanting everything yesterday. I can understand that when it comes to succulents, I cannot wait till my baby succulents grow and thrive, in the back of my mind though I hear a voice saying ‘succulents are slow growers’……. but are they?
As always, with succulents – due to the vast quantity of species and varieties – the answer is yes and no.
What is the definition of a fast growing plant?
It depends on your individual interpretation of what is slow or fast! To me growing overnight is fast growing! The only plants that literally grow overnight, that I remember from science class, are water cress and mung beans. Some varieties within a species will grow faster than other varieties within the same species. To me a fast growing plant is one that you can see a difference in size within a few months.
Each species will have some varieties that are faster growers than other varieties in the same species. In general though I believe that most species are either fast, moderate or slow growing.
Which conditions increase the growth rate?
There are a two conditions that will effect the growth rate of a succulent.
Growing Season A succulent will grow faster during its growing season than it will in its dormant season. Some succulents do not grow at all in their dormant season and some will grow; but a lot slower. (see post: When do succulents have their growing and dormant seasons? ) So if you purchase/receive a succulent in its dormant season do not be worried if it sits there doing (almost) nothing.
Environment How fast a succulent grows will also depend on environmental conditions. Sunlight, temperature, soil and moisture can all affect the growth rate of a succulent. If the plant has its ideal amount of light, temperature and moisture and grown in the right soil medium it will grow at is optimum rate.
Which succulents are fast growing?
Firstly let me say what I consider to be fast growing. If I can see a succulent has increased in its overall size by about 25% within a 4-6 month period I would consider it to be fast growing. I take a photo of a succulent the first day it arrives, including its name. If you are like me and check your succulents every day you would not notice their growth. Looking back at the original photo can show you how much they have grown in that period.
The following succulents are species that I grow in my garden and have witnessed their growth first hand.
The Aeonium Aboreum below was planted in the middle of its growing season and had formed a thick mass after only 4 months. It would have been a totally different story if I had planted them in the summer when this species of succulent is dormant. (see post: Indestructable…..Aeonium Aboreum ) Don’t forget succulents have a dormant season as well – so make sure you know when this is.
Most Echeveria are fast growing. As long as you can see new leaves forming in the centre of the Echeveria then they are liking their environment and growing as fast as they can. Most of my Echeveria varieties grow for about 9 months of the year due to our short winters.
April 2017 – 4 months later
Graptoveria are a very close relative to the Echeveria species as they are a hybrid of an Echeveria and Graptopetulum (see post: What is the difference between an Echeveria and Graptoveria succulent?) Therefore they also are generally a fast growing species.
Graptoveria Fred Ives
The Crassula species is also a fast growing plant. Especially Crassula Ovata which is also a very hard variety.
Research on the world wide web indicates that the following succulents are of the fast growing variety.
Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi – Lavender Sallops
Sedum rubrotinctum – Jelly Bean Plant
Crassula perforata – String of Buttons
Which succulents are slow growing?
There are a few slow growing succulents.
Euphorbia Millie – Crown of Thorns
Euphorbia Milli is quite a slow growing succulent. The one below suddenly lost all its leaves and flowers so I moved it to a different position and it grew again – but very slowly. It took 8 months just to grow its leaves back but still is not any taller.
Giant Barrell Cactus
There are some succulents that literally grow so slowly you wonder if they are growing at all. The Giant Cactus Barrell (below) is one of these. However, they can live for approximately 100 years.
Lithops are very slow growing but like the Giant Barrell Cactus they live a long time.
How long does it take to grow succulents from a leaf?
Once again depending on conditions a leaf can sprout roots within a week and start to sprout within a 3 week period. To grow to a new plant – depending on the species and variety you can have a new succulent baby within a 3 -4 month period. This is a huge generalisation but has been my experience with a lot of leaf propagation I have tried.
In summary, I would say, most of the popular and more common succulents that are available in Australia are moderate to fast growing. Taking into consideration the general growing conditions of succulents; the weather in most parts of Australia are ideal and even with their dormant season thrown into the mix you will still see a huge difference after one year of growth. Below is a photo of my front succulent garden bed with just a 9 month growing period.
Every garden in Australia (and the Southern Hemishphere) would have a full sun area. Full sun can mean temperatures getting up to over 50ºC (122ºF) for more than a few hours. There are succulents that can survive these sorts of conditions; which is why I love succulents. As I’ve mentioned in other posts not all succulents will survive full sun, they require some shade or their leaves tend to get sun burnt.
A number of succulents produce a waxy or powdery sun-protecting coating, often in delicate shades of pink, blue or pale lavender. It is called ‘farina’.It’s thought to be the plant’s natural protection from strong sun (like their natural sunscreen).. This coating will rub off at the slightest touch revealing the green photosynthesising surface underneath. Try not to rub the leaves as the farina will rub off very easily and it will lose its protective coating.
The following succulents ‘have’ survived full sun in my garden. They have survived heatwaves of 3 days or more, which means 40ºC+ (104ºF) heat.
I know this is a common favourite among succulent lovers and I can see why. They are one of the prettier types of succulents with their gorgeous rosettes, they are quite hardy, do not need much water and YES they love full sun. They are also very photogenic as you can see below. There are lots of different types and forms of this amazing succulent. When they are growing in ideal conditions they will produce ‘pups’ – little babies that grow to the side of the parent plant. They are low growing but eventually they will spread and form a beautiful carpet across your garden. All of the Echeveria below have grown in full sun during this Summer through several heat waves. Some echeveria have a wax or powdery layer on the leaves, this is a natural protection against the sun so try not to touch it or wipe it off.
There are some very hardy Crassula succulents. The most common one is the Crassula Ovata – Jade plant. Hardy to me – meaning they love full sun. They also cope with some shade. In full sun they have orange tipped leaves, in shade they are mostly green. There are some interesting varieties. I love the Crassula Aborescens – or Ripple Jade that looks like a lettuce (to me). See below photo on the left.
I have had varying results with the Agave Attenuata in my garden. Yes they definitely love full sun. However, they sometimes take a few years to really grow well in a full sun position. Once established however, they do very well. I have also had success growing Agave Attenuata in full shade.
Another succulent that is hardy, loves full sun and is also spectacular is the Aloe succulent. They come in many shapes and sizes with the most common being the Aloe Vera. There are some large Aloe succulents and some smaller varieties.
The Kalanchoe species is another succulent that can survive in full sun. They flower prolifically in the Winter and come in lots of different colours. This is another succulent that you can snap a piece off and stick it in the ground and it will sprout roots and grow.
Aeonium Aboreum cope very well in full sun. However, take note that this succulent has its growing period in the winter and is dormant in the summer. So it will look very different in the summer but will survive full sun heat wave.
Succulents in pots will not tolerate full sun as well as succulents in the ground!
These are a few of the succulents that I grow in my garden that love full sun conditions. Keep in mind that sun tolerance in a pot is much less than in the ground. The soil in your pot heats up on hot days and it can be fatal for plants. Even when air temperatures are mild, pots standing in full sun become hot. The temperature of potting mix inside a pot can be 10 degrees or more above the air temperature. The roots in pots cannot cope in extreme temperatures and die. Keep this in mind when you buy a new succulent in a black plastic pot from the nursery.
The succulents that love full sun also do not require a lot of water. That is a win win situation. They can make do with annual rainfall or a good watering if you get the time.
Agave Attenuata – The Big Boys of Succulents
Can Succulents survive heatwaves?
Do Succulents really prefer Sun?
The Agave (Attenuata -also known as Agave Foxtail.) is one of the most popular succulents in my local neighbourhood and its understandable as to why.
The Agave thrives in the sun and shade. In my opinion they are a true succulent, in that they can survive just on rainfall. I have a rockery that has full sun most of the day and the Agave’s I have planted have survived under harsh conditions. Admittedly, some of them have taken off and grown fast and strong whereas others have struggled in the same conditions and taken alot longer to thrive than the others.
This Agave is about 3 years old.
These agave’s wtihstand 40C+ heat
I have Agave’s growing in pots on a shady window sill that never sees the sun and although they are small they are still fine specimens of the species.
Grown in shade with little annual rainfall
When an Agave is mature it sends out a flower which has lots of Agave pups along the stem which can be transplanted and will grow. They also grow little ‘pups’ as off-shoots which can be pulled off or cut and replanted. A neighbour of mine threw out about 8 mature, very large, Agave plants on the pavement for anyone to have. It took two people to get one in the back of our car. It is now growing happily in my front garden, it had only a few tiny roots sticking out the bottom.
Found it on the pavement and stuck in the ground.
Agave’s do not like a lot of water. If you are planting one in the garden, do not dig a hole but rather build a mound and plant it in the top so that the water does not pool around the bottom of the plant. They do not like having wet roots at all. I planted one in my rockery last year, it was doing quite well until we had a very wet Winter and the results were a bit devastating to say the least.
This Agave Attenuata is growing in minimal soil in my rockery.
After a very wet Winter. It never recovered.
I have noticed that Agave’s get yellow spots on their outer leaves in the Winter. I have checked out Google but cannot find any information about this. It does not seem to affect the plant, growth wise, just doesn’t look as nice as the leaves being smooth and green. The spots disappear in the Summer, this is the only minor problem I have noticed.
Yellow spots after the Winter
Agave’s are monocarpic. This means that when the plant flowers the parent plant will soon die. As previously mentioned, the plant will grow lots of small baby plants before it flowers which usually grow in the protection of the parent plant. So, although the parent plant dies it will leave some children in its place. The photo below is an an Agave in my front garden that (amazingly) has bent some of its leaves backward on a 40C/104F to protect its children plants (see post: Which succulents die after flowering?)
Agave parent plant protecting its babies
There are quite a few other varieties, some are available here in Australia. They are generally the larger of the Succulents plants and can look stunning in gardens and rockeries.
I have just returned from a trip to Queensland where I took the photo below of some variegated agave which had just sent out a flower spike. This is called bolting.