The Lifesaver

One of the places I like to get my succulents is through Southeast Succulents. This distributor can be found at several places in Atlanta, but my favorite place is at an artist coop called HomeGrown Decatur. Southeast Succulents raises very healthy plants and provide a wide variety of types. One of my favorite finds is Huernia zebrina, or Lifesaver plant. This plant is native to south and east Africa and produces a five-point flower that looks a lot like a Lifesaver candy, and it’s probably one of the more unusual succulents I’ve acquired. It’s definitely one of my favorites for several reasons:

1) The flower looks like an alien. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The flower’s texture is rubbery and the coloring is absolutely extraordinary with its spotted and striped presentation and the flower’s points. The flower looks like the stuff of science fiction, and it inspires me every time I look at it.

2) The plant is easy to take care of. Repotting this plant was difficult only because the different sections are delicate. It’s in no way pokey or hurt when you touch it. In fact, it’s very easy to handle and to touch. Aside from texture, Huernia zebrina couldn’t be easier to take care of. It requires watering of course, but, because the plant is drought tolerant, it can stand long periods without watering (which is good for when I go on vacation or for when I forget to water it). It also enjoys sunlight, so this succulent is perfect for the first time succulent owner. Be sure to keep it out of direct light in the summer as the hot sun will burn the tubercles (the bumpy things on the skin).

3) It grows. One of the things I like most about Huernia zebrina is that it is easy to see how much it has grown at a given time. I measure my success as a gardener and cacti/succulent keeper by the health of my plants, and one indicator is growth. I’ve had this plant for about 3 months now and it’s acquired 2 new buds and has grown approximately half an inch high and an inch wide. By the end of this summer 2014 it had produced 6 flowers. Needless to say it has been very happy.

If you’re thinking about buying one of these plants there are some very important things you need to know. Here are some words of caution:

  • This plant is part of the milkweed family which means it is toxic to animals and people if ingested or if the latex “sap” gets into your eyes.
  • This plant produces a white latex which is poisonous if eaten and which can cause eye damage when in contact with the eye. This plant should absolutely not be in a place where it can be easily reached by children or pets. If the plant’s latex makes contact with your skin make sure to wash it off.
  • The latex will only be exposed if part of the plant breaks off. This is an evolutionary defense mechanism to keep the plant alive. Cool right?

Two other succulents in the milkweed family are Euphorbia ingens and Euphorbia milii. These can be found in grocery and plant stores, but they tend to not be properly labeled or contain warnings about their toxicity. For this reason it’s important to research before you buy, especially if you have pets or children.

Considerations aside, Huernia plants take on many fun colors and shapes, and is a great starter plant for the beginning gardener. If you’d like to learn more about it, you should check out

“Planting Guides for Lifesaver Cactuses”. Just make sure you ignore the “cactus” part, because, you know, it’s a succulent.

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