Huernia (2017)

By Rey Gonzalez (November 2017)

PhotoAbout a year and a half ago, while shopping for some plants, I came across a beautiful species from the genus Huernia. Even though I prefer growing desert plants, the flowers were so captivating, I ended up taking one home.

The genus finds its habitat in the low altitudes of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. One of about 64 Huernia species, H. zebrina is one of the most beautiful and very popular in cultivation as a result of its odd blooms. This species produces amazing five-pointed, starlike yellow blooms usually patterned with wine-red zebra stripes that vary conspicuously in color intensity.

It also has a raised, glossy dark-red ring or “annulus” around the mouth of the corolla tube. The peculiar resemblance of the annulus to a Life Saver candy gained this species the commonly known name of “lifesaver plant.”

The blooms last for a week or so – and no, they don’t stink, as some may think. The flowers have four-sided stems with soft teeth along the edges. In lower-light situations, the stems are deeply green, but they attain a reddish tinge in full sun.

I had mine hanging in the greenhouse getting full sunlight almost all day, but I noticed the plant was being stressed under the searing heat and light. I moved it to a place in the greenhouse where it gets partial sun in the morning and afternoon, but shade during the hottest hours of the day. Since then, it has expanded considerably, and from late spring to late fall, it is a spectacle to see all the flowers coming out.

When planting huernias, choose a well-draining container, preferably one that is unglazed and will allow evaporation of excess moisture. If grown inside, try an eastern or western window that is bright most of the day, but doesn’t experience the hottest sun rays.

A sensible watering schedule is key to caring for huernias. Probably one of the main reasons for failure is that overwatering of this huernia is very easy. As with most succulents, the plant is prone to rot if it is too wet, but it does need supplemental water during its growing season. In winter, the plant hardly needs water at all – just once per month on average, as it is mostly dormant. In spring through summer, water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch.

PhotoAnother important part of this genus care is temperature. If you grow the plant outside, it should be moved indoors when temperatures drop to 50 degrees F. Pests are rarely a problem, but occasionally mealy bugs can become a concern. The only method of propagation, as far as I know, is by cuttings. The plant roots easily and produces flowers very quickly.

If you’re a plant enthusiast on the lookout for an unusual and amazing specimen, H. zebrina is a very fun and manageable plant to add to your collection. Everybody who comes to visit me and see the greenhouse is always in awe of the magnificent blooms on display.

Fun fact: Last fall, my plant had a bizarre visitor. When I was watering for one of the last times, I noticed a garden snake had found shelter inside the greenhouse, avoiding the dropping temperatures outside by wrapping itself around the stems of my huernia.

The Huernia Page –
The Encyclopedia of Succulents – Asclepiadaceae/21240/Huernia_zebrina
Huernia Cactus Care: How to Grow a Lifesaver Cactus –