Orostachys (2019)

O. furusei (left) and O. malacophylla (right) purchased at Drummond Nursery in De Soto, Mo. Photo by Bob Williams.

By Bob Williams (October 2019)

While you can’t tell it from the weather, fall is almost upon us. Most of us are looking around the house, trying to figure out where place this plant or that plant. Which ones can handle a cooler room? Which ones do I need to water more often than others? Which ones need a southern window? Which ones am I going to bring to a HSCSS meeting to give away because I don’t have the room? Then there are a few who say to themselves, what winter hardy plants am I going to get next year for my garden?

It is not too early to start thinking about this. At the annual picnic at Drummond Nursery, my wife, Marge, was looking for some more succulents for her outdoor succulent patch. Near the store, she saw some cute little plants that looked similar to the traditional “hens and chicks” you see at the “big box” stores. The names were different, though, so she decided to buy two. The plants were Orostachys malacophylla and O. furusei. From their descriptions, these plants will not only survive in St. Louis, but thrive.

The genus Orostachys is a member of the Crassulaceae family. According to the Plant List, there are 12 species, but Wikipedia says there are 14 species. We can safely say there are between 12 and 14 species in the genus.

The name Orostachys comes from the Greek “oros,” meaning mountain, and “stachys,” meaning spike – in reference to its mountain habitat and flowers in spikes. These plants are native to China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Russia. Common names for these plants are dunce cap or Chinese dunce cap.

Orostachys is a rosette-forming succulent similar in appearance to an echeveria or sempervivum, but it is most similar to an aeonium. One of the major visible differences between Aeonium and Orostachys plants is that each Orostachys leaf is tipped with a spine. It is a fast-growing succulent, with gray or green leaves that form small, globular rosettes. The small, bell-shaped flowers are usually white or pink, and densely packed on a conical spike that grows up to 12 inches long.

One species, O. japonicas, has medicinal uses. It has an anti-cancer effect, suppressing the propagation of cancer cells. It also contains substances that strengthen the immune system. For this reason, it is used in the treatment of tumors and other diseases. In Korea, this plant is used in treating cancer, gingivitis, blood clotting and inflammation of the uterus. Testing is currently being done with this plant for the treatment of diabetes.

In general, orostachys is a good plant to forget about. Leave it in a bright, sunny location and water very sparingly. Orostachys can survive in fairly poor soil, as long as it is well-draining. Plants in this genus are very cold-hardy and can survive temperatures to -30 degrees F.

O. iwarenge grows outside in our garden. Photo by Bob Williams.

Allow soil to dry to the touch between waterings and avoid getting water on the rosettes. Watering should be in the morning to prevent water from remaining on the leaves during the night. Remove any dead leaves from rosettes, as dead leaves invite rot and insects. When a rosette has flowered, it will die shortly.

In the event of an unhealthy plant, the first thing to examine is your watering habits. The most common problem is root rot due to overwatering. If the soil is too wet, don’t hope it will safely dry out as long as you don’t water for a while. Replace the soil immediately.

One of the most common pests to worry about is the mealybug. Due to its tightly packed leaves, the mealybugs attack the roots of an orostachys. This makes them far less visible than bugs that attack leaf-stem junctions.

The symptom of a root mealybug infestation is slowed or stopped growth. If this occurs, remove the plant from the pot and examine the roots. A white. cottony substance on the roots and in the soil is a sure sign of mealybug infestation. Remove all soil and wash the roots gently. Remove any roots that appear damaged with a sharp, sterile knife or scissors. Let the roots completely dry before replanting.

As you can see from the photos in this article, these plants are small – none grow more than 3 or 4 inches tall. Most do not grow more than 5 inches across. They make a perfect plant to grow in a crevice or a small open area in your garden.

After your plants are in the house for their winter rest and the winter growers are beginning to sprout, take a tour of your rock garden or cold-hardy bed to see where to squeeze in some orostachys. These plants can be found online, or take a pleasant drive to De Soto and visit Drummond Nursery.


Llifle Encyclopedia of Succulents
World of Succulents
The Plant List