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Some people seem to naturally have a “green thumb”. They appear to be blessed with an innate ability to keep plants alive. However, with enough experience and attention to detail, any gardener can develop a green thumb of their own.
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Succulents in particular tend to be rather easy to care for, even for inexperienced gardeners. They often thrive on a bit of neglect. If you’ve found success in caring for a variety of succulents and cacti, it may be time for you to challenge yourself.
These seven succulents and cacti tend to be more difficult to care for. Whether they require specific temperatures, light, or watering, these plants will challenge even the most experienced gardeners.
Related Article: What is a Succulent Plant?
This odd looking, cube-shaped succulent can grow up to five inches tall and wide. It usually has a single stem and is typically greenish-gray in color, but can take on red or brown hues in full sun. The skin is leathery and rough in texture. When in bloom, Pseudolithos cubiformis produces clusters of long reddish-gray flowers.
Pseudolithos cubiformis needs very specific care in order to thrive and will only bloom under ideal conditions. It is prone to rot when kept indoors. This succulent prefers full sun in order to keep its shape and will not bloom when kept in shade. Water only when the soil is dry, but not at all during the winter. Pseudolithos cubiformis can be propagated from cuttings but can also be grown from seed.
Lithops ‘Living Stones’
These petite succulents get their nickname from their resemblance to rocks. At maturity, they typically measure under three inches in both height and diameter. They are slow-growing and tend to grow in clumps. When in bloom, they produce large white or yellow flowers. After blooming, a new pair of leaves appears in the center of the plant and the old outer pair will eventually wither and fall away.
Lithops cannot survive without well-draining soil. Course soil and a container with adequate drainage are essential in preventing rot. Full sun is ideal, but bright indoor light will work as well. Living Stones must only be watered when the soil is dry. It is easy to overwater these delicate plants. For more in-depth care information, see our Lithops Care Guide.
Mammillaria plumosa ‘Feather Cactus’
Native to northeastern Mexico, the Feather Cactus tends to grow in clumps that can reach up to five inches tall and nearly 16 inches in diameter. The individual stems are usually under three inches in diameter. Each cactus is covered in soft white spines that resemble down feathers. In late summer, the Feather Cactus produces white, greenish-yellow, or light pink flowers.
Mammillaria plumosa does best in full sun, but will grow well in light shade, especially in particularly hot climates. This cactusi is prone to rot, so it must never be allowed to sit in standing water. Well-draining soil and an adequately draining pot are required. The Feather Cactus can be propagated from cuttings but can be grown from seeds as well.
Aloe polyphylla ‘Spiral Aloe’
The Spiral Aloe, like many other Aloe grows in a rosette and has soft fleshy leaves. However, unlike other Aloe, the leaves grow in a perfect spiral pattern. The spiral can go either clockwise or counterclockwise. At maturity, the plant can reach up to 12 inches tall and 36 inches in diameter. Spiral Aloe typically don’t develop their signature spiral until they’re about eight inches or so in diameter. The leaves are broad and taper to a point with teeth along the leaf margins. The flowers, which grow in clusters atop tall inflorescences, are reddish pink in color.
Spiral Aloe generally do not grow well outside their native habitat. This plant does best with adequate drainage, even so far as being planted on a slope to further encourage drainage. Although it is somewhat frost hardy, the Spiral Aloe will not do well in particularly hot temperatures. This unique succulent grows best in light shade. Unless conditions are ideal, the Spiral Aloe is unlikely to survive.
Dorstenia gigas ‘Socotran Fig Tree’
The Socotran Fig Tree is a shrub-like succulent native to the Socotra Archipelago in Yemen. At maturity, the plant can grow up to four feet tall and a little over three feet in diameter. The leaves are thick and dark green in color. When in bloom, Dorstenia gigas produces flat star-shaped flowers.
The Socotran Fig Tree requires more frequent water than most succulents, but the soil should still be allowed to dry out between watering. In winter, they need very little water as they are partially dormant. They do best with full sun or partial shade. This plant does well in humid, but not wet or rainy climates. If temperatures are too high or low, the Socotran Fig Tree will wilt, so it must be protected from extreme temperatures in both the winter and summer.
Edithcolea grandis ‘Persian Carpet Flower’
The Persian Carpet Flower is a strange looking succulent with sharp gnarled branches. It can grow up to 12 inches in height. The branches tend to stay under two inches in diameter. This plant is known for its large vibrant flowers, which are yellow with brownish-red spots and hair along the margins. The flowers measure about five inches in diameter and are known for their carrion-like scent. The unpleasant odor of the plant attracts flies and various other insects so that they may pollinate the plant. In Ethiopia and Somalia, the stem of Edithcolea grandis is eaten in a variety of dishes.
Edithcolea grandis is well-known for being a rather difficult to care for plant. It is extremely susceptible to rot if winter temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Well-draining soil and adequate container drainage are essential to this plant’s survival. Partial sun or light shade is best. Without adequate light, the plant will not grow well. The Persian Carpet Flower can be propagated from stem cuttings or grown from seed.
This unique little plant grows in clumps that can reach up to four inches in height and about 12 inches in diameter. Each individual stem has rows of tubercles along the sides. Native to South Africa, this cute little plant produces greenish yellow flowers when in bloom. Like many other Euphorbia, Euphorbia susannae produces a milky white sap when cut or damaged. This sap can be irritating to the skin of some gardeners so cautious handling is a must.
Euphorbia susannae grows best in full sun to partial shade. In particularly hot climates, full sun may be enough to burn the plant, so watch for signs of sunburn. This plant is prone to rot, so be careful not to overwater. Adequately draining soil is a must, as is allowing the soil to dry between watering. Euphorbia susannae is best propagated from offsets.
These seven succulents are sure to challenge even the most experienced gardener, so if you’re ready to test the limits of your green thumb, why not give them a try? If you can keep them alive, you’ll be able to proudly display your exotic new plants. If not, don’t be too disappointed. Remember, gardening is a skill that takes time and practice. The more you learn about your plants, the better you’ll be able to care for them.