If you thought the regular Cotyledon Tomentosa was extremely cute, your heart will melt seeing it’s variegated version. The variegated Bear’s Paw is an absolute gem of a succulent and a must have if you have a bit of a collection going. But unfortunately this little plant is not an easy one to keep alive and comes with a set of issues, one of them being the leaves falling off. So why does this happen?
Cotyledon Tomentosa Variegata is very sensitive to too much water, humidity and also strong sun. These factors can cause the leaves to fall off at an alarming rate. The leaves are also naturally slightly sensitive to touch, especially when the plant is in its growing season.
But fear not, it is possible to maintain this little plant and keep it happy. Let’s have a closer look at this gorgeous succulent and what can be done to stop the leaves falling off.
The Variegated Bear’s Paw grows as a small sized shrub with the main stem branching out. Each stem has opposing leaves that are thick and fleshy. The colour is white-creamy white and light green with pink tips. Soft white hair cover the whole plant.
The variegation in this plant is a mutation and the parts of the plant that are white lack chlorophyl. Chlorophyl is a photosynthetic pigment that is vital for a plant’s ability to absorb energy from light. The less chlorophyl a plant has the less it is able to get energy to grow and also becomes sensitive to sun exposure, burning easily. If you've ever grown a variegated plant which produced an albino (all white) branch or pup you may have noticed it is double sensitive as it has next to nothing chlorophyl. If you'd try an propagate and albino branch, it is very likely it wouldn't survive.
While variegated plants are very desirable and much more prized than their green cousins, they are harder to keep alive due to the lack of chlorophyl.
In the case of variegated Cotyledon Tomentosa, the variegation can produce a very unstable plant that needs the right conditions to grow and stay alive.
But once you’ve got the hang of it the plant can grow to approximately 20cm height and width.
The most reliable and fastest way to propagate Cotyledon Tomentosa Variegata is by cuttings. The plant should be mature and have multiple good sized branches to choose from. The cuttings do not have to be big, but they should have at least 4 leaves. It is best to propagate in spring as the plant is winter dormant. If propagated in the growing season, roots should form in about 3 weeks.
Seed propagation is possible but extremely slow and can take years before the seeds grow into a decent size plant.
Variegated Bear’s Paw cannot be propagated from leaves and a section of a stem needs to be present for the roots to form.
As we’ve established above, it will take a little bit of extra TLC to keep the variegated Bear’s Paw alive and thriving.
The plant will need a bright spot undercover, where it will not get rained on. Too much water and rain will almost definitely cause the leaves to fall off (and a fungal disease) and can completely kill off the whole plant. An ideal place to keep the variegated Bear’s Paw would be a greenhouse made out of glass or with plastic cover. If in a glasshouse, a 30% shade cloth will need to be pulled overhead as well because the glass will let too much harmful UV through potentially burning this delicate plant. Plastic greenhouses usually have a slight UV protection factor, but it is always good to check. Alternatively, it can also live on a bright verandah with plastic sheet roof or in a sunroom.
In the dry parts of the world where it does not rain that often (like here in Australia) the Cotyledon can live under a shadecloth and be brought undercover during rainy spells. Light rain will not automatically kill the plants or cause the leaves to fall off, but a few consecutive days of rain along with high humidity will.
Variegated Bear’s Paw is best suited to be grown in pots in succulent potting mix. To create an extra well draining mix, a bit of perlite can be added.
Even though this plant does not like to be watered often, it will need to be watered. Never spray, but pour water right in the pot or sit pot in a dish of water. We water our nursery plants a few days after the potting mix has completely dried, or about once a week in spring/ summer/ autumn and once every two weeks in winter.
When re-potting the Bear’s Paw, try and avoid the leaves touching the potting mix as they will almost certainly fall off (this happens with a lot of succulents).
When the plant is in its growing stage it may need staking due to top leaves becoming too heavy and pulling to the ground. Skewers will do just fine to hold it upright.
It is best to re-pot once a year, in spring to check on the health of the roots and to provide fresh potting mix. If the roots have reached the limit of the pot, upgrade to a slightly bigger pot. Slow release fertilizer can be added in spring and summer to provide extra nutrients.
Variegated Cotyledon Tomentosa is thankfully not a favourite of Aphids and Mealy Bugs, but mealies can still attack this plant if there is an infestation nearby. Mealy bugs are also more likely to feed on the roots. This is why it's very important to re-pot once a year as you will otherwise never know there is a problem.
Caterpillars and snails are also known to feed on the Bears Paw, but again, if there is something better to be had nearby, they will leave the Cotyledon alone.
Cotyledon Tomentosa Variegata is listed as non- toxic but we have found references that if eaten some pets or humans may develop a mild reaction.
The variegated Bear’s Paw is probably best obtained via online nurseries or eBay/ Amazon.