When talking to our customers many mention how their passion for succulents started because they were able to multiply them so easily. Take a leaf, fast forward a couple of months and voila, new plant! But succulents have many other ways of reproducing. Below I will go through all the different ways succulents reproduce on their own and how they can be multiplied with or without human intervention. I will also go through some FAQs around succulent reproduction.
How do succulents reproduce?
- Separation of offsets
- Cuttings/ Division
- Flower Stalk
- Tissue Culture
Many, but not all, succulents have the ability to reproduce from a single leaf. Some succulents even seem to purposefully grow leaves that can be easily dislodged in order to reproduce further and faster.
While there are many succulents that will grow just from a single leaf, not all succulents posses this reproduction technique and others can make it incredibly hard to even remove the leaf so it grows into a new plant.
There are succulents such as Sedum Dasyphyllum that will lose leaves just at the slightest touch. This can be incredibly frustrating for people trying to grow such plants, but it ensures a good coverage and spread as pretty much 99% of leaves will germinate into a whole new plant. Dasyphyllum also grows tiny hair on its leaves which makes it easy to attach itself to passing animals etc. and then drop and start growing in an entirely new location.
In the 10 years of running my nursery I have seen many succulents being very clever about reproducing themselves. Some, in the face of death will drop their leaves which will then start growing. Succulents that get stung by extremely strong UV on hot days (over 40C/104F) can drop their leaves before they burn. The top leaves can still burn, but the survivors at the bottom will produce growth later on. I have also seen rotting succulents releasing leaves so they can keep on growing even as the mother plant is dying. This does not happen all of time and not with every sunburnt/ rotting succulent, but it is one of the survival and reproduction techniques succulents can deploy.
If you’re interested in trying to propagate succulents from leaves and learn which ones are the easiest to try it with, you can read another one of my articles on leaf propagation.
Separation of offsets
Many succulents grow offsets as a means of reproduction. Offsets usually grow on rosette forming succulents such as Echeveria or Sempervivum and on cactus plants. Once big enough, offsets can snap off and grow as an independent plant.
Some offsets will grow on longer stalks so there is space from the mother plant. This can be helpful as offset will in time will grow offsets of their own and it become a little crowded. Some offsets can grow quite close to the mother plant and create very tight clumps, but most will eventually try and get some space so they can send roots.
Succulents that grow offsets reproduce quite easily once the offset is big enough. Offsets can even snap off and start growing on their own, though I do know of quite a few plants where offsets grow so tight together it can take quite an effort to separate (Haworthia Cooperi in some instances).
To read more about offset propagation you can see one of my other articles here.
Most succulents are able to reproduce by cuttings or their parts. For the cutting to be able to root successfully it helps if a bit of a stalk is present. Although there are some succulents (very few such as Kalanchoe Tomentosa) that will grow even from broken leaves that are not entire, in the great majority of cases, for cuttings to take root more than just a bit of leaf needs to be there.
Cuttings can be taken from branching plants and bigger the cutting better the chance of the plant sending roots. Some succulents reproduce so easily from cuttings that even a tiny bit measuring no more than a centimeter will grow into a new plant. As an example, Crassula Ericoides will lose the tips of its branches every spring even at the slightest touch. Because the tips are quite small they can be travel some distance from the original plant, more so if there’s a slope to help it roll down. During the rest of the year, Crassula Ericoides is quite rigid and the tips will stay intact when handled.
This is quite a clever way of reproduction and goes to show how easy it is for succulents to regrow into a new plant from very small bits or sections of their body. Quite amazingly, when parts of succulents are knocked off the main plant or if the drop, they don’t even need to be planted and will often just send roots that will eventually find a way into the ground.
There is one section of the succulent plant that will rarely reproduce if cut off or is broken the wrong way and that is the leaf. For a leaf to grow into a new succulent you need to have the right species and the leaf needs to be completely intact. If a leaf is cut halfway off the plant, it will never grow, unless it is one of the very few succulents like the above mentioned Kalanchoe Tomentosa.
Bulbil is a small offset, identical to the main plant that can grow on an inflorescence of succulents, instead of a flower. Bulbils do not grow on all succulent flower stalks but do appear on quite a few species. It is another form of succulent reproduction and it will ensure the little plant can fall a bit further away from its parent, so it has enough space.
To date I have seen bulbils or pups on stalks mostly on Haworthia sspecies, Aloe species, Agave, Gasteria, some Echeveria and even Graptoveria. Bulbils are a bit different from offsets, but they too are a clone of the mother plant. Bulbils seem to appear at random. Sometimes there are quite a few on multiple stalks coming from one plant and next flowering season there are none.
Bulbils mostly grow about hallway up on the inflorescence, though this is not a rule and they can appear on the top too, depending on the species. To manually reproduce a succulent from a bulbil, great care needs to be taken as there is usually no stalk which can make it hard to remove. I have on many occasions tried to remove a bulbil only to end up with a bunch of leaves as they can easily fall apart.
The best way is to cut the stalk away and not attempt to remove the bulbil at all. It is best left on the stalk and planted so the bottom of the bulbil is in contact with a potting medium. If a bulbil is left on the stalk it can fall off on its own. It's weight will also force a flower stalk down on succulent species with thin inflorescence, so if there is soil nearby, the bulbil will in time reach it and send roots
Although reproduction from root in succulents is quite rare, it is one of the ways plants can multiply. I have only seen a few succulents, mostly Haworthia and Aloe species, reproduce this way.
Root reproduction obviously happens underground with the main plant sending a root that will eventually emerge from under the ground some distance away with an offset at its end. In pots some offsets can emerge at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole.
These offsets can be separated by pulling out and severing the root.
Succulents can produce viable seeds through pollination of flowers. If the flowers are pollinated, they will set seed. Seed pods will then open and the seed will get dispersed by the wind.
Most succulent seeds are incredibly small and not much bigger than a grain of sand. Some succulents produce seeds that have additional cotton-like growth which will help them get carried away by wind.
Succulents in general are not awfully easy to reproduce by seed. Some grow relatively well from seed but most are incredibly hard as well as very slow.
As a nursery we rarely propagate or reproduce succulents from seed because of the extra effort it entails and the length it takes the seed to produce a big enough plant. Lithops, fenestraria and some Euphorbia such as Obesa are the only plants we do grow from seed. Others are much, much easier to reproduce by either leaf, cuttings or offsets.
Few succulents can reproduce through the flower stalk and will produce pups that are different to bulbil along the stalk as the plant flowers. However, not all succulents have this ability.
Some succulent flower stalks will produce a round of pups (how many will depend on the particular species) when it is planted or while it grows, These pups usually grow at the ground level. We have a separate article on succulent flowers and how to reproduce succulents from flower stalks here.
Tissue culture is a reproduction technique that can only happen with human intervention. Succulents and other plants have small parts cut off and cloned in a cocktail of growth hormones and gels, in sterile conditions.
Tissue culture is incredibly hard to do at home as you would need to create a mini laboratory where everything is sterile. This technique is usually done in professional laboratories with all the necessary equipment.
Although many of you may have not heard of tissue culture I wanted to mention it as a human made reproduction and propagation technique as chances are you have many plants at home that started off as tissue cultures. Our nursery also grows many plants from tissue culture as there is quite a number of succulents, usually hybridized man-made plants that are hard to reproduce any other way.
Do succulents reproduce/multiply on their own?
Succulents reproduce on their own through leaves, offsets, division, seed, bulbil and flower stalk. Not all succulents have the ability to reproduce by each of these techniques and some succulents can utilize all of them.
As explained above succulents will easily root if a part of them falls to the ground without even being manually inserted into soil. All they need is soil or potting mix nearby and their roots will just grow in.
How long does it take for succulents to reproduce/multiply?
Some succulents will reproduce or multiply each growing season no matter how big or old they are and some can take a couple of years to a decade to reproduce. Different succulent species can be quite different in their ability to multiply.
To find out how long will it take for a particular succulent to multiply or reproduce, search the full name and skim through a few of the results that will pop up. Someone is bound to mention how long the plant takes to reproduce.
Generally speaking the majority of succulents reproduce/ multiply quite fast and in the growing season (usually spring) succulents can double in size and offsets within a month.
A lot will also depend on the growing conditions. If succulents have good quality potting mix, a big pot and are not rootbound, they will multiply much faster than succulents grown in poor mix and a tiny pot.
Succulent plants such as some cacti can take years before they are able to reproduce. Some will grow offsets fairly early in their life, some can take 10 years.
When do succulents reproduce/ multiply?
The vast majority of succulents reproduce and multiply in spring. Many will also reproduce in summer and autumn and there are a few species that reproduce best in winter. Much will also depend on the climate.
All our nursery succulents reproduce best in spring but our climate is mild and frosts are very rare. So in parts of the world where spring can be frosty, succulents may start growing once it warms up, which may well be end of spring, start of summer. Succulents, apart from a few genera like the Sempervivum, are not frost hardy and will easily die if outdoors during frost.
Light also has much to do with succulents going dormant and not reproducing and they can be tricked into multiplying by growing lights. Otherwise nature will do it on its own and once the days get longer in spring, succulents will also spring into action.
Succulents that prefer to reproduce over the cooler months are Aeonium, some Sedum, some Sempervivum and a few other random species here and there. Echeveria tend to start growing their pups over the winter months, but they are unlikely to send root if propagated until spring.
How do succulents reproduce sexually?
Succulents reproduce sexually by pollination and producing seed. For seeds to form pollen from the anthers, or the male part of a flower, must find their way onto stigma, the female part, via a pollinator, usually a flying insect such as the bee.
The pollination will only be successful if pollen from compactible species is exchanged. This would mostly be between plants of the exact same species, but different plants from the same genus and even different genera will also sometimes work. This is how new species are born. To learn more about hybrid plants, you can see a more in-depth article here.
Pollinators that are responsible for moving pollen are often insects, either crawling such as ants or flying like bees, hoverflies, ladybeetles etc. Nectar feeding birds also like to feed on some succulents flowers and by doing so, they carry pollen and are responsible for succulent reproduction.
Humans too are good pollinators and many growers carefully choose the best possible parents with favorable traits to create superior new generation or a whole different plant altogether.
To conclude succulent reproduction happens asexually through leaves, sections of the plant, offsets, bulbil, flower stalk and roots, but also sexually through the production of seed when a succulent flower is pollinated. All of these reproduction techniques are utilized by plants themselves in nature and also by avid succulent enthusiast at home.