How to Grow and Care for Hoodia gordonii succulent

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Hoodia is a small group of succulents that look remarkably like cacti. Instead of having the typical rosette form with fleshy leaves for water storage, it produces enlarged shoots with fine spines. 

Some species under this genus can grow remarkably tall, up to almost 7 feet in height! Shoots may develop multiple branches over time, giving the plant a shrub-like appearance.

This “cactiform” succulent is known for producing distinct flowers that vary considerably in size. Smaller species may produce tiny flowers that extend to just an inch across, whereas mature plants might be dappled with 8-inch blooms in late summer to early fall. 

In contrast to the grey-green to brown shoots, flowers are light pink to brownish-purple. They emit a strong yet unpleasant scent, likened to rotting meat, to attract flies!

Adapted to dry and sunny conditions, Hoodia succulents are best cultivated outdoors. They can be grown alongside true cacti, with which they blend in quite well. If you’re after a low-maintenance succulent that can flourish with hardly any water, you should definitely consider getting your own Hoodia

History

All Hoodia species are native to the arid regions of South Africa and the deserts of Namibia, Angola, and Botswana. 

In these areas, the roots of the plants are accustomed to minimal water access as rainfall occurs rarely and sparsely. The shoots are typically found in sloping rock faces and in open plains. They have a knack for growing in the crevices of large rocks and in between stones. 

This genus was first described in the 1800s. Interestingly, African bushmen benefited from the flesh of the plant and used it as an appetite suppressant. 

Hoodia gordonii, the most popular species, is highly researched for its steroidal compounds. Since the early 2000s, this group of plants has been gaining more attention in the US, with extracts now being used in some dietary supplements. 

The peak growth periods of Hoodia succulents are spring and fall, when temperatures are more agreeable. The shoots are able to persist without becoming dormant in summer, but they may enter an extended period of dormancy through harsh winters. Unless conditions are fully optimized, indoor growth may compromise the survival of these desert plants. 

Plant Facts

Scientific NameHoodia sp.
Common NamesHoodia, Hoodia cactus, Orchid of the Desert, “ghaap”, Bushman’s Hat, Kalahari cactus
GenusHoodia
FamilyApocynaceae
Height32-36 inches (average)
Width2-3.2 inches per stem
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone10a-11b
OriginSouth Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana
Flower ColorsTanned pink to dark purple
Blooming SeasonSpring to summer
Plant/Flower Special FeaturesPungent flowers, Cacti-like stems

How to Plant Hoodia 

Hoodia succulents can be grown from seed or with the use of stem cuttings. If planting via seed, make sure to sow them in a protected setup, preferably during early fall. 

A cacti mix can be used for germination. Sprinkle seeds onto the surface of the substrate and cover them with a thin layer of sand. Keep the substrate lightly moist and exposed to filtered light. 

The substrate should be misted daily. Gradually reduce watering periods to encourage seedlings to develop extensive roots. Once they are large enough to handle, they should be transplanted to their own pots. 

Terra cotta pots with a hole on the bottom are a must to prevent water retention. Make sure these are situated in a warm, sunlit area to ensure good growth. 

Once established, young plants will grow quickly and may begin to produce new stems or branches. Wait until at least a year’s worth of growth has occurred before propagating the plants further.

How to Propagate Hoodia

As Hoodia succulents don’t produce leaves, they are generally propagated by obtaining stem cutting from mature plants. These can come in the form of branches or be obtained from the main stem. Before slicing through plant tissue, make sure that your tools have been sterilized properly. Unclean tools can quickly spread disease as they come in contact with exposed plant tissue. 

Each cutting should be a few inches long and can be taken at any point during the year. Wait for the exposed parts to dry out and callous over prior to planting them in soil. As the cuttings have no roots, they may take some time to become established. They may also fall over if not planted deep enough or exposed to strong winds. 

Make sure to provide propagated cuttings with structural support or place them in a protected area until they have developed roots. Delay the first thorough watering session until the shoot tip exhibits new growth. Light misting around the base of the plant should suffice for the first few weeks.

Hoodia Care and Maintenance

Here’s how to care for Hoodia gordonii (Bushman’s hat):

Soil

As Hoodia thrive best in desert-like conditions, their substrate should not be prone to retaining moisture. A cactus mix should suffice, and its porousness can be enhanced by adding more coarse sand to the mix. 

Many experienced gardeners make their own potting mix for water-sensitive plants. Hoodia will benefit from the addition of perlite or pumice and small stones or rocks. The substrate should not be packed into the pot so that the roots have more access to oxygen. 

Avoid using garden soil in the mix unless it has been sterilized beforehand, and make sure it does not become the base component of the substrate. The soil surface should not be heavily coated with toppings as this may drastically lengthen evaporation times. Moreover, amendments that can increase the soil pH (making it alkaline) should be avoided. 

Water

Be extra careful when it comes to watering your Hoodia succulents. These plants will require less water than most, and will easily suffer from prolonged exposure to moisture. The soil must only be watered when all layers have dried out completely. Keep in mind that the roots are drought-resistant and can persist for weeks to months on end without water. 

If your plant enters a period of dormancy during winter, make sure to hold off watering completely. At this point in time, they would be extremely susceptible to rot. Moreover, evaporation times tend to lengthen as temperatures drop. It would be wise to wait until spring before re-watering your plant. 

If situated indoors, Hoodia must be watered sparingly. Make sure that any water collected in catch plates is disposed of without delay. Moreover, the pot should be placed in a well-ventilated area.

Fertilizer

Though they are known for surviving in poor soils, Hoodia succulents will benefit from fertilizer during their growth periods. 

Sunlight

To produce an abundant amount of flowers, Hoodia will require full sun exposure. Inadequate sunlight may unfortunately result in little to no flowers. That being said, an acclimation period may be required before situating your plant in a fully exposed area. If it is accustomed to low light conditions, intense sun can cause the outer tissue layers to become scalded or bleached. 

Those grown indoors should be placed in the sunniest corner of the house, where bright indirect light is present for at least 6-8 hours per day. A shady position may cause the plant’s growth to be stunted and may also prevent it from exhibiting a desirable shape. The stems may become notably bent toward a light source. 

Temperature and Humidity

Hoodia species thrive in warm and dry conditions due to their desert adaptations. Best growth results are often achieved when their native environment is mimicked. This is easier said than done, of course, as many succulent enthusiasts live far from deserts and must compensate for cool and humid conditions. 

Greenhouse conditions are usually suitable for cultivation, as long as ventilation is provided. High temperatures are welcomed by the plant all year round. In contrast, cool temperatures that occur outside of winter may be detrimental to the plant’s survival. Always consider the current temperature and humidity levels when watering your plant. 

Hoodia may tolerate winter temperatures that dip to 0°C (30°F), as this genus is hardy to USDA zone 10. If temperatures are cooler than this, the succulent will have to be overwintered indoors. 

Pruning

If your Hoodia succulents grow too tall and unruly, they can be pruned to a manageable height. This will sacrifice the appearance of the plant, however, as the stem tips would appear beheaded.

If you prune your plant, new growths will likely occur from the sides or base of the stem, rather than the top. Keep in mind that any stem cutting obtained while pruning the plant can be used in propagation. 

If you don’t wish to attract flies, flowers may be removed from the plant soon after they bloom. Invariably, no seeds will be produced by this course of action. 

Repotting and Transplanting

Hoodia can be repotted every 3 years to refresh the root system. Stems should also be moved to a larger pot when they begin to appear too crowded. 

When repotting the succulents, take the opportunity to check for any root issues. This would also be a good time to divide stems and transplant them into their own individual pots. Access to fresh soil will keep them happy and may encourage them to branch out. 

Pests and Diseases

Due to their sensitivity to moisture, Hoodia succulents are prone to pest infestations and diseases when overwatered. Keep an eye out for these common problems and don’t delay treatment if you wish to save your plant. 

Mealybugs 

These may infest both the stems and roots of the plant. Unfortunately, Hoodia may sometimes be referred to as a mealybug magnet. Its stem texture and the spaces between the spines are perfect for keeping mealybugs safe and comfortable. Manual removal can be quite tricky because of the spines as well. 

In the wild, natural predators usually keep these bugs at bay. Always isolate affected plants and check on their soil for contamination. If mealybug colonies appear in the substrate and feed on the roots, the entire plant will have to be uprooted and the soil will have to be disposed of properly. 

Root rot

The main culprit for root rot, due to either bacterial or fungal contamination, is overwatering. Trapped moisture weakens the taproot and basal shoot tissues, providing points of entry for pathogens. Plants with rotten roots will have to be uprooted and treated. Excise all rotten parts before allowing exposed tissues to dry out. 

If clean calluses are formed and the rest of the plant remains tough to the touch, it can be replanted.

Fungal Disorders

Anthracnose (Black Spot), Hoodia canker, and Hoodia bud rot are just a few fungal disorders that affect these succulents. They are usually quite invasive, affecting regions extending deep into the plant’s central tissues. Plants that are able to recover from these will usually have brown scars that remain permanent. 

Uses of Hoodia

Apart from its ornamental use, Hoodia is a source of compounds that can supposedly aid in treating obesity and reducing appetite. Its extract is used in dietary supplements that are now available in the market. Nonetheless, many health authorities discourage its use as there is a lack of scientific evidence to guide safety standards. 

Common Varieties 

Hoodia species and cultivars vary in terms of height, stem thickness, flower color, and tendency to branch out. Many of them are protected under Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). 

The most popular species are listed below.

  • Hoodia gordonii
  • Hoodia pilifera
  • Hoodia currorii
  • Hoodia flava
  • Hoodia officinalis
  • Hoodia ruschii
  • Hoodia juttae

Always make sure to purchase your succulents from a reputable seller that respects trade restrictions. Some importers may attempt to bring restricted Hoodia species into your country.

Conclusion

This type of succulent is quite special for its cactiform morphology, strangely scented flowers, and pharmacological chemistry. Its rich history, demand in the herbal industry, and current state of abundance have earned it a modest spotlight in the plant world. If you’d love an outdoor plant that can survive conditions of near-total neglect, this is definitely the plant for you!

*image by dpreezg/depositphotos