Pachyphytum is a genus of slow-growing succulents in the family Crassulaceae, native to Mexico. They form loose rosettes of plump and fleshy leaves that range in color from green to lovely orange and even purple. Plants may be grape-shaped or tubular and may have a powdery coating called farina. Pachyphytums forms small, bell-shaped flowers in spring and summer, usually greenish-white and deep red, and grow on long spikey inflorescences. The rosettes will not die after flowering. The genus name Pachyphytum comes from the Greek for "thick leaves." The plants grow in both shrub-forming and stemless rosettes and eventually form clumps.
Pachyphytums are fairly hardy and are common houseplants. However, like Graptopetalum, Pachyphytum is sensitive to being handled, as skin oil can damage leaves, particularly those with a pearlescent coloration or farina.
Pachyphytum will not tolerate frosts well. Temperatures below 20 °F (-6 °C) will kill the plant, and temperatures which may go below 45 °F (7 °C) during an extended period should be avoided. These succulents tolerate high heat and intense sunlight. As with most Crassulaceae, Pachyphytums can tolerate (and even appreciated) poor soil conditions, so long as it is well-draining. They can thrive in full or partial sunlight.
Allow the soil to dry out before watering and avoid getting water on the leaves. In winter, the plants will require more water as winter begins its active growth season. If you are unsure when to water your Pachyphytum, watch the lowermost leaves for drying signs and water them then. Pachyphytum is far more likely to survive under-watering than overwatering. The thick fleshy leaves will appear wilted and a bit "under-full" when they need water.
Leaf-cutting entails cutting a young leaf from near the center of the rosette. Leave the leaf out in the open air for a day to allow the wound to callous over. Dip the leaf into the rooting hormone and place the leaf (cut-side down) into a slightly moist succulent potting mix. Soon, a new rosette will grow from the base of the leaf. As soon as enough roots are present to repot, remove the original leaf cutting and repot the rosette.
No pruning is necessary except to remove any leaves which have died. This will help to avoid rot and bugs. Avoid touching the healthy leaves of the plant, as your body oils will leave marks.
Whether grown outdoors or in, these plants are good to forget about. Too much attention by nervous gardeners will kill the plant. When grown outdoors in a wet environment, make sure that the soil is sandy and well-draining. If you are not careful, your plant will turn to rotten mush. When grown indoors, a standard commercial succulent soil mix works well.
Pests and Problems
One of the most common pests to houseplants is the mealybug, and your Pachyphytum may fall prey to this pest. The symptoms of a mealybug infestation are slowed or stopped growth (though in summer, this is a normal sign of dormancy). If this occurs without apparent cause, remove the plant from the pot and examine the roots or look at the leaf-stem junctions. A white cottony substance is a sure sign of mealybug infestation. Remove all soil and wash the roots gently. Dab the cottony spots with a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. Remove any roots which appear damaged with a sharp, sterile knife or scissors. Let them dry very thoroughly before replanting.
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, do not hope it will safely dry out so long as you do not water it for a while. Replace the soil immediately, but be very careful in handling your Pachyphytum because its leaves are very sensitive.