About the genus
This genus of mainly rosette forming plants consists of about 150 species, which grow just north of the USA and Mexico border (one species) and are then abundant throughout Mexico, through Central America and in the north of South America, south to just into Argentina. They mostly seek cover from other vegetation, and often occur on steeply sloping ground at altitudes up to about 3,000 metres(10,000 feet).
They send up a stalk or two in a shepherd’s crook form with umpteen varying coloured flowers opening from the lower part of the stalk up to those at the tip in succession. This is followed by the opening of the seedpods to release the tiny seed to be blown far and wide.
Many echeverias have a covering of farina (floury powder), which can easily be rubbed off when handling the plants, so extra care should be taken during repotting for example.
Because of their preference for high altitudes, many Echeveria species are tolerant of temperatures down to or even a little below freezing, and a few species can be grown outside all year round. If experimenting in this respect, caution is the byword,so try it first with spare plants you are prepared to sacrifice. In extremely cold spells covering with horticultural fleece has been successful in keeping off the worst of the cold.
How to grow them
In cultivation they prefer some shelter from direct sunshine, especially in the spring in the UK, when light shading should prevent them from being scorched. This is important in early spring after cloudy periods, and especially after they have been watered to encourage the commencement of their growing period. However,too much shade can result in them becoming drawn and unnaturally leggy.
Most are tolerant of low temperatures if kept dry in the cold months, but many will not tolerate temperatures below about 5°C.
Watering should be from below the rosettes, so that none is left between the leaves to damage the plant.Allow them nearly to dry out before watering again, otherwise root loss can occur, followed by the collapse of the plant. Plenty of grit,pumice or moler (cat litter) to a third or more can help make your potting mix free draining, which is essential for their well-being.
Commercially available John Innes composts are often not very good,so use only those which you or other growers you know have found acceptable. Soilless peat-based composts are OK, but are sometimes hard to re-wet when they have dried out completely in the winter, and the inclusion of grit is even more essential.
Once the flowers have dried, the flower stem will also become dry.Be careful removing it, as it can sometimes result in damage to the rosette of leaves from which it emerged, and even decapitate the plant.
Propagation can be from removed offsets, best done with a sharp knife.Allow the cut surface to dry before laying on a dry sandy surface, when the stem will send out roots seeking water from beneath. That is the time to place it gently in a furrow and cover the emerging roots. This method can also be used for a carefully whole detached rosette or flowering stem leaves, allowing them to dry for a few days before laying them on a similar surface and covering the roots when they emerge. A little plant should soon follow.
Text: John Pilbeam
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