Succulents in Sweaters

– Posted in: Garden Plants, Succulents

Turk’s cap cactus uses its pelt to collect moisture. It’s native to a maritime location that gets fog but very little rain. As far as the other fuzzy succulents shown here, the best I can come up with is that their filaments help them gain a few degrees of cold protection. If you have a better explanation, do let me (and us) know.

Succulents that generally have smooth leaves may have an oddball in the bunch. Like aeoniums. Aeonium canariense is hirsute; other species are somewhat so, and others not at all. Whenever I come across an aeonium I’m unfamiliar with, I caress it out of curiosity.

Certain succulents are downright odd in the way they exhibit their fuzziness, like Kalanchoe beharensis ‘Fang’, which has goatee-like protrusions. Why on earth?!

“Tomentose” means “hairy,” so you know how Kalanchoe tomentosa got its name.

And Cotyledon tomentosa (kitten paws or bear paws).

Some of the most bizarre looking succulents, indeed, some of the most bizarre looking plants, are hairy cacti. Like old man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)…

…and Cleistocactus strausii (silver torch cactus). All fuzzy succulents glow gloriously when backlit by the sun.

Succulents in the genus Ariocarpus take fuzziness to a whole new level. Every time I see one of these star-shaped plants I marvel at their whipped-cream centers.

Echeverias are among the most popular succulents because of their rosette forms. Most aren’t fuzzy, but those that are, are memorable. Just try to resist touching an echeveria that needs a shave.

Is there a fuzzy senecio? Yep. And it’s white, too. Senecio herrianus.

How about the genus Sempervivum? Sure, one of the most popular species is webbed with white filaments: Cobweb houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum).

And here’s another that’s borderline sinister: Opuntia vestida (meaning “clothed opuntia”). Beneath that innocent cotton are fishhook-like spines.

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 



Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
10 comments… add one

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Karen Chapman December 4, 2012, 1:22 am

Great selection! Just goes to show that we all just love to touch our plants

michael December 4, 2012, 7:14 am

Where can you find some or all of these? Particularly the last two? I live in south Austin, by the way but I don’t mind driving.

Stacey Weichert December 4, 2012, 7:26 am

Nice images, love the title–so appropriate!

Margaret (Peggy) Herrman December 4, 2012, 10:01 am

You know you are good when in these hectic times I stop, read, and smile. Did this morning Debra. thanks. I continue to grow succulents, and with limited success. Your post just provided a new burst of energy. Thanks and I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday seeason. Peggy

Rob (OurFrenchGarden) December 4, 2012, 12:45 pm

Really informative post. Nice photos too, reminds me of warmer days in this December ‘dank’ in SW France. I have the bug. I picked up a copy of your ‘Succulent Container Gardens’ a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it – Thanks.

Gail Klein December 5, 2012, 1:59 am

Hey Debra,
I think you call senecio herrianus is actually senecio haworthii . There are several of these white-grey-silver succulents that look similar in color and shape. The herrianus senecio is supposed to have thin green stripes which act like ‘light wells’ or microwindows through which light penetrates deeper into the plant.
(no need to put the above into your comments; the names are not the point of your thoughtful ‘articlette’.
I think succulents like S. haworthii clothe their leaves in protective hairs to increase their surface area (if silvery, too reflecting light) which in turn helps control temperatures. Likewise a fuzzy carpet on a leaf’s underside can reduce water loss through evaporation.

I only know the South African succulents but their adaptive behavior is absolutely rivetting. And it’s cool that desert succulents and arctic plants can use the same light reflecting hairy-pale color-waxy-leaved strategies for protection!.

kaye Close December 5, 2012, 8:43 am

Hi Debra, I dont know if this is any help but here in Australia we have certain indigenous species of plants on our coast lines that are hairy to keep the salt spray from the ocean from being in direct contact to leaves of the plants. One great example is Adenanthos sericeus. Quite clever I thought.


Debra Lee Baldwin December 5, 2012, 2:42 pm

The discussion over on Facebook:

Jim Bishop: Thanks for the name, Aeonium canariense. There was one in the garden when we moved here and I never knew the name. There are many more now.

Jan Emming: OK, you’ve yet again tripped my professorial side. Fuzziness and hairs can serve several functions based upon the needs of the plant. One is indeed cold protection, especially in plants that have some winter snow or chill because they are at high altitudes or latitudes. This usually manifests as wool right at the apex, which is where the dividing cells are, and those are the most sensitive and the most important for the growth of the plant. Wool also helps protect against extreme heat and sun, and hides small developing fruits from being eaten until they are ripe enough to push forth and release seeds.

Plants with hairy leaves (not woolly terminal apices) usually have this because the hairs help scatter light and reflect it away from the cells so that the plants won’t overheat. That reflectiveness, combined with whiteness or other pale colors and insulation value, helps keep leaves cooler than they would otherwise be, and prevents sunburn. Leaf hairs also reduce air circulation right at the leaf surface, which helps reduce water loss.

So as you can see, hairiness can serve multiple functions for the plants, based upon the habitat and ecological demands on the plant involved. Hope that helps you understand them a bit better.

Oh, and they are definitely beautiful features too. Not to overlook that either.

Jim Bishop: Don’t some of the super hairy cactii from the fog areas of South America use the hairs to condense the fog and drip the moisture at the roots of the plant?

Jan Emming: Jim gets a gold star for making a point that I forgot!

Jim Bishop: Not sure why Aeonium canariense has fuzz. It burns easily and does best in partial to full shade. They might be to trap moisture too since they are also from a foggy area. It isn’t white, so doesn’t reflect light.

Frederique Lavoipierre: Aren’t some hairs also glandular, such as on sundews, and attract (and dissolve!) insects, or is that different? And do some hairs serve as a mechanical, and sometimes chemical, defense against predation? Do I remember something from my plant biology days about trichomes on tomatoes?

Jan Emming Frederique: You are correct that there are more types of hairs or projections on leaves of other species, but they tend to perform very different functions from the hairs on succulents.

Frederique Lavoipierre: I have a great book on plant adaptations that I am now inspired to go upstairs and retrieve. I didn’t know that hairs on succulent plants are defenses against abiotic factors, and that they don’t have these other types of hairs. Plants are endlessly fascinating to me. But then, so are insects

Susan Gaul: Excellent thread! Thanks Debra for prompting it. Plants stay in one place and so evolved amazing ways to grow, reproduce and survive.

Fran Sorin December 6, 2012, 4:10 am


I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at my back roof top with all of my succulents in containers. Your post comes at a perfect time – I’m going to make a trek to a nursery that carries a pretty decent selection of succulents. I love the Old Man of the Andes hairy cacti- hope that they have it in stock. Thanks for a peek at unusual succulents ~ you continue to help me expand my repertoire. Fran

Rosemarie Armstrong December 6, 2012, 12:02 pm

Debra, Loved your article! Nice seeing these plants well-photographed & pick up some info about them. Followed the link over from Facebook, so may make a comment there as well~the Senecio you show above is S. haworthii, not herreianus. 🙂

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