Haworthia Rot at the Office


A cautionary tale from the office today.  The terrarium that a co-worker had on her desk that kicked off my recent fascination and obsession with succulents has suffered a loss.  An attractive speciment of haworthia, of what looked like it might have been one of the pointier cooperi type.  

I will start by saying that I probably owe this co-worker some sort of baked goods for how much I have been visiting and hovering over her desk since she brought this planter into the office after attending a terrarium class at a local greenhouse.  The plants were very attractive, but she wasn’t sure what they all were… so I’d been slowly trying to identify them and all the subsequent internet searching is what lead me down a succulent rabbit hole.

The easiest word to describe the sad state of affairs for my favorite plant in her mini garden is that it looked…..  “deflated”.  A bit like the leaves had been balloons someone had let the air out of.  Where it had previously been spiky, it now laid flat and sad on the surface of the soil.  Very, very sad.

The entire planter has been receiving water every two weeks, after the soil has dried out; and there were several other smaller plants in the planter of the same variety that were doing just fine – so it didn’t seem like adding water to “puff” the plant back up would do any good.  I asked when the last time the planter had been watered was (last week) – and the plant had “looked a bit sad at that point”, and had pretty much stayed the same if not gotten worse.

Quick internet consultation gave a few hits of people reporting similar issues without knowing for sure what the problem was, and (unhelpfully) not reporting back.  None of them seemed quite as severe as what we were witnessing, though.  Which was an indication that I should be taking pictures and posting about this so that one day, a future version of me who encounters this can figure it out a bit easier.

We came down to the unhelpful “too much water, or too little water.”  With succulents, when you have that choice, it generally means “too much”.  The soil felt dry, but after some poking around I could see some leaves underneath the top of the plant were withered and dead looking, and when I tried to “pluck” them the area of the plant they were in sort of pulled apart into goo.  We quickly decided to try to pull the rest of the plant (she is far more cavalier than I), and sure enough the whole mess separated neatly from the root crown with little disturbance.  Rot.



I failed to get a picture of the sad looking plant before we pulled it, which I regret, because the degree of sadness was pretty epic.  I tried to get a picture of what the deflated leaves looked like after they all pulled apart. If you look at the planter image at the top, imagine a larger speciment of the ring of dark green triangular leaves you see circling the central plant.

In all this gooey mess, however, there were a few small sections that might still be healthy.  This is, I was told, what all those other small plants in the planter of the same variety were one month ago.  She offered to give me a few of the leaves if I wanted to plant them and get new plants, and despite my objections that haworthia doesn’t work that way, she was not convinced – from experience!  Originally, my co-worker had picked up two of these plants for the terrarium, but when she went to plant them, the second one “completely fell apart into all these little pieces, so I just sort of stuck them in the dirt”.  I thought at first she meant she had had lateral branching pups that had separated, but apparently she meant little pieces exactly like the little chunk held in my hand.  So either what I was looking at was, in fact, a pup (which may be why it looked healthier than the deflated, gooey leaves) or this cultivar of haworthia will root from leaves.  All of her small haworthias left in the planter were these little nubs just four or five weeks ago, with no rooting hormone applied, no special care given — so I’m betting my expectation of what haworthia pups look like for this cultivar are way, way off.  Curious to see how this turned out, I took three of the pups for a controlled experiment.

(Upon reflection, as I write this up, I have to say…. I don’t think she did anything wrong.  When I think back to the comment that one of the two she went to repot fell apart as soon as she took it out of the container she bought it in, I suspect these small plants were already suffering from a bit of root rot when purchased, this particular one had just been early enough stages for her to have not noticed and for it to chug along a little bit in her new planter.  The soil conditions there feel very happy, and most of her other succulents seem to be doing just fine after one month – although the other haworthias might have benefited from elevated moisture if they were rerooting from pups, I suspect this particular plant was already carrying the seeds of its own demise when acquired.)  Happily, she has several young ones doing extremely well still, and some mighty fine crassula still plugging along.

So, I have another project.  These are not what I was expecting “pups” from haworthia to look like (see below) – but if these are actual pups, then it makes total sense; otherwise, it defies everything I’ve been reading about haworthia to root new plants from leaves.  Any experts here care to weigh in on what exactly I have here?


I have left two out on a paper towel to callous a bit before planting (and to dry out, since they were connected to the rotting interior of the plant) – and one that looked like it’s base was free of gunk went into a small plastic snack cup I’d saved to act as a greenhouse.



They take a place next to one of my two cooperis – the office one I gave a nice top dressing of aquarium stone.  I did not realize until I had done this, however, that it now has the very strong appearance of a cup full of coarse ground coffee.  I enjoy coffee immensely, so that’s not all bad.


And, on a humorous note, my haworthia coarctata are still waiting in a windowsill for a permanent home, and I noticed the other day that their shadow on the window curtain makes them look suspiciously like little anime characters.  🙂


6 thoughts on “Haworthia Rot at the Office

  1. From my experience, sometimes it’s not too much or too little water, sometimes it’s because the soil hold on to the water for far too long, causing rot. I always use a soil mix that dries up very quickly to minimize the risk, Good luck on your Haworthia 🙂 Oh ya, for the id, I think that they have to be either, retusa, cymbiformis, or turgida.

    1. Thanks! Cymbiformis is probably the closest, visually. The biggest mystery for my coworker is that she put this together in a class at a fairly reputable greenhouse, and she said they provided her with “cactus soil”. I have been mixing my own medium with extra coarse material because even the pre-mixed “cactus soil” seems too organic to me…. but still, I’ve been checking her moisture levels all the way to the bottom of the planter and it’s felt dry. So I’m still a bit mystified.

      1. Many pre-mixed cactus soil are totally not suitable haha. Well that’s a bit weird, rotting in dry soil, I hope some other people have a theory, I’m out of ideas. Good luck on your Haworthia again! 🙂

  2. I have a similar situation with my haworthia–the leaves are falling apart and goo is visible. Did you have any luck with drying out the pups and replanting them?

    1. I didn’t in that instance, but I also want really sure what I was doing with them at that point. And the pups I had at that point might have been a bit small for separating. Do your pups have any roots of their own yet?

      Biggest trick would be to make sure you keep them pretty dry until you see roots starting to form. Mist occasionally maybe but I wouldn’t pot in soil until you see roots. I have some RootCups I use now for pups that I’m trying to root. Not the way they’re intended to be used but it keeps them turned right side up and the root end in the dark.

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