Succulents provide an attractive, low maintenance way to grow plants. Ideal for cultivation as houseplants, succulents are resilient plants that tolerate a little neglect. This has helped to make them a popular choice for people who may not otherwise have the time to care for other types of houseplant.
One of the most attractive types of succulent is the Bear Paw. Also known as Cotyledon Tomentosa, Bear Paw succulents are easily identified by their thick, fuzzy green leaves. Ovate in shape, the leaves, as they grow, develop prominent dark red toothed edges. These give the leaf the appearance of a bear’s paw, as well as Cotyledon Tomentosa, it’s more common name.
Ideal for growing as a houseplant, if you want to add contrast and texture to your space, as well as colorful interest, Cotyledon Tomentosa plants are a great choice. This guide to Bear Paw succulents will explain everything that you need to know about caring for these distinctive plants.
What are Bear Paw Succulents?
Cotyledon Tomentosa plants are native to the semi-arid regions of South Africa. Here the plants can mature to a height of 2 ft. Away from its native conditions, most Cotyledon Tomentosa plants, if placed in the ground, can reach up to 11 inches, or 30 cm, in height. Planting in pots or containers further restricts the growth, making these an attractive indoor plant option.
In addition to the textured, colorful foliage, Bear Paw succulents also produce large bell-shaped flowers. Typically emerging in the spring, the blooms are usually orange in color. Flowers in shades of red and yellow can also be found.
Like many succulents, if you are able to get a few basic requirements right, these are largely easy to grow, low maintenance plants. One of the most important aspects of caring for Bear Paw succulents is finding the right position for the plant.
Where to Grow Bear Paw Succulents
Cotyledon Tomentosa plants are hardy in USDA Zones 9b to 11b. In colder locations the plants are best grown as indoor plants.
Bear Paw succulents do best in light positions. Avoid placing the plant in direct bright light. Instead place your succulent in a spot that enjoys at least 6 hours of indirect light every day. A spot close to a south facing window is ideal.
These plants thrive when placed close to a sunny window.
One of the main attractions of Cotyledon Tomentosa plants are the ‘claws’ or toothed-edges turn dark-red. This only happens if the plant is exposed to enough light. If your plant doesn’t receive enough light, the claws remain green. Plants growing indoors, even those in very light positions, often remain green.
A lack of light can also cause plants to become leggy. Not only can this be unsightly, it also means that the heavy leaves are more likely to fall from the plant.
If your home doesn’t enjoy enough natural light, grow lights can be used to supplement natural light levels.
If you are growing your Bear Paw succulents in the garden the plants are best placed in a bright, shady spot, away from direct sunlight. Like other succulents these plants can struggle if they receive too much water or are allowed to sit in wet soil. A light, sandy,well-draining soil is ideal.
Bear Paw succulents are not cold hardy plants. As temperatures start to fall, the plants often show signs of struggling. Cotyledon Tomentosa plants die when exposed to temperatures below 30 ℉.
If you wish to grow the plants outside in a colder area, they are best planted in a pot and moved indoors in the fall. Larger pots can be heavy and difficult to move. Placing the pots on a metal Outdoor Plant Caddy with Wheels makes moving them around your home and garden a lot easier.
How to Re-pot Your Succulent
It is good practice to re-pot your Bear Paw succulents after purchase. This gives you the chance to check the health of the plant’s root system. Transferring the plant into a clean pot filled with fresh potting soil also reduces the chances of introducing soil-borne pests or diseases to your plant collection.
You will need:
Repotting plants can be messy. If you don’t have a potting bench, lay some old sheets of newspaper down before you begin.
To repot your succulent, begin by carefully removing your plant from its old container. If the plastic pot is difficult to remove it can be carefully cut away. Brush away any excess soil and inspect the roots. Make sure that you handle the plant with care as you do this, Bear Paw succulents are prone to dropping leaves.
Your new pot should be one size larger than the root system. In general most Bear Paw succulents are happy in a pot that is 6 to 8 inches wide and 4 to 6 inches deep. It should also have drainage holes in the bottom.
Succulents are best planted in pots made from porous materials such as clay or terracotta. Unlike plastic pots, these materials enable excess moisture to drain from the soil. This helps to prevent issues such as overwatering and rot.
Use your watering can to moisten your potting medium.
Fill your new pot with a layer of well-draining soil mix. A cacti or succulent appropriate potting mix is ideal. You can also make your own potting mix by adding coarse sand or perlite to fresh potting soil.
The soil pH level is not a major concern. While Bear Paw succulents prefer a slightly acidic soil, they can grow just as well in neutral soils.
Position your plant in the middle of the pot. The top of the root system should sit just below the level of the pot. You may need to add more soil, or take some away, before you are happy with the position of the plant.
When you are happy, backfill the gaps around the plant with more potting soil. Gently press the soil down to fill any remaining air pockets.
Do not water your plant immediately after planting. Allow the plant to settle for a few days and the soil to dry out before watering.
Caring for Bear Paw Succulents
Like other types of succulent, Bear Paw succulents are pleasingly easy to care for. Indoor plants can be moved outside during the summer months to bask in the bright natural light. This can help to encourage the ‘claws’ to turn from green to red.
When to Water
Originating in the semi-arid regions of Africa, Bear Paw succulents do not require regular watering. Like other succulents, Bear Paw succulents do best if you adopt the ‘soak-and-dry’ method. This means watering deeply, soaking the roots and then allowing the soil to dry out before watering again.
Growers in warm climates who are able to grow Bear Paw succulents outside need only water during the summer months when there is no rainfall.
Plants growing in pots need only be watered when the soil completely dries out. Then water until excess moisture pours from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow the water to finish dripping away before returning the plant to its usual growing position. Do not let Bear Paw succulents sit in water.
A soil moisture sensor can help you to work out how dry your soil is. Another way to work out when to water is to simply pick up the pot. Plant pots filled with wet soil are noticeably heavier than those with dry soil.
In general, a small Bear Paw requires around a quarter to half a cup of water once a week. Larger plants require around 1 and a half cups of water a week.
During the late fall and winter, Bear Paw succulents enter a dormant phase and require little water. Apply no more than a small drink of water once every two weeks. During the dormant period you are aiming to prevent the plant from drying out and the leaves from shriveling up.
One of the most visible signs that your plant is in need of watering is the leaves starting to look and feel soft or limp. They may also shrivel and fall from the plant.
Feeding Bear Paw Succulents
Bear Paw succulents do not require a lot of fertilization. There is no need to feed the plants during cold periods or when the plant is dormant in the fall and winter months.
When the plants are actively growing, typically from April to August, fertilize twice a month. To fertilize, apply a light dose of a balanced, all-purpose water soluble succulent plant feed such as Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food. Dilute the fertilizer to half its strength before applying.
A newly repotted plant won’t require fertilization in the first year. The fresh potting mix should contain enough nutrients to keep the plant happy.
How to Propagate Bear Paw Succulents
Not the easiest succulent to propagate, there are several different methods that you can use to propagate Bear Paw succulents. The two most common methods of propagation are
- Stem cuttings,
- Leaf cuttings.
While both are prone to failure stem cuttings tend to be more reliable than leaf cuttings. If you are attempting leaf cutting propagation, take a few cuttings. This means that if one fails you have one or two back ups that can still succeed.
How to Propagate by Stem Cuttings
As we have already noted, the easiest propagation method is to take and root stem cuttings. It is also a good way to cut back and rejuvenate a leggy plant or an older specimen that has lost the leaves from the base of the plant.
Use clean, sharp scissors to cut a stem section roughly 2 to 5 inches long from the main plant. The stem should be healthy and displaying no visible signs of disease or infestation.
Prepare the stem by stripping away the lower leaves. The stem at the separation point should be flat. It is from this point that the meristem tissue produces new roots. Cratered points are less likely to root.
Allow the stem to dry out or cure for a few days. During this period it can be kept on a tabletop or plate away from direct sunlight. As the stem dries out a callus forms over the cut area.
Once a callus has formed, plant the cutting, callous end down, in a pot of moist, well-draining or succulent appropriate potting mix.
Do not place the cutting in a light position straight away. This can trigger shock, causing the cutting to fail. Instead, gradually introduce the cutting to more light over a period of 7 to 14 days.
While direct light should be avoided, the cutting does need to be kept warm. During this period keep your cutting warm. An average temperature of 70 to 79 ℉ is ideal. If you are propagating in a greenhouse or a room with a draft, a VIVOSUN Seedling Heat Mat can be used to maintain an even temperature.
There is no need to water the plant immediately after propagating. The leaves should contain enough moisture and nutrients to sustain the cutting for a few weeks. Water for the first time only when the soil feels dry.
Continue to keep the soil moist and the cutting warm until new growth is visible. At this stage you can care for the cutting as you would a larger Bear Paw plant.
Don’t worry if new growth doesn’t appear within a few weeks. These are slow growing plants.
How to Propagate by Leaf Cuttings
While easier, this method is more prone to failure than stem cuttings.
Begin by twisting a leaf carefully from the main plant. Removing a few healthy leaves provides a back up if one fails. If all the leaves take, you can give away the extra plants to succulent loving friends and family.
Place the separated leaves on a flat surface to dry. As the leaves dry a callus forms over the separation point.
Once a callus has formed, plant in a pot filled with moist, well draining or succulent soil. Keep in a warm, draft free position away from direct light. Indirect light is far better for sensitive cuttings. Harsh, direct light can singe the leaves or cause them to dry out before roots have time to form.
Water the cutting only when the soil shows signs of drying out.
Once new growth is visible the cutting can be cared for in the same way as larger Cotyledon Tomentosa plants.
Common Problems and How to Solve Them
Bear Paw succulents, like many members of the Crassulaceae plant family, are vulnerable to pest infestations. Cochineal pests in particular love to inhabit the plant’s leaves.
Regularly inspect your plants for signs of infestation. Take time to carefully look over the leaves. The silver hairs on the leaf can mask or make it difficult to spot pests.
Mealy bugs are often found inhabiting the base of the leaves or stems. These can be removed by wiping the foliage with a cotton swab dipped in neem oil. Rubbing alcohol can also be used.
This solution can also be used to remove spider mites. You can also wash spider mites from the plant.
Scale insects can sometimes be found on the stem of Cotyledon Tomentosa plants. These can be scraped by hand from the plant.
One of the most common Bear Paw succulents problems is overwatering. This can lead to fungal diseases such as root rot developing. Leaves shriveling or falling from the plant, or the plant looking unhealthy can all be signs of overwatering.
If your plant is sitting in very wet soil, repot into a drier, well-draining or succulent specific soil. In the future water only when the soil is dry. A soil moisture sensor can help to gauge when to water the plants.
Warning. The leaves of Cotyledon Tomentosa plants are considered mildly toxic if ingested. Animals, put off by the prickly foliage, are unlikely to go near the plants. Despite this, if you have pets or curious young children, you may want to carefully consider where you place your plant.
Bear Paw succulents are gorgeous stand-alone plants that can add color and texture to a room. They are also ideal inclusions in indoor plant or succulent collections. While requiring a little more care than other types of succulent, the interest provided by their fuzzy paw-like leaves is more than worth the effort.
Now that you know how to care for Bear Paw succulents, why not add one to your plant collection?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.