Huernia zebrina of the Apocynaceae family, also known as the lifesaver plant, the little owl plant, and the carrion flower, is a rare succulent that grows well as a houseplant.

Most people grow this plant for the otherworldly flower that has a waxy, artificial appearance. The corolla is creamy with blood-red stripes and a deep red center.Huernia Zebrina Care Infographic Plant America

The center is round like a lifesaver, giving the plant one of the common names. The flower of this Huernia genus plant produces a very odd odor that is reminiscent of rotting meat to attract pollinators, so plant it with caution.

What Is Huernia Zebrina?

The succulent comes from parts of Southern Africa, where it thrives in dry conditions. The plant is unassuming, with delicate green coloration in normal lighting. It tends to spread well when given the opportunity. The most notable thing about this plant is the truly bizarre flower. The shape, texture, color, and odor of the flower make it seem like something from a strange fantasy movie.


Like most succulent plants, caring for the lifesaver cactus is simple when you follow the tips we provide in this guide. You’ll learn all about the right conditions, how to propagate, and even get advice on encouraging unique flowers. This is a popular plant in botanical gardens all over the world for the absolute oddness of the flowers.

Huernia Zebrina Care Guide

When you care for this plant the right way, it is an easy-going and happy little plant. There are a few mistakes some people make when growing the huernia cactus.

The most common mistakes that people make always involve giving the lifesaver succulent too much attention. It really likes to be left alone to grow.

LightLight Requirements

Even though it looks like a cactus, this little succulent doesn’t grow well in bright, direct light. One common mistake is that people often put these out in the garden with other cactus, only to watch it wither and die. Since it is a rare and valuable plant, you want to make sure you don’t kill it with too much light.

Lighting Conditions for Huernia Zebrina Plant America

Bright, indirect light is optimal for these plants. An east or west window is ideal, but you should monitor the plant if you have it in a south window or if it gets lots of sun. Too much light is identified by the green parts of the plant turning red.

TemperatureTemperature Requirements

This plant doesn’t grow well in high heat. More critical, though, this plant cannot tolerate cool temperatures. Any temperature below 50 degrees may kill the plant. Ideally, the huernia zebrina prefers 65- to 75-degree temperatures.

Correct Temperature for Huernia Plant America

WaterWater Requirements

Unlike a cactus, the huernia zebrina needs regular watering. Just as important, though, the soil must dry nearly completely between waterings. This is essential because the plant will continue to absorb water as long as there is moisture to be had. Since the plant can’t stop drinking, overwatering will kill it.

Regularly Watering Huernia Zebrina Plant America

The best way to water these plants is slowly. Run just a slight trickle of water into the pot until it runs clear from the drainage holes. You should plan on watering about every two to four weeks, depending on the temperature. Higher temps mean more frequent watering.

If the leaves begin looking slightly deflated or wrinkly, you know it is time to water. Don’t let the plant sit in water because you can encourage rot that will kill your prized succulent.

HumidityHumidity Requirements

A great tip for keeping African succulents is to regularly mist them with a sprayer. This increases the humidity and allows the plant to stay plump. Use a fine mist sprayer and filtered or distilled water. Don’t let the water pool up on the leaves. A gentle spray is all that is necessary.


Do not use potting soil, garden soil, or any organic soil mixture for these plants. Your little succulent won’t grow well and will likely rot and die in this type of soil. Instead, use a mixture that is perfect for succulents. You can buy a commercial product at your local garden center that will work, or you can mix your own soil.

Ideal Soil Mix to Grow Huernia Plant America

To make your own succulent soil, mix two parts coarse sand with two parts garden soil that doesn’t include water-retaining elements. Add in one part of pumice or perlite to improve drainage. This is an ideal mixture for growing succulents.

FertilizingFertilizer Guidelines

Fertilizer will encourage these plants to grow really well. You should purchase a fertilizer that is intended for succulents. The best options are liquid fertilizers that you add when watering. Alternatively, you can use a slow-release fertilizer to provide year-round nutrients.

Liquid Fertilizers for Huernia Zebrina Plant America

You want to be careful to avoid overfertilizing. You will notice these plants burning when you add too much fertilizer. If you see this happening, you should rinse the roots well in clear water to flush the nutrients from the soil.

Encouraging Flowers

It may seem strange to try and grow a plant that has some of the worst smelling flowers around, but you’d be amazed how many people will go out of their way just to catch a whiff of rotten meat-scented flowers.

Encouraging Zebrina Flowers Plant America

The best way to encourage flowers is to make sure the soil and water conditions are optimal and provide a liquid fertilizer in early spring, then throughout the growing period. Your huernia zebrina will produce numerous flowers throughout the growing season when the proper conditions are met.

Propagation Tips for Huernia Zebrina

Propagating succulents is one of the most rewarding aspects of growing these strange little plants. Propagation is as simple as it gets when you follow these tricks. You’ll have a garden full of huernia zebrina in no time.

Propagation can be done any time of the year. Simply select a portion of the plant that is healthy and growing well. Break it off or cut it off with a sharp, sterile knife. Place the cutting in a dark, warm place for 24-48 hours until the cut has calloused over.

Simply place the cut end in a dry potting mix ideal for growing these plants. Do not water because the plant will absorb the moisture instead of growing roots. Mist the cutting lightly every few days to prevent it from drying out, but don’t water the plant until it forms roots. Roots may take several weeks to more than two months to develop.

Common problems with Huernia Zebrina

These plants are typically free of most problems and pests. Learning to spot signs of a problem quickly keeps the plant healthy and growing well.


Most of the problems growers encounter are the result of improper conditions, so if you follow the guidelines in this article, you almost certainly won’t have problems.

  • Rot: Rot is common and is usually the result of overwatering. You can also cause the plant to rot by leaving it soaking in water. Remember to water only the roots and lightly mist the leaves.
  • Little or no growth: There are a few things that can cause delayed growth. The most common is insufficient lighting. If all other conditions are appropriate, try relocating the plant to a brighter spot. It is possible that your huernia plant needs to be repotted when growth suddenly decreases.
  • Deflated leaves: This is a classic sign of underwatering. Before you act, provide small amounts of water slowly over several days before resuming normal watering to prevent shock.
  • Wilting: This is usually the result of too much water, light, or heat. Make sure that your huernia plant is in bright, direct light and has well-draining soil.
  • Pests: Keep an eye out for spider mites and mealybugs. Mealybugs look like little fuzz balls, while spider mites leave tangled webs in the nooks of leaves. You can use a homemade insecticidal spray of a few drops of dish soap in a sprayer to eliminate pests.

When to Repot

These plants don’t grow massive root structures. Most often, you will not need to repot them at all. You should replace the potting mixture at least every three years, but you won’t need to worry about a bigger pot. Check out some information about the huernia schneideriana too.

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