If you have ever shopped for succulents, you have likely seen a chocolate soldier plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa). Chocolate soldier plants, also commonly called panda plant, are extremely popular houseplants because they are so easy to care for, as well as attractive and rather cute. They are sold at most nurseries, garden centers, and plant shops. It's easy to identify chocolate soldier; just look for the succulent with pale-green leaves covered with grayish-white fuzz and rimmed with chocolate brown spots. Chocolate soldier plants come in many sizes, from small to nearly 2 feet tall.
Luckily, slow-growing chocolate soldier succulents are not prone to any serious pests or diseases, beyond occasional mealybugs or spider mites. These small, hardy succulents will thrive year-round planted in pots inside your home.
All kalanchoes, including K. tomentosa, are toxic to cats and dogs and mildly toxic to humans if the leaves are eaten.
|Common Names||Chocolate soldier plant, panda plant, pussy ears, velvet leaf kalanchoe, plush plant, teddy bear cactus, cocoon plant|
|Botanical Name||Kalanchoe tomentosa|
|Mature Size||2.5 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Hardiness Zones||9a-11b (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
Chocolate Soldier Care
Chocolate soldier plants are vertical-growing succulents in the Crassulaceae family that are native to Madagascar. They are easy succulents to care for, and they require at least 6 hours of sunlight to grow well. Chocolate soldier plants thrive indoors as houseplants, although they hardly ever bloom when grown indoors. In areas outside USDA garden zones 9 to 11, they can be placed outdoors during the summer, but will need to be brought indoors once temperatures begin to drop in the fall.
Chocolate soldier plants appreciate bright, indirect light. Kalanchoe tomentosa does not do well in direct sun and is susceptible to leaf burn. If you notice that your chocolate soldier plant is getting leggy, however, move it to a brighter location.
Like most succulents, chocolate soldier plants are fairly drought-resistant. Allow the soil to dry out thoroughly between waterings, especially in the late summer months when the plant is dormant. Chocolate soldier plants may require more frequent watering if kept outside. When watering these plants, take care to pour the water at the base of the plant, rather than over its leaves, as doing so can lead to rot.
As with most succulents, chocolate soldier plants require well-draining soil. A cactus or succulent soil mix is best for chocolate soldier plants. It can be purchased at most garden centers and nurseries. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.
Temperature and Humidity
No need to worry about humidity when it comes to chocolate soldier plants; they enjoy dry conditions. The average household humidity is perfect for these succulents.
However, chocolate soldier succulents are not as heat-tolerant as many other succulent species. They may suffer in extreme heat, especially if they are grown outside in the summer months. Keep this in mind when choosing a location for your plant.
In addition, keep in mind that chocolate soldier succulents are also not cold-hardy. If you do set your plant outdoors for the summer, be sure you bring it back inside before the first sign of frost.
Regular fertilizing is not necessary for chocolate soldier plants. However, fertilizing once at the beginning of the growing season (spring months) can help to encourage strong growth. A cactus or succulent fertilizer is best.
Types of Kalanchoe
The kalanchoe family, of which the chocolate soldier is a member, is a large one with many popular varieties grown as houseplants or outdoors in mild-winter areas. Some common ones include:
- K. blossfeidiana, often sold simply as kalanchoe. This popular beauty produces masses of flowers in a wide range of colors.
- K. thyrsiflora, sometimes called "Flapjacks," has large, paddle-shaped leaves.
- K. fedtschenkoi "Variegata" has scalloped leaves variegated in white, cream, and pink.
Propagating Chocolate Soldier
Chocolate soldier plants propagate readily, although fuzzy-leafed succulents are notoriously harder to propagate than regular succulents so some trial and error may be required.
To propagate a chocolate soldier plants by leaf separation:
- Choose a healthy leaf on the succulent to use. Gently remove the fuzzy leaf by twisting it slowly clockwise and counterclockwise until it "pops" off of the stem. Ensure that it is a clean separation, meaning no part of the leaf is left on the stem. The leaves must be cleanly separated to propagate successfully.
- Allow the leaf to develop a callus for a few days, and then place the separated leaf on a tray filled with potting soil. Set the tray in a location that receives bright, indirect light.
- Within two to three weeks, you should notice small roots growing from the end of the separated leaf. Begin gently watering the new roots every couple of days. Eventually, a small rosette will grow at the end of the leaf.
- Leave the parent leaf attached to the new plant until it falls off by itself; it is providing the new plant with energy and nutrients.
Healthy and mature chocolate soldier plants also readily grow offshoots, which can be separated and grown as new plants.
- Allow the offshoot to grow from the parent for a couple of months until it has grown its own roots and is strong enough to survive independently.
- Make a clean cut with a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears to separate the offshoot from the parent plant.
- Let the cut stem of the offshoot callus over for a day and then plant the new chocolate soldier in succulent potting mix. Do not water until roots have begun to form, in approximately two to three weeks.
Potting and Repotting Chocolate Soldier
Since chocolate soldier plants are relatively slow-growing, they need only to be repotted as necessary—generally, once every three years or so. If you are going to re-pot your chocolate soldier plant, doing so during the active growing season is best as it will be able to tolerate disturbances more readily.
Chocolate soldier plants are not picky about their potting containers and can do well when potted in nearly any planter. However, keep in mind that a pot with a drainage hole will help to prevent overwatering. Furthermore, succulents like the chocolate soldier plant do well in terracotta pots, as they help absorb excess water from the soil.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
As a general rule, chocolate soldier is a hardy plant without too many issues. However, they are occasionally infested with mealybugs, which look like little white specks of cotton and are often lodged where leaves join the base of the plant. If you notice mealybugs, you can treat the plant by dipping a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol, and then touching the swab to each mealybug individually, rubbing slightly to spread the alcohol over the entire insect. This will kill the mealybugs without harming the plant.
Overwatering your chocolate soldier can lead to root rot, which is caused by fungal growth in the plant's roots. You'll usually notice that the plant is dropping leaves, and it might wilt. As the condition worsens, the plant will become mushy and may turn black or brown at the base. While you can sometimes save a plant from root rot by taking it out of its pot, trimming away any rotted, blackened roots, and then repotting in fresh soil, a plant that is too far gone is best discarded.
Common Problems With Chocolate Soldier
As long as your chocolate soldier is properly cared for, it's unlikely to have many problems. However, there are a few issues that might pop up. Here's what to look for.
Leaves Falling Off
Abnormal loss of leaves is usually due to a watering issue. If the falling leaves are dry and brown, then underwatering is the likely issue. Increase your watering schedule so that the soil goes dry between waterings, but isn't left bone-dry for too long.
If the falling leaves are yellow or mushy, then overwatering is the likely issue. This is a harder problem to resolve, but if the plant isn't too far gone, cutting back on your watering schedule and allowing the soil to dry out between waterings may bring your plant back to good health.
Leaves are Wrinkled
Normally, the leaves of a chocolate soldier succulent are plump and somewhat firm. Should your plant's leaves become wrinkled or shriveled, it is probably not receiving enough water. Increase your watering schedule so the plant does not remain dry for too long.
If your chocolate soldier doesn't receive enough light, it may become "leggy," meaning that it grows tall and spindly, but without a lot of leaves. Move your plant to a more desirable location where it will receive several hours of indirect sunlight each day. While it cannot tolerate intense heat or direct sunlight, chocolate soldier is not a low-light houseplant.
Does chocolate soldier get flowers?
Although K. tomentosa produces small red flowers during the summer when grown outdoors in a suitable location, it is very rare for it to flower when grown indoors. Most people simply enjoy the plant for its fuzzy, brown-edged leaves, which give it a cute appearance.
What's the difference between chocolate soldier and panda plant?
Both chocolate soldier and panda plant are common names for the Kalanchoe tomentosa succulent. You might find these plants at the nursery sold under either name.
How tall does chocolate soldier get?
Kalanchoe tomentosa is a slow-growing succulent that potentially can reach 2 to 3 feet in height. Most chocolate soldiers purchased as houseplants are very small, however, and can take years to reach their mature height, making this a good choice for a small decorative pot or a window that only has room for a small plant.
Kalanchoe: American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Are Succulents Poisonous to Humans? Missouri Poison Center