Owl Eyes (Huernia zebrina) Plant Profile

Learn how to grow these distinctive succulents

A large owl eyes succulent bloom in an orange pot.

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Huernia zebrina, commonly referred to as owl eye succulents, are a species of succulents native to South Africa that are known for their distinctive other-worldly blooms. They are characterized by 4-sided stems with soft teeth along the edges, and yellow and red 5-pointed, star-shaped flowers. Owl eye succulents are not large succulents, growing to only six to eight inches tall. They grow well indoors as houseplants since they generally require warm temperatures in order to thrive. Plus, if you frequently forget to water your houseplants - this is the succulent for you! They thrive on minimal moisture and can survive for several weeks at a time without water if needed.

Botanical Name Huernia zebrina
Common Name Owl eyes succulent, little owl eyes, lifesaver cactus, lifesaver plant, carrion flower, zebra-striped Huernia
Plant Type Succulent
Mature Size 6" spread, 6-8" in height
Sun Exposure Bright light - partial shade
Soil Type Well-draining
Soil pH 6
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Yellow, red, purple, white
Native Area South Africa
Huernia zebrina flower on a rocky background.
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How to Grow Owl Eyes (Huernia zebrina) Succulents

Not only are owl eyes succulents eye-catching, but they are easy to grow too. They can be characterized as having low water needs, and don’t require as much light as other succulents do. Generally, they don’t require pruning either, unless you are hoping to shape the plant or reduce its size. If you do prune an owl eyes succulent make sure to keep the cuttings - these can be used for propagation later on!

For those looking to grow this plant indoors, it is important to know that some varieties can exude a pungent smell similar to that of carrion to attract flies and encourage pollination. However, not all varieties have this characteristic. 

Light

Unlike most succulents, Huernia zebrina does not tolerate hot, direct sun. Plants that receive too much light will turn red or purple, rather than deep green. In their natural habitat owl eyes, succulents grow beneath shrubs or other plants so they prefer bright light to partial shade conditions. 

Water

Owl eyes succulents are sensitive to overwatering and can easily develop root rot. As a result, the roots should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings. In the active growing season (spring and summer) owl eyes succulents will need more water than in the dormant season (fall and winter).

Soil

In their natural habitat, owl eyes succulents grow in open dry shrubland and stony areas. The soil is often calcrete or loamy Consequently, owl eyes succulents require a potting mix with excellent drainage to help mimic their natural environment. A mixture of 50 percent pumice or perlite, 25 percent peat or organic mulch, and 25% sand is perfect for Huernia zebrina and will help to prevent root rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Owl eyes succulents need warm temperatures. They do best between 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 27 degrees Celsius) and should be protected from cold or freezing temperatures. Place owl eyes succulents outdoors during the summer for best growth, but ensure to bring them back indoors before the temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).

Fertilizer

As with most succulents, owl eyes succulents don’t require frequent fertilization. However, they can benefit from monthly fertilization throughout the growing season. Use a balanced liquid plant food or succulent fertilizer, such as a 15-15-15, once per month diluted to half strength. Stop fertilizing before the end of the summer to ensure that new growth is not developing as the plant goes into dormancy. 

Potting and Repotting

The roots of owl eyes succulents experience dieback in their cool-seasoned dormant, so they do best in shallow containers that allow the soil to dry out completely. Bonsai planters, for example, are great for Heurnia zebrina. Otherwise, using unglazed clay or terracotta pots for owl eyes succulents is recommended as they will help to keep the soil dry.

Propagating Owl Eyes (Huernia zebrina) Succulents

Owl eyes succulents can be propagated by cuttings easily. Take cuttings of the stems and set them aside for 24 hours to allow the ends to callous over. Plant the calloused end of the cutting in a well-draining potting mix and place the pot in a location that receives bright, indirect light. Do not water the new plant until small roots begin to form, approximately two and three weeks. 

Common Pests/Diseases

Owl eyes succulents are susceptible to common houseplant pests such as spider mites, thrips, and aphids. Unfortunately, Huernia zebrina is especially attractive to mealy bugs. Treat infested succulents by rubbing the plant with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol to remove the bugs.