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Aerial Roots on Succulents

Your succulent collection is growing, and all they look great. But now you notice one succulent growing roots from the stem. It looks kinda funky. Like most changes in your succulents’ appearance, this is a clue to its health, so pay attention. These roots that appear on the stem of some plants are called aerial roots. Read on to see what aerial roots on succulents mean and why they occur.

Why is My Succulent Growing Roots from the Stem?

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What are Aerial Roots?

Aerial roots on a Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
Aerial roots on a Kalanchoe blossfeldiana

Roots are a vitally important part of plants, from succulents to oak trees. While there are a number of different structures and some specialty roots, all roots support their plants in the following essential ways:

  • Roots take up moisture and transfer it to the rest of the plant
  • Roots take up nutrients and transfer them to the rest of the plant
  • Roots anchor plants in place, typically in soil

Usually, roots form at the base of the plant and live in the soil, performing these tasks. Sometimes, it’s just not enough — the plant’s need for water or an anchor point are not sufficiently met by the underground roots, so they develop roots on their stems. When you see a succulent growing roots from the stem, it is developing aerial roots to address some need. Most often, aerial roots on succulents indicate a need for more moisture or additional anchor points for the plant.

What Do Aerial Roots Do?

Kalanchoe houghtonii Mother of Millions with aerial roots at plantlets
Kalanchoe houghtonii Mother of Millions with aerial roots at plantlets

Aerial roots are able to collect water molecules from the air and transmit it to the rest of the plant. This supplements the supply of moisture in the soil. (Some plants, like mangroves, grown in very wet or swampy conditions actually use aerial roots for the reverse process — to help the plant to breathe. Succulents are likely to die from such wet conditions before aerial roots could be developed.)

Aerial roots also provide support for plants in a few ways. They may climb a structure, in the case of vines like ivy, or assist ground cover plants in spreading by forming new rooting spaces. Aerial roots on succulents typically form where a piece of the plant is likely to fall, due to damage or evolution. If the plant is weakened due to an injury or etiolation due to insufficient light, it will sprout aerial roots in anticipation of coming into contact with the earth, at which point, the aerial roots will be able to root into soil, taking up water and nutrition, while providing an anchor for that part of the succulent.

The image above shows the plantlets of Kalanchoe houghtonii, each with a spray of aerial roots forming on the tiny stem attaching them to the leaf of the mother plant. In a short time, these little stems will dry up and break, sending the baby plants to drift to the ground. At that point, their aerial roots will be ready to establish them in the soil to grow a new generation of Kalanchoe. In this case, the aerial roots on succulents are anticipating part of the plant to drop and are preparing to support the new plantlets when they do.

What Aerial Roots on Succulents Mean

Sedum rubrotinctum 'Aurora' with aerial roots
Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’ with aerial roots

Aerial roots on succulents mean the plant has a need it is trying to meet. Sometimes these roots growing from the stem are sufficient to meet the plant’s need. But you should always strive to recognize such changes in your plants and to understand what they mean. It may lead you to change the succulent’s care to ensure its health an vitality.

This sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’ is thirsty. See how a few of the leaves are just a bit wrinkled? This is a sign the succulent needs more water. Overall, the leaves are nice and plump. I likely would not have noticed the small signs of puckering just yet. But the plant is responding by developing aerial roots to supplement its supply of water. That is a clear signal that the plant needs a bit more water. Watch for signs like this to inform your succulent care. Just don’t go overboard in your response and give it too much water.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know if a succulent is stretching for more light, or if that’s just the way it grows. If it develops aerial roots along the stem, it is a clear indication that it needs more support, and may anticipate that part of the plant falling to the earth. Etiolation is serious — don’t wait for the development of these roots before you act. However, aerial roots can clarify the issue in some cases.

Aerial Roots on Succulents

Kalanchoe tomentosa 'Silver Panda',
Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Silver Panda’, photo credit by Karina Marinho Garcia

This Kalanchoe tomentosa Silver Panda is healthy and happy growing indoors. The aerial roots indicate that it is looking for a bit more water. The leaves of the succulent are plump and firm and all other indications are that the plant is healthy. You could increase the amount of water for the plant a very little bit, but keep the frequency the same. However, it is likely that this succulent growing roots from the stem has solved its need for additional water.

Aerial Roots Looking for Support

Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi with aerial roots
Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi with aerial roots, photo credit by Debbie Bray

This kalanchoe is growing quickly, and became a bit etiolated, reaching for more light. As this stem bends down, and over, it is developing aerial roots to provide anchor points when it reaches soil. The best way to handle this one would be to cut this stem back and root it on its own in another pot of soil. This is the essence of stem cutting propagation. With such well-developed aerial roots, this stem would soon form an actively growing plant on its own.

What to Do with Aerial Roots

Sedum rubrotinctum 'Mini Me' has developed many aerial roots
Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Mini Me’ has developed many aerial roots

Aerial roots on succulents are an important indication of the plant’s well-being. If you understand this, you will be better able to keep your succulents healthy. When you see succulents growing roots from the stem and you understand and address the plant’s need that caused the aerial roots, feel free to remove them or clip them back if you don’t like the way they look. But don’t simply dismiss them as unimportant and remove them without first investigating the underlying issues. The succulent devoted time, energy and resources to developing those roots for a reason.

This Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Mini Me’ is a low-growing, ground-cover plant — not a truly hanging succulent. As its stems grow longer, they develop aerial roots in search of the ground to spread out. While these roots could be trimmed back, the plant will just develop new ones. The stems can be cut back and rooted in soil to make many more plants.

Sedum dasyphyllum var, glanduliferum ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ succulent with aerial roots
Sedum dasyphyllum var, glanduliferum ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ succulent with aerial roots

Aerial roots on succulents tell you the plant needs something its regular root structure cannot provide. This is good feedback on your care. While some varieties develop these roots more frequently than others, the message they convey is the same.

I hope this article was helpful to you! If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will respond within 24 hours. ‘Til next time –

Happy gardening!

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aerial roots on succulents

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. A. Suri

    Thank you for your post. This helps me tremendously as one of my Aeonium “Voodoo” is doing that while the other of the same variety doesn’t. The sedum rubrotinctum is sending out some too. I observed that the ropey sedum like S. morganianum never seem to do it but I didn’t know why. Now the air roots explanation makes more sense.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hello A,
      I just love that “Aha” moment when things finally make sense.
      Your Sedum moriganianum only make aerial roots when they are very thirsty. You’re right – they don’t need support, just water!

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