Growing Monocarpic Succulents: What Succulents Are Monocarpic

(Image credit: TatianaMironenko)

Even the best gardeners may find a succulent plant just suddenly dies on them. While this is certainly upsetting, in some cases it is completely natural and occurred through no lack of attention. The plant might be monocarpic. What are monocarpic succulents? Read on for some monocarpic succulent information so you can feel better about the demise of the plant and the promise it left behind.

What Does Monocarpic Mean?

Many plants in the succulent family and others are monocarpic. What does monocarpic mean? That means they flower once and then die. While this may seem a shame, it is a natural strategy the plant uses to produce progeny. Not only succulents are monocarpic, but many other species in different families. The notion that monocarpic means single flowering is all in the word. ‘Mono’ means once and ‘caprice’ means fruit. Therefore, once the single flower has come and gone, fruit or seeds are set and the parent plant can die. Fortunately, these types of plants often produce offsets or pups and can reproduce vegetatively, which means they don't have to rely upon seed.

What Succulents are Monocarpic?

Agave and Sempervivum are commonly grown monocarpic plants. There are many more plants that follow this life cycle strategy. Occasionally, as in the case of the Joshua tree, just a stem dies after flowering, but the remainder of the plant still thrives. Not every plant in every genus is monocarpic, as in the case of Agave. Some of the agave are and some aren't. In the same vein, some bromeliads, palms and a selection of bamboo species are monocarpic as are:

  • Kalanchoe luciae
  • Agave victoriana
  • Agave vilmoriniana
  • Agave gypsophila
  • Aechmea blanchetiana
  • Aeonium hybrids
  • Sempervivum

You can tell these are monocarpic because the parent plant will begin to wither and die after it flowers. This may be fairly fast, as in Hens and Chicks, or very slow as with Agave, which can take months or even years to die. The plant uses all its energy for one final bloom and fruiting and has nothing left to sustain itself. The ultimate of sacrifice, as the spent parent gives its life for the future of its progeny. And if all goes well, the seeds will land in a suitable location to germinate and/or the pups will root themselves and the whole process starts anew.

Growing Monocarpic Succulents

Plants that fall in the monocarpic category can still live a long life. Once you see the flower appear, the amount of care you give the parent plant is up to you. Many growers prefer to harvest pups and continue the plant's life cycle in that way. You may also wish to save seed if you are a collector or enthusiast. You will want to continue the type of care that is recommended for your species, so the parent plant is healthy, unstressed and has enough energy to produce seed. After the parent is gone, you can simply detach it and leave any pups in the soil. Allow the parent on succulents to dry out and become brittle before harvesting. That means the pups took the last of its energy and that the old plant will be easy to detach. Pups may be dug up and dispersed elsewhere or left as they are.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.