An amazing genus of southern African succulents

Haworthia is a lesser-known genus in the world of succulents — especially relative to favourites like Echeveria, Aeonium, Agave, and Aloe — but it is a spectacular and fascinating group of small succulent plants with an incredible diversity of structures, patterns, and colours. They are a dream come true for succulent collectors with many species, cultivars and hybrids though these can sometimes be difficult to find. Haworthia also have cool evolutionary innovations that help them survive in the challenging, semi-arid environments of southern Africa and make them more beautiful and more intriguing.


The genus Haworthia can be found in the countries of Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, and Swaziland yet their centre of diversity is in the southwestern Cape of South Africa. They grow in various habitat types such as the Succulent Karoo, the Fynbos, the Namo-Karoo, and in savannahs, grasslands, and thickets. They do not grow in true deserts but in semi-arid habitats. They are in the Asphoedelaceae family and are related to Aloe and Gasteria. Most grow as small succulent rosettes though some, like Haworthia truncata (pictured below), grow in linear patterns. They can be solitary or form small colonies. The white, tubular flowers are held on vertical spikes.

Haworthia truncata

Some of the more common Haworthia, like “zebra cactus”, are mid to dark green in colour and often have white speckling or striping. Other groups get even more fascinating. As an adaptation to their semi-arid environments, many species have evolved translucent windows of clear tissue at the top of their leaves. This tissue provides diverse, shimmery patterns beloved by collectors yet the purpose from the plants’ perspective is survival in the wild. Haworthia are often partially buried in the sand and soil to protect them from water loss during the heat of the day. Often just the translucent tips of their leaves will poke out into the light. These windows allow sunlight to penetrate into the leaf and reach the photosynthetic tissue below ground!

Because of this adaptation and because Haworthia often grow in the shade of rocks and larger vegetation, they are adaptable to lower light conditions in cultivation than most other succulents. This makes them easy to grow for many collectors and for growing in the house as houseplants. As with all succulents, care must be taken not to overwater. They tend to grow in the cooler shoulder seasons of spring and fall and sit dormant in winter and summer. Never water unless the top inch of soil is dry. Water a bit more when you see active growth occurring. Water hardly at all or only lightly in winter. Fertilize regularly at low strength.

Haworthia are some of the most beautiful and jewel-like succulents ever created by Mother Nature. They would make a prized and exciting addition to any succulent collection.

The following gallery shows the Haworthia available at Phoenix Perennials during the 2020 season. To place an order for pick-up or shipping, visit our mail order site.

Some information in this article was researched from Wikipedia and from www.haworthia.com which is a great spot for further reading.