By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Fenestraria baby toes really does look a bit like the tiny digits of an infant. The succulent plant is also known as living stones, with larger plants producing small rock-like protuberant leaves. In fact, it shares the same family as Lithops, which is also referred to as living stones. The plant is widely available at nurseries and a live object of artistic interest. Instructions on how to grow a baby toes plant are easy enough for children and young people, who adore the fascinating little plant.
Baby toes plants (Fenestraria rhopalophylla) are native to subtropical desert zones. They require bright sun and moderate water in well-drained soil with plenty of gritty matter. Mother Nature engineered them to be very tolerant of low nutrient soils with extreme weather conditions.
The perennial succulents form columns of leaves that are thick and rise up like small toes with flattened tops. The tops possess a translucent membrane over the top of the leaf. The vertical leaves may be mistaken for stems but are really modified foliage. Baby toes succulent may be mottled, grayish green to fully gray or even brown.
Like many succulents, Fenestraria baby toes produces offsets as the clusters of leaves mature and spread. These are easy to divide from the main clump and will readily produce another plant. Baby toes bloom in late summer to autumn with daisy-like flowers in a variety of hues. The seeds from the plant germinate sporadically and grow extremely slowly. Faster baby toes plants are achieved by dividing off the side growth.
Starting baby toes from seed can be rewarding but you need a few key elements for a successful venture. First, the container should be shallow and well-draining.
Make up a growing medium with equal parts coir, potting soil, sand, fine gravel and perlite. Moisten the mixture in the pot lightly and strew the seeds evenly on the surface of the soil. Sprinkle a light dusting of sand over the seeds. They will push the sand out of their way as the seedlings emerge.
Cover the pot with clear plastic and place in a low light area until germination. Mist the plants after they emerge and remove the cover for half an hour daily to prevent fungal growth.
Move pots to a fully sunlit area where temperatures range at least 65 F. (19 C.).
As with most succulent plants, the biggest problem is over or under watering. While Baby toes are tolerant of drought conditions, they need moisture to store in their leaves to sustain them during the growing season.
Baby toes have few pest or disease problems, but do watch out for rot when plants are over watered or in pots that don’t drain well.
Fertilize in early spring with a half dilution of cactus and succulent food. Suspend watering in the dormant season from November to February. Other than that, care of baby toes, is so easy the infant whose toes they resemble could almost grow these great little succulents.
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Frithia pulchra succulents aren’t commonly known as ‘fairy elephant’s feet’ for nothing: their green leaves with transparent tips do look like tiny elephant feet. Like baby toes succulents, Frithia pulchra is a window succulent that has adapted perfectly to the harsh grasslands it naturally grows in.
It’s not the easiest succulent to grow, but keep its care requirements in mind and you shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping it alive.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about growing Frithia pulchra (fairy elephant’s feet)!
|Recommended lighting||Full sun|
|Soil type||Very coarse|
Landscape and curb appeal idea help for split level home.
I hope you find out which plants you have. Frithia and Fenestraria require completely different watering. Fenestraria leaves are completely smooth, Frithia leaves are covered in tiny bubbles. Three inches tall sounds like Fenestraria, that would be pretty huge for a Frithia.
I think you can potentially grow Fenestraria and Pleiospilos together although I don't. Both have very low water needs, will become dormant in very hot weather, and grow best in spring and autumn. The difference would be that Pleiospilos thrives on full sun and heat while Fenestraria doesn't like heat and prefers a little shade in summer. Both have large showy flowers, Pleiospilos usually orange on short stems, Fenestraria white or yellow, very occasionally orange, and on long stalks.
Ignore the tag. Bright light is poor advice, both plants will do poorly without direct sun although they might survive for a while. Fenestraria may flower in both spring and autumn if you grow it really well, but Pleiospilos will probably only flower in one or the other.
Only water when the soil is completely dry. Don't water thoroughly unless you have extremely fast draining soil, probably in a clay pot. Generally water lightly and fairly often, don't subject the plants to long droughts. Water especially lightly if the plants are dormant in summer. Once or twice a year when they are growing strongly, you can give them a soaking. If your Pleiospilos ever develops more than two pairs of leaves you are overwatering, cut back and aim for just a single pair of leaves by the middle of summer. If your Fenestraria's oldest leaves go mushy and die off, or any leaves develop splits, then you are overwatering.
I have some very small leaves on my baby toes that I consider to be new growth - they are emerging from the side of one of the original leaves.
I scarcely ever water this plant and being here in Texas where it is scorching hot - wouldn't dream of putting it in the sun. So why the new growth? The plant is losing some of it's lower leaves, but all in all it looks very healthy.
I changed pots today from a very small Lowe's pot to a 4 in pot - it was desert dry - should I water it a little?
The mimicry plants known as mesembs are the thespians of the succulent world, mind-blowingly adaptable actors often accustomed to harsh, sun-blasted habitats that receive only a few inches of rain a year. They grow in coarse sand with just their translucent tops showing, enabling sunlight to reach the interior of each plant. The rest is underground, minimizing exposure to extreme elements.
Pleiospilos nelii (split rock)
There are more than 120 genera of mesembs (short for mesembryanthemums), containing several thousand plant species, but succulent enthusiasts and growers generally focus on a handful or two, among them Lithops, Lapidaria, Fenestraria, Aloinopsis, Pleiospilos, and Titanopsis.
We know Lithops species especially as “living stones” or “pebble plants” because they resemble small, rounded stones or pebbles. What look like stones are plants with two leaves separated by a gap, or cleft, from which the flowers emerge. Even better still, Lithops species are nicknamed “butts” and Fenestraria “baby toes.” Those peculiar succulent bottoms and little piggies, along with split rocks (Pleiospilos spp.) and other mesembs, are some of the most drought tolerant plants on the planet. Just give them what they want, which is not all that much — they thrive in climates of bright light, low humidity, and little to no frost.
Below are mimicry plants we’re particularly fond of. As mentioned, these master survivors tolerate drought like nobody’s business, but they will not stand for waterlogged soils, nor do they want soil loaded with organic material. Extra pumice or perlite provides excellent drainage. Water thoroughly when soil is dry during the active growing season. Some of these are somewhat tolerant of frost, but we recommend providing protection for all.
The New & the Old: Active leaf pairs and the remnants of predecessors.
These delightful plants can confuse even experts, as no two seem to be identical in appearance. Lithops are extremely succulent, occurring in many natural shades, including, tans, browns, reddish browns, purplish browns, greys, and grassy greens, with myriad patterns and overlays of darker designs, dots, and areas known as “islands.”
A single body can be to 1.5 inches in diameter and is split by a central cleft, creating the bilobed body. New leaves absorb moisture from the old ones, which become dry husks (see photo). Many species eventually form clusters, and in their native habitat of South Africa, clusters gradually spread to form colonies that can span 6 feet in diameter. The green forms occur naturally in grassy areas, while the browns, tans and other colors occur in quartz fields. Flowers appear from August to November, depending upon the species.
Fenestraria auriantiaca (baby toes)
Don’t step on these toes…baby toes have finger-like leaves in upright clusters. Each finger has a translucent “window” at the tip, and it is through this window that the harsh African sunlight is filtered to enable photosynthesis. In habitat, often only these windows are visible above the quartz sand. The daisy-like flowers range in color from white to golden yellow. Requires bright light to prevent stretching of the leaves.
Pleiospilos nelii ‘Royal Flush’ is a cultivar with an extremely succulent pair of burgundy leaves that form a clefted, egg-like shape. Whereas the true Pleisopilos nelii has a silky golden-apricot flower, ‘Royal Flush’ has a deep rose flower with a white center.
Let’s lay this one’s ecological cards on the table. ‘Royal Flush’ demands porous soil with excellent drainage. It should not be fertilized with heavy nitrogen, as this can cause an explosion of soft, flabby growth that can make the plant prone to bacterial rot. Decomposed granite is often an excellent media, as it has many trace minerals and is similar to the South African quartz fields where these grow. Provide bright light with ample airflow.
Titanopsis calcareum, native to South Africa, forms rosettes to 3 inches in diameter with semi-flattened, paddle-shaped leaves densely covered with grayish-green, pimple/wart-like tubercles. The leaf tips are quite warty in appearance. In its native habitat, it often grows in rocky quartz fields in soils with high limestone content. There, T. calcareum is nearly undetectable because of its cryptic coloring and rough texture, which effectively mimic rocks and the surrounding environment. Its blossoms are daisy-like light yellow flowers with many petals. Like its mimicking cousins, it craves bright light.
Lapidaria margaretae forms rosettes of highly succulent pale lavender leaves that have the appearance of faceted lilac quartz. Unlike lithops and their one leaf pair per plant, this one boasts two to four pairs of leaves. The beautiful, silky golden-yellow flowers appear during autumn months. Decomposed granite, again, is often an excellent media. Provide bright, filtered light with ample airflow. Those thick, geometric leaves seem right out of a “Minecraft”-like world. A thriving, clumped-out specimen is a quite a nifty sight.
1 of 3 Succulent Baby Toes Erle Nickel Show More Show Less
2 of 3 Succulent Baby Toes Erle Nickel Show More Show Less
The world of succulents is a vast and curious one, and nowhere is that more evident than in the common names that many of these acquire. You could almost make yourself a botanical version of the board game Concentration, where in this case you have to match the common name with the botanical of certain succulents.
One of the more curious entries would certainly be Fenestraria, also called baby toes. One look at its rows of stubby little leaves and you're likely to see why.
Fenestraria aurantiaca is a perennial succulent hailing from the semiarid areas of Namibia. The combination of the soft, fleshy leaves and the varying elevations give the plant architectural interest, despite its small stature (to 2 inches). As with certain haworthias, Fenestrarias possess translucent windows on their flattened tips. These qualities ensure year-round appeal, but baby toes also bloom, offering cheerful 2-inch, bright yellow, daisy-like flowers in late summer and autumn.
Because of their modest size, baby toes are best grown in a pot, either by themselves or in a mixed succulent bowl. I have mine in the foreground of a bowl that includes a spotted haworthia, a Faucaria 'Tiger Jaws,' a stacking crassula, Aeonium 'Kiwi,' a complementary Gasteria 'Stones,' a blue senecio, paddle kalanchoe and a charming, tiny pink sedum. The great thing about succulent bowls is that nearly every combination of plants will work.
Fenestrarias belong to the large Aizoaceae family, which includes "mimicry plants," so called for their ability to camouflage with their environment. Baby toes use their translucent windows to filter the harsh African sunlight to enable photosynthesis. In their native habitat, sometimes only these windows are visible above the quartz sand.
Like most other succulents, baby toes prefer well-drained soil. Mix equals parts potting soil with pumice or perlite. Outdoors, grow in full to part sun indoors, provide bright indirect light. Water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch. Fenestrarias are somewhat frost tolerant, but protection is advisable to prevent scarring.
Good drainage is essential to prevent root rot. Otherwise, this genus is pretty oblivious to pests and diseases.
Baby toes are a popular item in nurseries' cacti and succulent sections. Most will be identified just as baby toes or Fenestraria species.
It isn't necessary to prune baby's tears plants for good health, but shearing often improves the appearance of the plants or the overall arrangement. When you grow baby's tears as a companion plant to an African violet, peperomia, or another houseplant, you might want to give it a trim to keep it in bounds. Pruning is especially prudent in small terrariums. The cute juvenile plant with dainty leaves can quickly overrun other miniature plants in a confined space.