The Gasteria plant is another group of attractive succulent type plants grown as a houseplant with its origins in the Cape area of South Africa.
There are twenty plus Gasteria species native to southern Africa, with numerous hybrids being developed every day.
Interestingly, a bulk of the species come from the Eastern Cape. However, the cliff-dwelling species come from the Western Cape.
Gasteria Care Facts
- Origin: South Africa
- Family: Asphodelaceae (as-foh-del-AY-see-eye)
- Tribe: Aloeae
- Botanical Name: Gasteria (gass-TER-ee-a)
- Common Names: Ox Tongue, Lawyer’s Tongue
- Plant Type: succulent perennial
- Size: 6″ – 20” inches depending on the variety
- Leaves: dark green, slightly arched, paired or spiraled with white warty spots
- Flowers: tubular, inflated base, orange-red green tips, no scent
- Bloom Time: winter
- Hardiness: outdoors USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8
- Lighting: bright, north facing window, in winter a bright cool spot
- Soil: well-draining cactus soil, very porous, high mineral content
- Water: allow soil to dry between watering
- Fertilizing: feed lightly in cooler seasons, Gasteria rest in summer
- Propagate: division, removing suckers, leaf cuttings, seed
- Pests & Problems: mealybug, black spots at plant base
Gasteria An Aloe and Haworthia Relative
The Gasteria plant resembles the Aloe, and it was originally included in the same genus as the Aloe.
However, botanists came to realize that the leaf attachment differs.
Aloe plants grow in a rosette formation, but Gasterias grow opposing leaf pairs (distichous) or grow leaves in a loose spiral formation.
The leaves also differ. While the Aloe has smooth leaves, Gasteria leaves are often marked with white tubercles bumps or warts.
Gasteria And Aloe Differences
There are also differences in the flowers of Gasteria and Aloe.
Ox Tongue plant flowers grow in clusters on the end of a long stem or spike. Aloe flowers tend to grow along the length of the flower spike.
Gasteria flowers are tubular with bulbous, inflated bases. Aloe flowers present a slim silhouette.
In fact, the name of the plant is derived from the shape of the flowers, which is rather like the shape of a stomach. The Latin word for stomach is gaster.
Although Gasteria is no longer considered to be in the same genus as Aloe vera, the two plants are related.
Gasteria is also related to Haworthia. All three types of succulents belong to the Family Asphodelaceae.
Along with most Old World succulents, these plants belong to the tribe, Aloaceae, along with Astroloba, Chortolirion, Bulbine and Poellnitzia.
What Are Gasteria’s Common Names?
You may hear this succulent referred to as:
- Lawyer’s tongue
Learn To Care For Gasteria Plants
Many varieties of Ox Tongue succulent are quite compact and do very well as indoor container plants. Larger varieties are often very good choices for use in outdoor xeriscaping designs.
Size & Growth Rate
These plants grow rather slowly. They may attain heights ranging from 6″- 20″ inches depending upon the variety.
Flowering & Fragrance
All Gasteria varieties have the same stomach-shaped, tubular flowers. They are scentless, orange-red with green tips and grow on thin, upright stems.
Gasteria leaves are flat, stiff, thick and roughly textured with a waxy surface.
Most varieties have grey-green leaves and spots or warts (tubercles), which may be white, black or pastel in color depending upon the variety.
Some varieties have attractively banded leaves. Some resemble the shape of a tongue, and this accounts for the many tongue-themed common names.
The leaves of some varieties can grow to be a foot long. Some very large varieties have triangular leaves.
On very young plants, the leaves are produced in opposing pairs (distichous), but as plants mature, leaves tend to grow in a spiral formation.
In addition to developing a spiraling growth habit, some mature plants may also grow small clumps of rosettes.
Light & Temperature
These succulents like a lot of light but do not usually appreciate harsh, direct sunlight.
As a houseplant, they do very well in a bright north window In the summertime. These houseplants can vacation outdoors in an area with high shade.
Just be sure to acclimate and transition your houseplant from indoors to outdoors carefully to avoid shocking it.
Watering & Feeding
Gasteria grows and flowers in the wintertime. During this time, water moderately, letting the soil almost dry out completely between waterings.
During wintertime, provide a couple of feedings with a water-soluble fertilizer specially formulated for cactus and succulents.
In the summertime, allow your plant to rest, and only water it when the soil is quite dry.
Adjust water according to the temperature and the amount of light.
In bright light with a warm ambient temperature, your plant will need more water. In a cooler dimmer setting, water less.
Related Reading: Succulent Root Rot – What Can You Do About It?
Soil & Transplanting Gasteria
Gasteria plants send out lots of little offsets and can outgrow their pots. When this happens, it’s time to transplant.
Like all succulents and cacti, Gasteria likes a light, well-draining soil.
Use a soil mix designed for succulents or make your own succulent soil by combining equal parts potting soil and pumice or perlite.
Cover the surface of the soil with a layer of attractive gravel or decorative rock to prevent rapid evaporation of moisture.
As with all succulents and cacti, good drainage is of the utmost importance.
Terracotta is the best material for succulent planters. Drainage holes in the bottom are a must.
Gasteria Little Warty Care
There is no need to prune or trim Gasteria. Leaves do tend to develop brown spots or bruises occasionally, and you can remove those leaves if you wish.
Naturally, when the plant produces offspring, you can and should remove them and give them their own pots.
How Do You Propagate Gasteria?
The easiest and most natural way to propagate Gasteria plants is to simply remove pups and plant them in their own pots as needed.
When repotting your plant, remove any baby plants and pot them separately.
You can also separate them from the parent plant in between repotting, and just leave the parent plant in its original pot.
Baby Gasterias are just miniature adults and require no special care.
It is also possible to start new plants from leaf cuttings or from seed, like any other cactus or succulent.
Both of these methods are slow and unreliable.
If you are seeking a specific separate species of Gasteria and cannot find an offshoot or a cutting, you may have to order seed. Follow the directions that come with the seed.
Always remember that plants grown from seed are variable.
Pests, Diseases & Problems
Gasteria plants are generally resistant to pests and problems. Watch out for root mealybugs which can become an issue.
As long as you are not overwatering, you should not experience any difficulties.
Overwatering can cause root rot, which manifests as black, mushy spots at the base of the plant or on the leaves.
If this happens, saving the plant is rare, but you may be able to grow a new plant from cuttings.
Cut off healthy leaves and root them as demonstrated in the video above.
To avoid rot:
- Water only at the base of the plant
- Don’t get the leaves wet
- Allow the soil to dry out almost completely between waterings
Leaves may occasionally develop black spots or bruises.
These black spots may be caused by damage to the plant’s wax coating, injury or fungal infection.
Avoid this problem by providing plenty of room for growth and air circulation and by maintaining low humidity levels.
Too much direct sun may cause scorching. This manifests as brown, crusty spots on the leaves.
To avoid this, remember to provide your plant bright, indirect sunlight.
When moving and transitioning plants to the outdoors in the summer, take plenty of time to allow the plant to adjust.
Do not place the plant in direct sunlight.
What Are The Best Ways To Use Gasteria?
Because these plants do not like harsh light and do tolerate a cool setting, they make a great choice as houseplants in cool rooms with low light.
They also do very well with bright indirect sunlight.
You can create a nice collection by combining several Gasteria varieties in a shallow dish to enjoy indoors.
Outdoors, in sheltered locations such as patio or porch, smaller plants make a nice addition growing and displayed in hypertufa planters or terracotta containers..
If you live in an area that doesn’t freeze, plant smaller, more tender types in lightly shaded areas outdoors year round.
Larger, more rugged varieties can be planted in more open settings with greater sun exposure.
However, avoid the full sun for all varieties.
Generally speaking, these plants like to have protection from the afternoon sun with dappled shade throughout the day.
For this reason, small varieties make a good choice for planting under shrubs or around the base of a tree.
Larger types may do well planted along a wall that provides afternoon shade.
When planting, be sure to choose an area with good drainage.
Amend the soil with sand, gravel, pumice and/or coco coir to achieve a light, airy texture.
If your area has a lot of rainfall or humidity, Gasterias may not be the plants for you.
Outdoors the Gasteria is best used in a xeriscape garden or as a focal point for a rock garden or other dry setting.
In areas with lots of seasonal rain, be sure to plant on a slope so the rainwater runs off.
Don’t water during the rainy season. During dry spells check the plants periodically to determine if and when the plants may need watering.
What Are The Most Popular Gasteria Varieties?
These plants have been growing, developing and hybridizing naturally for centuries, so it’s very hard to pinpoint precise favorites.
Below is a list of 42 Gasteria species and cultivars recognized and “accepted” by The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at Kew.
What is Gasteraloe?
The Gasteraloe (x Gastrolea) is a hybrid cross between Gasteria and Aloe. This hybrid probably got its start in the wild in South Africa.
Like most hybrids, these plants have assumed the best characteristics of both parents.
Their leaves are thick, with attractive spots or bands. They usually have toothed margins.
Gasteraloe blossoms are tubular and grow on spikes up to 2′ feet long. Like both parents, the plants multiply by producing offsets.
One especially popular variety of Gasteraloe is “Green Ice.” This plant has notably plump, grayish-green leaves with blunt serrations all along the margin.
Leaves are marked with both stripes and spots and grow in an attractively chaotic jumble.
The initial leaves start out in a flat arrangement. As the plant grows and more leaves emerge, they begin to form a loose, disorganized whorl formation.
All this color and chaos makes for a very architecturally interesting plant!
There Are Lots Of Hybrids To Choose From
There are between six and eight common hybrids that are easily sourced. There are also lots of fairly rare types that excite serious collectors.
Identifying hybrids can be difficult because the possible combinations are endless, and the number of existing hybrids is unknown.
Hybrids may be the result of crosses between Gasteria and either Aloe (X Gastrolea) or Haworthia (X Gasterhaworthia).
Buying Tips For Gasteria And All Succulents
When purchasing any type of succulent, there are some conditions you should look for. They include:
Dry Soil: Don’t purchase a succulent that is standing in water or has soggy soil. Soil should feel dry when you touch it.
Full leaves: You can tell if the plant has been given the right amount of water by looking at the leaves. They should be full and plump, even if the soil is dry.
Ease of transport: Generally speaking, buying a very large succulent may not be a good idea.
- Large, heavy plants tend to become damaged in transport, and it takes a long time for them to heal and look their best again
- Choose a plant that is easy for you to handle on the trip home
- Bring along a box to keep the plant upright and provide protection during the trip
Fascinating Gasteria Make A Wonderful, Carefree Addition To Any Plant Collection
Clearly, among the 16 original varieties and the multiple hybrids, there’s bound to be a variety of Gasteria that will enhance your indoor or outdoor garden.
These popular plants have few needs, take up little space and offer a great deal in the way of charm and beauty.
With their interesting leaf colors and patterns, unusual growth habit and slightly odd, wintertime blossoms they make a nice choice as desk or kitchen windowsill plant in during the winter months and a nice patio or porch plant in the summer.
Because there are so many interesting choices available, it’s easy to assemble varied, easy-care indoor garden using just Gasteria, Gasteraloe and Gasterhaworthia.