Graptopetalums, Pachyphytums and their hybrids: Echeveria look-alikes
In the Crassula family (Crassulaceae) there are a lot of plants that mimic other plants leading to endless confusion by gardeners, growers and even botanical gardens. Echeverias are one of the most popular and beautiful pot and landscape plants in this family (see article on Echeverias.) But often overlooked, forgotten, or simply confused with Echeverias are two other genera of plants that look a lot like them: the Graptopetalums and the Pachyphytums. Not only do these at least somewhat resemble Echeverias, they hybridize with Echeverias quite easily, and some of these hybrids are among the most popular succulents in cultivation.
As far as I can tell, most of these plants are similar to Echeverias in terms of cultivation: all are drought-tolerant but like water when it's warm (maybe not so much when it's super hot) and all tolerate winter rain water here in southern California. Cold tolerance is pretty good with all the ones I have growing so far with minimal to no damage to any at temps in the high 20sF. These plants al seem to tolerate full sun well, though some Pachyphytums seem less than thrilled when it's over 110F and in full all day sun. See the article on Echeverias about more details on keeping these plants.
Echeveria 'Imbricatas' Pot with Graptopetalums and Graptoverias
Pachyphytum 'Blue Haze' (photo by Daylily SLP)
Graptopetalums are Mexican succulents primarily (a few are from Arizona). There are about 12 species of Graptopetalum, but only 3-4 are found with any regularity in cultivation, and only a couple are ‘common'. These plants are very similar to Echeverias for the most part, though more leggy and have more compact rosettes. Infloresecences are on multipbranched, very thin woody stems (unlike Echeverias) with star-shaped brightly colored flowers.
The most common species grown is probably Graptopetalum paraguayense, also called the Ghost Plant or Mother of Pearl plant (referring to its pale colored leaves). It has a relatively small rosette of about 4" but can have many rosettes on one plant thanks to its branching habit. This species is an excellent potted plant since it grows out and over the pot edges well, often dangling down several feet before growing too long to support its own weight. It is a very easy plant to grow from cuttings (just snap/cut one off somewhere along the stem- somewhat close to the rosette recommended) and one plant can quickly turn into dozens in a few years. Cutting the plants is recommended anyway as eventually the plant gets too leggy and becomes less attractive, so it is recommended to remove and discard most of the stem and regrow from a shortened stem. The leaves of this species are usually a faint pinkish, lavender, though off-white to pale tan or even grey are not uncommon colors.
Nice Graptopetalum paraguayense in pot (photo by Ytyler ) Graptopetalum paraguayense in Huntington Gardens pot
My own plant
More examples of Graptopetalum paraguayense in the landscape flowering
Graptopetalum paraguayense in full flower variegated form (photo by Xenomorf)
The next most commonly grown species is probably Graptopetalum pentandrum var. superbum (I actually have not seen Graptopetalum pentandrum of any other variety) which is one of my favorite of all the succulent rosette plants. This plant is a wonderful pale lavender color, though it can change from whiter to pinker depending upon the sunlight and season. It is less apt to get too leggy, and in the sun stays pretty compact. The face (rosette) of this plant is nearly flat making it all the more elegant. It is an excellent potted as well as landscape plant with good sun, shade, cold, heat tolerance. Water well in summers and less in winters... but I have yet to overwater one.
Graptopetalum pentandrum var superbums
Graptopetalum pentandrum flowers
There are more species of Graptopetalums, but these are by far the two most commonly grown and available. See the plant files for more Graptopetalums.
Graptopetalum bartramii Graptopetalum rusbyi (both photos by Xenomorf)
Graptopetalum 'Point Dexter' Graptopetalum amethystinum (photos by Happenstance)
Pachyphytums are more delicate plants in general, and I mean physically delicate (to the touch). Most have leaves that are just hanging by a few cells it seems, and even with minimal handling, fall off. Thankfully they are fairly easy to root from leaf ‘cuttings' (or fallings as I prefer to call them). These plants have tubular to spherical leaves, some with multiangular leaf tips, and some completely smooth. Some have leaves that are more like those of an Echereria, though fatter (pachyphytum means thick leaf). Most are a very pale bluish- green but some are bright green and some almost pinkish and have a bit of a powdery material on them . Though not the most sun hardy of all the Crassulaceas, these are one of the more cold tolerant, taking temps into the low 20s fairly easily. This is another Mexican genus.
Probably the most commonly grown species is Pachyphytum oviferum (also called Moonstones). This is a weird looking plant with the basic Echeveria stem but ovoid, perfectly smooth leaves of pale blue-green, to pale pink. This plant's leaves fall off if you look at it cross-eyed. I have not been able to transplant one without at least some of the leaves falling off. I personally have difficulty telling this from Pachyphytum glutinicaule which has just a hint more ‘leaf-shape' to the leaves (barely pointed)... still has ovoid, very smooth leaves of pale lavender. The flowers of Pachyphytum oviferum look a lot like all Pachyphytum flowers: tall, arching succulent flower stalks (peduncles) and with reddish petals hidden within white, succulent bracts.
Pachyphytum oviferum examples (last photo by Kniphofia)
Pachyphytum oviferum leaf detail and two shots of flowers on my plant
Pachyphytum oviferum in too much sun, burning Pachyphytum glutinicaule looks very similar at a distance
Pachyphytum compactum is probably the only other ‘commonly' sold species (I have seen it for sale at Home Depot) but it is not nearly as ornamental. Its leaves are more torpedo shaped with angular ‘facets' near the leaf tips. These plants range from dull green to deep turquoise and tend to stay small and compact, mostly because they fall apart under their own weight once they attain any size. They really have to be grown in pots in a protected environment if one is to enjoy them with all their leaves in place (most landscape plants, or outdoor grown plants are in a constant state of leaf loss).
Pachyphytum compactum hangin from wall, in pot and in landscape
Pachyphytum compactum flowering Pachyphytum compactum growing next to some Echeverias
Pachyphytum glutinicaule examples Pachyphytum uniflorum
Pachyphytum hookeri blue Pachyphytum hookeri green Pachyphytum hookeris in the landscape
Pachyphytum coerulum Pachyphytum fittkaui Pachyphytum caesium
Pachyphytym 'Green Beans'
Graptoverias, or as listed in the plant files, X Graptoverias, are some of the most beautiful and easy to grow of all the Echeveria-like succulents in cultivation. These are, in general, hardier than Echeverias and certainly fast growing and easy to start from cuttings (leaf or stem). Most tolerate full sun and a good deal of shade with a minimum incidence of rotting. I have yet to overwater any Graptoverias (but only have experience with a few). Flowers of this hybrid group looks mostly like the Echeverias, and only have a hint of Graptopetalum in them (a bit more star-shaped than some Echeverias).
The most commonly sold ‘species' is Graptoveria Opalina, a large, fat-leaved plant with pale colored leaves that vary in color as would an opal (not quite so dramatic, of course). The colors include pinks, blue-greens, lavendars, oranges, whites and greys. It is a ghostly smooth plant that is remarkably durable considering how delicate it looks. The rosettes are quite Echeveria-like holding numerous leaves. They grow only somewhat leggy before the large weight of the head snaps the stem and then they seem to reroot effortlessly and branch at that point. If grown in a pot for elegance sake, one will need to cut the heads off periodically and reroot them to keep the m from falling out of the pot eventually.
Graptoveria Opalinas, in greenhouse pot, and in two different pots outdoors in my yard
Graptoveria Opalina flowers
young Graptopetalum Opalina showing nice pinks Older plant getting too leggy young plants for sale at a nursery
Another common and even easier to grow ‘species' is Graptoveria Fred Ives. This is a large, very aggressive plant that has distinctively large, lancelote leaves of an even larger variety of colors than the previous plant. I have several and they are orange, yellow, green, blue-green, pale lavender to deep purple-grey, yellowy, pink etc. And they are aggressive growers (did I say that already?)! This is a rapidly suckering species that quickly grows leggy, but branches profusely, and can rapidly take over an entire corner of the garden in just a year. I have to hack mine back quarterly and now have this plant growing in just about every area of the yard. The cuttings root almost overnight (no exaggeration!) and start growing in just a few days. I have yet to have a single cutting fail for me. Buy one, and you will have plants to give away to your friends and relatives forever (sort of like having an Aeonium, only these don't die after flowering). The flowers of this plant look a lot like the flowers of Graptoverias with a bit of succulent stems on them (a half-way flower between Graptopetalums and Echeverias). This plant however produces bulbils on these stems and new rosettes quickly form, drop off and root. It's an amazing plant!
Graptoveria Fred Ives in my yard
flowers and small plantlet growing on inflorescence
Another common sold Graptoveria is ‘Debbie' which many confuse with Echeveria perle von nurmberg, but has much thicker leaves despites its similar colored deep purple pink coloration. This is a very compact ‘species' and one I find looks so much like an Echeveria I would never guess it was a Graptoveria save perhaps for its thickened leaves.
Graptoveria Debbie photos (first two photos by greenlarry)
Graptoveria Debbie in landscape flowering in summer Echeveria Perle Von Nurmberg (similar looking plant)
Graptoveria Silver Star is another common hybrid sold at most garden outlet centers and not one of the easier ones to grow (rots easily and doesn't tolerate a lot of direct sunlight)... but it is a beautiful plant- very compact and almost no stem (looks a bit like an Echeveria x Sempervivum)... flowers are distinctly Echeveria-like.
Graptoveria Silver Star photos
One of the more confusing ‘species' to me is Graptoveria amethorum. I have seen this identical plant identified many times as an Echeveria (gilva), but I am pretty sure it is really this ‘species' (an Echeveria purpusorum hybridized with some species of Graptopetalum (probably amethystemum)). It is a very compact, smaller plant with subtly mottled leaves greenish leaves with a silvery coating over them. The short, fat leaves have a flat end but with a dinky point in the middle. I have never seen one of these flowers and most of mine tend to rot eventually. However lately I have had better luck with them and hope to actually see an inflorescence this year.
Graptoveria amethorum in greenhouse and in too much sun and in just the right amount of sun
There are dozens of other Graptoverias (way more than there are Graptopetalums) but these are the most commonly encountered ones.
Graptoveria 'Spirit of 76' photos unknown Graptoveria in pot of mine
two Graptoverias in landscape (no official names to either of these hybrids) a brown-purply Graptoveria in my own collection (yet to be ID'd)
Pachyverias (or X Pachyverias) are also more common in cultivation than the main parent genus (Pachyphytum), but there are far less of these in terms of variety than there are Graptoverias. About the only one that is common in cultivation is Pachyveria glauca, a hybrid of Pachyphytum compactum and Echeveria craigiana. This is a much more durable plant than its Pachyphytum parent, still losing leaves easily, but holding onto a vast number more. It is a distinctly bluish plant with a short stem and an aggressive suckering habit. I have seen these offered at many home gardening centers, right alongside its parent Pachyphytum, and it is such a better looking plant! Flowers are very Echerveria like... otherwise I might assume it to be the same plant, only better looking.
Pachyphyveria glaucas in Huntington gardens, and my own plant (purchased, and 2 years later in the ground)
Pachyveria glauca in my yard (same plant 2 years later in 2nd photo)
There are many other Pachyveria hybrids (just scan the internet and you will discover dozens) but I have no photos of most of these, and have not run across many in cultivation that I recognized at least.
two shots of Pachyveria Rosey Greer
Discussion about this article: