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Color Change in Succulents (Explained!)

Seeing a succulent in color or tone that’s out of the ordinary catches our attention. The color of succulents is, without a doubt, one of the most appealing aspects.

And, in many cases, a deciding factor for us to choose between different species.

The colors of your succulents may have changed over time, or you may have noticed that the colors of your succulents have changed from bright reds and pinks to dull greens after purchasing them.

We’ve all seen photos of succulents online with vibrant colors and wondered why our own specimens of the same species don’t have the same effect.

Succulent Colors Are Determined By A Variety of Factors

When it comes to succulents, their color is determined by a wide range of environmental factors. Temperature, climate, day length, and even changes in the substrate can all prompt plants to undergo these changes.

In addition, the plant’s color changes as a warning sign of problems that it is experiencing.

The color of succulents, and more specifically, color changes and how they occur, is one of the most fascinating things I’ve come across over the years.

I’d like to share with you all the information I’ve gleaned from my own experience and the many hours of research I’ve put into this topic.

If you stick with me, I’ll explain things like how succulents get their colors, why there is color variation, what colors indicate danger, and where you can get colorful and healthy succulents.

The Color in succulents

You need to know that there are three pigments in succulents that are responsible for their color: chlorophylls, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. Take a closer look at them:

Chlorophylls

Photosynthesis, the process by which light is converted into energy, is carried out by chloroplasts, and it is this process that gives green colors to plants.

Carotenoids

They produce red, orange, yellow, and brown hues. But even though they are capable of photosynthesis, they don’t produce nearly as many photosynthetic molecules as chlorophylls do.

A wide variety of organisms, including plants and even animals, have these pigments in their tissues.

Also, fruits like oranges, bananas, and lemons have the colors we associate with them because of the presence of these pigments.

It’s common to find carotenoids in plants, but chlorophyll can hide them from the naked eye. In other words, they are there, but we cannot see them due to the green color dominating the scene.

Chlorophyll is missing from the leaves and stems of variegated succulents, making them appear yellow.

The decline in chlorophyll production that occurs as plants mature is completely normal.

In addition, as plants age or mature, chlorophyll production tends to decline. Because of this, we see trees with yellow or brown leaves in the fall.

During this period, chlorophyll production declines in the leaves, and carotenoids begin to take action in the plant.

This is true of our succulents, as well. When the plant’s older leaves begin to die, they lose their green color, turn yellow, dry out, and fall off.

Similarly, fruits serve as a good example of this principle in action. As previously stated, carotenoids are responsible for the colors of bananas, lemons, and oranges.

However, those colors did not always exist, did they? Before ripening, fruits are green because of high chlorophyll levels.

Anthocyanins

These pigments can produce red, pink, violet, and blue hues. We see them in fruits like eggplants, blueberries, and plums.

Those are the main players in the process of succulents changing color. They are activated only when necessary because they protect plants from difficult conditions such as extreme temperatures and lighting, pests, and drought.

Do All Succulents Change Color?

Both yes and no. It’s possible for some succulents to have different shades of green depending on the environment, but no succulents will ever have violet or reddish coloring because of the genetic influence on the plants.

Certain succulents do not produce anthocyanins because it is not part of their genetic makeup. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside; they stay green all year long. 

However, colorful succulents have a genetic base that gives them their colors and they require sunlight to maintain them.

Others use anthocyanins in combination with farina or epicuticular wax to protect themselves from the sun.

On the other hand, some species of succulents rely solely on the farina, which is why it is so critical to keep it around. It is also worth noting that the farina has a unique effect on succulents, adding a pale, blue-gray, or almost silvery hue.

Similarly, color changes alert us to the health of our succulents. Some are excellent, while others are less so. As we’ve said before, we must learn to interpret the signals our plants give us.

What Is Stress In Succulents?

It’s a widely held belief that stress is a bad thing for succulents. Physical stress necessitates a physical response in order to deal with a challenging environment, context, or situation.

In the battle against stress, succulents always come out on top. They’ve evolved to withstand the harshest climates, so they can survive anywhere.

It is possible to find species that not only survive, but thrive in harsh environments such as long droughts, temperature changes, and intense sunlight.

Stressed succulents produce more pigment to protect themselves when exposed to harsher environmental conditions. To put it another way, stress is an adaptive mechanism for succulents, not necessarily a bad thing.

Is stressing succulents bad?

Succulents have mechanisms that allow them to withstand droughts, extreme temperature changes, and a lot of sun exposure, despite the fact that we might think otherwise.

Changing the color of succulents by overstressing them is neither good nor bad. It depends entirely on how it is carried out. Due to climate change, they are naturally under stress in their natural habitats.

If you live in the hemispheres, you have the option of not stressing the succulents and allowing them to change color with the seasons. In the tropics, where temperatures are more stable throughout the year, this can be a challenge.

Succulents are not suited to our clumsiness. If you decide to stress your succulents, you must do so responsibly.

You must be careful not to make too many abrupt changes, and you must constantly monitor the condition of your plants to ensure that everything is fine and that they are not suffering.

It’s up to each individual to decide whether or not to put themselves under a lot of strain. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your plants.

Not All Color Changes Are Beneficial

Even though stressed succulents can still be healthy, not all color changes are good for them. Succulents can become stressed when they are in trouble. You may be wondering how to tell if your plants are colorful for the right or wrong reasons. 

Here are a few hints that might help you out:

As a response or defense mechanism to pests that eat succulents, the plant produces anthocyanin pigments in small wounds.

So, in addition to color, you should also look at the overall appearance of the plant. Take a good look at your succulent’s roots and make sure it’s growing evenly throughout.

It’s safe to assume that forcing succulents to change color will have the desired effect. The plant should be in good health, with no signs of leaf damage or burns. There must be a problem with the plant if it looks bad in general.

Plants can also lose their color due to overwatering, fungal growth, and rot.

If you’re concerned about the color of your plants, keep in mind that overwatering, fungi and even rotting can alter their appearance. 

Yellow leaves indicate over-watering; brown leaves indicate over-exposure to the sun and burning, and black or purple leaves indicate advanced rotting.

How to Stress Succulents

To stress succulents, keep in mind that you should provide them with the best light possible. Lighting is essential for their health as well as for their vibrant colors.

While it is possible to stress your succulents in order to make them change color, you must first ensure that you are dealing with a species that changes color under extreme conditions.

As we discussed earlier, pigments have a genetic component that determines whether or not they can change color. There are some succulents that will never change, no matter how hard you try; therefore, putting them under extreme stress is a bad idea.

Which Succulents Change Color?

Now, you may be wondering how to tell which varieties can change color by taking on colorful tones under stress and which ones cannot.

You may find it stressful to try to sort through all the succulent species to see which ones can or cannot do what you want them to do. Don’t worry, here are three tips to help you identify the right species.

[1] Do a photo search to find examples of each species

The Internet is a fantastic resource for discovering unique and colorful succulent species (of any kind). Instagram, Pinterest, and even Google search can all be used to conduct your searches. Make a list of species that have the colors you desire.

It is important to remember that the Internet has many filters and that some colors may have been painted or digitally altered.

[2] The Name Is Your Guide

Succulent names can help us figure out what colors they have. For example, Black Aeonium, Black Prince, Sedum golden glow, Graptosedum bronze, Firesticks, etc.

[3] Take A Look At The Leaf Tips

Some succulents that change color in response to stress show this ability in the tips of their leaves. At the tips of some plants, we can see a tinge of color. It can be yellow, orange, pink, or red in color, depending on your preference. By stressing the succulents, those colors will be amplified.

How to Change the Color of Your Succulents

In order to change the color of succulents, it’s not that difficult. All you have to do is learn the proper procedures.

Succulents in the northern and southern hemispheres are more colorful in the autumn because they are under more stress.

Anthocyanin production is generally not triggered by active growth in succulents during the growing season but is triggered when growth has slowed. For most species, this occurs at the end of the summer.

Autumn Is A Stressful Season For Plants

Temperature and other environmental factors can put plants under stress in autumn. This time of year, the weather is a mix of extremes. There are days when the weather is pleasant and nights that aren’t frosty.

During this time of year, the days are still long, which means that succulents can get a lot of sunlight. Make them think it’s autumn so that they’ll be more stressed out, as this is the time of year when we see the most color.

Light, temperature, substrate, and watering are all factors you can control to stress your plants. Think about which of these you can change and which you can play within your own situation.

Even if your plants are kept indoors, you may be unable to control the watering due to rainfall, but you may be able to choose the substrate. As an alternative, if your succulents are kept inside, you can provide them with artificial lighting.

So, now that you’ve learned how to manipulate each variable to induce stress, you can devise a strategy that works best for you and your plants.

1. Control of the lighting

The more light there is, the better. More light means more pigment activation for your cacti to protect themselves from harmful UV rays. You’ll need to give your succulents a lot of light every day in order to stress them out.

To avoid burning your succulents, do not make abrupt changes in the amount of sunlight they receive. It’s best to make small adjustments at first.

Start by increasing the amount of time you spend in the sun by half an hour each day, up to an hour per day.

2. Controlling The Temperature

Differential temperature changes, especially at low but not freezing temperatures, activate pigments. As mentioned in the previous point, you must take care not to harm your plants.

If they are used to being indoors and you suddenly take them outside in the cold, they may get frostbite. Allow them to adapt to the new situation by making small adjustments.

Once the pigments have been activated, they will be able to withstand these conditions for longer.

3. Control of Fertilization

You should not apply any fertilizer. Reduce or omit fertilization if the substrate is deficient in nutrients, which can activate pigmentation. Succulents thrive in nutrient-poor soils, so don’t worry.

4. Control of Watering

Allow plants to dry out in between waterings. You should not only ensure that the substrate is completely dry, but also let it dry a little longer, as this also stresses them and causes color changes.

For drought periods, you should water your plants in abundance every time so that they can build up enough water reserves to last through the dry spell.

You’ll probably notice that reducing watering makes succulents more compact in shape and reduces the appearance of mealy bugs.

Finally, it goes without saying that all of these changes should be made gradually to allow succulents to acclimate to the new conditions and avoid being harmed.

It is not a good idea to become overly stressed. You should keep an eye out for signs that your succulent is changing color in a healthy way.

And if you notice something is wrong, don’t force your succulents. To enjoy the gradual changes, take it easy and slow down.

It’s a good idea to take pictures of your succulents as they change colors so you can track their progress. It’s easy to miss changes when we see them every day, so take photos and compare them.