Cat’s Tongue Plant: Aptenia Cordifolia Variegata Care

The Cat's Tongue Plant (Aptenia cordifolia) is known in some places as dew plant or ice plant, but is much more common not to know it by any name. It is one of the easiest succulents to care for, but because its appearance is not very striking and its growth is rather messy, it is not a highly sought-after plant. This means that nurseries do not usually sell them, although it is very easy to get since many people grow it.

Keep reading to discover its characteristics and care, and several ideas to make it look good in your garden.

Characteristics of the Cat's Tongue Plant

Aptenia cordifolia is a succulent plant of the Aizoaceae family, the same as living stones and ice plants. It has a mainly creeping growth, although if it is in the shade it tries to grow upwards, so it can climb a little (at most up to about 2m high, generally not more than 1m) and cover low plants. If enough water is supplied, it is a very fast growing plant.

The stems are green, thin and quite weak, although with time they thicken, lose their greenness and become relatively stiff. The leaves are oval or slightly heart-shaped, attached to the stem by a short petiole. Its common names, dew plant and ice plant, are given because the leaves have structures called papillae, which are accumulations of water under the epidermis that appear to be dew drops.

The flowers are small, bright pink in color, with numerous very fine petals and orange stamens. It blooms mainly during the spring, which is when the flowers are most abundant, but produces some loose flowers throughout the year in climates without frost. After flowering, it produces small greenish fruits that go unnoticed and once ripe, they will dry and release small black seeds that do not usually germinate. It can also be said that it is an edible plant, but it is only consumed in some parts of Brazil.

Distribution and habitat

The cat's tongue plant is indigenous to the south and east of South Africa, although it is naturalized in many parts of the world. There it grows in shady and humid places, generally under trees. Curiously, while there is a small plant, in cultivation, by giving it a large amount of water and sun, it becomes a huge and very invasive plant in a short time, capable of covering entire areas.

Varieties and Hybrids of the Cat's Tongue Plant

There is a variegated form of Aptenia cordifolia, with white leaf edges, but it is more difficult to find in cultivation. It can also be found with flowers of other colors, but there is discussion among experts about whether it is about mutations or hybridizations.

A hybrid that is very interesting, but very difficult to differentiate from this species is Aptenia ‘Red apple', a hybrid of Aptenia cordifolia and Aptenia haeckeliana, with pink flowers, but of a much more vivid color. As for Aptenia haeckeliana, it has more elongated leaves and its flowers can be white or yellow.

Aptenia Cordifolia Variegata Care

Very simple care due to its resistance to practically everything.

Location

Although it tolerates some shade, it looks much better and grows faster in full sun. In shade it will try to climb, throwing spindly branches with fewer leaves and will not flower.

Water

Although it is a succulent, it needs much more water than most. In this aspect, it must be treated as a normal plant, not allowing the substrate to dry out completely between waterings. That is not to say that it will not tolerate drought, but it will have smaller, yellowish leaves and will grow much less. You just have to control the watering a little more in winter, when it goes into dormancy.

Soil

The cat's tongue plant does not need a specific soil, as it supports a wide pH range and supports salinity. Like all succulents, it prefers them to drain well, but it is not even necessary, since it tolerates somewhat flooded soils as long as they do not continue to be so in the dormant season. For rapid growth and not to depend too much on compost, a high percentage of organic matter is recommended.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing the cat's tongue plant is necessary if we want a very fast growth or if we see that it turns yellow. Generally in soil it is not necessary, but in a pot it is highly recommended. Any compost will do, so just use the one you usually add to your plants.

Cold Resistance

The cat's tongue plant tolerates temperatures close to -7ºC, but in a pot it loses the leaves and part of the branches with any frost, later sprouting from under the substrate. On the ground it supports them much better, losing only the leaves when temperatures drop below -3ºC. During this rest time it is necessary to water it less, since it is sensitive to rot.

Pruning

It depends entirely on what you are looking for with the plant, you can prune it to give it shape, to prevent it from escaping from the area where you want it, to prevent it from climbing other plants … If you live in a climate with frost, it is also advisable to remove the branches that dry up in winter and have not regrouped in spring. This plant also produces many branches that grow over others and make it ugly, so it is also convenient to remove them.

Propagation

The plant itself produces branches that are buried and rooted, which we can remove and plant separately. We can also simply cut branches (we can use the pruning remains) and plant where we want them. They root very easily as long as it is done in the growing season. Another way is through seeds, but it is very slow and they germinate badly, so it is not recommended unless you want to try your luck in case they come out with flowers of another color due to a mutation or if we want to get hybrids with other plants of the same family.

Tips to Keep Aptenia Cordifolia in a Garden

As we have said, it can be very invasive, and when climbing it can cover other plants and kill them. Also, many branches try to climb and fall flat, which is not very aesthetic. This can be solved in several ways:

  • Pruning all the branches that go up to other plants.
  • Having it as a ground cover in an area where there are only large trees or bushes without low branches that it can climb.
  • Keeping it in a pot, where its growth is very reduced.
  • Watering it little and not fertilizing it, although this has the negative effect that its appearance will not be the best.

If we have it in a pot, something interesting that can be done is to put a plant with vertical growth that stays green in winter, and an Aptenia cordifolia. We place this pot on a pedestal and let the Aptenia grow as a hanging plant. A very beautiful effect is achieved, especially when it is filled with pink flowers. In tropical climates it will always be beautiful, but in frosty climates all the hanging branches will dry up during the winter.

In any case, it is advisable to have it in full sun and without small plants or rocks in between, so that it grows as flat as possible. In this way we avoid the branches that cross and bend and we achieve a much more orderly and beautiful appearance.

Pests and diseases of Cat's Tongue Plant

Pests

In general, a healthy Aptenia cordifolia will not have pests or if it does, the attack will not be significant, but if something attacks it it will be the following:

  • Mealybug : Like almost all succulents, it is susceptible to mealybug attack, but generally it will only attack diseased plants or plants that are severely lacking in nutrients or water. It is very rare to find it in healthy aptenias. To eliminate mealybugs, you can use potassium soap or a specific insecticide.
  • Snails and slugs : Due to the creeping growth and the water that accumulates on the leaves, it is a perfect hiding place for these animals. They like to eat its leaves, which also helps them hydrate, but they do not cause noticeable damage, mainly because of their growth speed. They will only cause problems for plants that are too shaded and perhaps those that are in pots. To eliminate them, there are poisoned baits, although you can also put a glass of beer in which they will fall and drown. Personally I recommend taking them and bringing them to a place where they do not disturb.

Diseases

We can say that it does not have diseases as such, but it does have deficiencies due to poor cultivation.

  • Chlorosis: Chlorosis is called the lack of chlorophyll, which can be caused by different crop failures: lack of a nutrient, generally nitrogen (they are solved by fertilizing or transplanting); lack of water being in the sun (can be solved by watering more); substrate pH too high or low (can be solved by fertilizing or changing the pH) … It is usually accompanied by a reduction in growth. Normally the chlorosis of this potted plant indicates a lack of water or the need to change the substrate or transplant.
  • Rot: Caused by various fungi, it is generally due to an excess of water or lack of aeration, so it is not necessary to add fungicide but change the growing conditions. If the entire base has rotted, the branches will have to be cut, the rot removed, and replanted. Normally in this plant this will only happen in winter, but if we have it waterlogged it can happen at any time of the year.