How To Care For A Bear Paw Succulent (Cotyledon Tomentosa)

The Bear Paw succulent is a gorgeous, easy-care plant with a quirky, attractive look. It’s compact and resilient and perfect for beginners to succulents.

The Bear Paw succulent is a firm favorite with our team, a cherished indoor houseplant that has pride of place in a bright, sunny window.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to care for a Bear Paw succulent at home, including the best light, water and soil conditions. Plus how to propagate a Bear’s Paw succulent and what to do if your plant starts to look unhealthy.

Bear Paw Cactus Cotyledon Tomentosa

The scientific name for the Bear Paw succulent is Cotyledon tomentosa. Its grammatically correct common name is Bear’s Paw, but it is often referred to as Bear Paw or Bears Paw. You may even see it called Bear Paw Cactus although it is not a cactus plant.

It gets its name from its unusual leaves that resemble a bear’s paws.

Native to arid areas of South Africa, it is drought-tolerant and will cope with varied light levels and temperatures and even a little neglect.

What Does A Bear Paw Succulent Look Like?

Bear’s Paws are compact succulents with multi-branching stems. Leaves grow in pairs on opposite sides of the stem, which appear from above as open rosettes. The leaves of Cotyledon tomentosa are its most striking feature and give rise to its common name of Bear’s Paw succulent.

Leaves of bears paw succulent
Source: WikiCommons

Green to silver-grey in color, the leaves are plump, fleshy and oval in shape. Imagine a spoon that’s full (minus the handle). They grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) in length. The surface of the leaves is covered in a dense layer of soft, silvery-grey hairs, giving them a fuzzy, velvety texture. The ends of the leaves have pointed scalloped tips that are often reddish in color. The overall look is of a small bear’s paw.

There is a variegated variety that has cream patches on the leaves.

Does Bear Paw Succulent Flower?

A healthy, mature Bear Paw plant can flower with delicate, tubular-shaped flowers that bloom on tall, slender stems from the tip of the stem. The flowers can vary in color but are usually in shades of red, orange, or yellow.

Bear paw succulent flowering
Source: WikiCommons

The flowers have a subtle, sweet fragrance that attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies. The blooms are relatively small, typically measuring about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length.

Bears Paw succulent flowers most commonly appear in late spring.

How Big Does a Bear Paw Plant Get?

Bear’s Paw succulents are short, bushy plants that don’t typically grow more than 20 inches (50 cm) tall and 25 inches (65 cm) wide.

How Do You Take Care Of A Bear Paw Succulent?

In its natural habitat, the bear paw succulent receives very little water and lives in gritty soils that drain well and are low in nutrients. They are tolerant plants and will survive a range of light and temperatures. However, they do have preferred environmental conditions, and we are going to guide you through those to enable you to keep your Bear Paw as happy and healthy as possible.

How Much Sun Does A Bear Paw Succulent Need?

Bear Paw succulents prefer bright light but not necessarily direct sunlight. It’s important to place your plant where it will get at least 4-6 hours of bright light each day.

If growing your Bears Paw indoors, ensure it receives as much light as possible. The best spot is a bright window with plenty of indirect sunlight every day. The tips of the leaves, the ‘claws’, will turn a deep red color if the plant is receiving sufficient light.

Rotate your Bears Paw’s pot regularly to ensure it gets light evenly on all sides and grows straight and compact.

Bear Paw succulents can grow in lower light levels, but the leaves may be a paler color and the tips may lose their red color. The plant may grow leggy and stretched out.

If possible, avoid direct bright sunlight, especially intense afternoon sun. This can burn and scorch the leaves. If you notice brown spots appearing on the leaves, move your plant away from the window, provide shade, or filter the light with a sheer curtain.

Having said that, it does depend on where in the world you live. If you live in a milder climate, your Bear Paw will probably be fine with full sun all day. If you live somewhere with intense sunlight, your Bear Paw may get sunburned from direct sunlight. Watch the leaves for signs of sunburn spots and move your plant or provide shade, as required.

What we’ve recommended here are the optimal light conditions for your Bear’s Paw succulent. It can cope with low light and full sun conditions but may not grow as well as you’d like.

How Often Should I Water My Bear’s Paw Succulent?

The Bear’s Paw succulent is native to dry, arid conditions and can cope with drought-type conditions. In fact, it prefers dry conditions and very well-draining soil.

It is recommended you water your Bear Paw only when the soil is completely dry. Soak the pot thoroughly and allow excess water to drain away before returning it to its usual spot.

It’s hard to give a definitive timeline on how often you should water your plant. It will depend on how much sun it receives, the temperature, humidity and even the pot size. Instead, check the soil and if it’s completely dry, water it again. As a general rule, watering every couple of weeks should be in the right ballpark. If in doubt, err on the side of underwatering rather than overwatering.

Bear Paw is susceptible to root rot if its roots sit in damp soil.

The best way to tell if your Bear Paw succulent is under or overwatered is to look at the leaves. If the leaves are shriveling and starting to take on a hollow spoon shape, your plant is underwatered and needs a drink.

You can see in the image below that some of the leaves, particularly those on the right-hand side, look hollow.

Underwatered Bear Paw succulent with hollow-spoon shaped leaves
Source: WikiCommons

If the lower leaves are starting to turn yellow and translucent, particularly towards the stem end, you are overwatering your plant. Let it dry out completely before watering again.

Temperature & Humidity

The best temperature for a Bear Paw succulent is 68 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit (20 – 30 degrees Celsius) during its growing season. However, it is a tolerant plant and can cope with temperatures outside this range.

Bear Paw is not a cold-hardy succulent. If your plant lives outside, consider bringing it indoors if the temperature is likely to drop below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius) or if a frost is likely. If you can’t bring the plant inside, try to protect it with a frost cloth.


Cotyledon tomentosa prefers a dry atmosphere. It does not like humid conditions. Don’t mist it and avoid putting it anywhere like a bathroom that can get steamy.

If you plant it in an arrangement with other succulents, make sure you give it plenty of space to allow good airflow around it.

Best Soil For Bears Paw Succulent?

Bear’s Paw succulents are native to arid areas of South Africa, where they grow in rocky, well-draining soils. These plants typically have a shallow root system that spreads horizontally rather than deep.

They need a very well-draining, gritty soil mixture. Use a succulent-specific mix and consider adding additional sand or grit to increase the drainage speed of the soil.

Choose a shallow pot, preferably with a drainage hole in the bottom, that allows the soil to drain and dry quickly.

If you want to get technical and up your succulent soil game, Cotyledon tomentosa prefers slightly acidic soil.


In its native environment, Bear Paw succulents survive in nutrient-poor soils and can be harmed by over-fertilizing. If you wish to give fertilizer to your Bear’s Paw, do so sparingly with a succulent-specific fertilizer during spring and early summer only.


A healthy Bear Paw succulent should not need pruning. It will benefit from the removal of any dead or damaged leaves or stems. And, of course, you can prune to your heart’s content if you wish to change the shape of your plant, but for most people, pruning won’t be necessary.

Is Bear’s Paw Succulent Toxic?

Bear Paw succulent is considered toxic to humans, cats, dogs and other pets and animals if ingested.

In its native South Africa, it is considered highly toxic to sheep, cattle and other animals that may be tempted to feed on it in large quantities where it grows wild.

The effect is milder if your pet is just nibbling on the edges of one plant at home. Even so, you should err on the side of caution and keep your Bear Paw succulent of the reach of curious pets and children.

Pests and Diseases

Root Rot

One of the most common problems that bear’s paw succulents experience is root rot. Root rot develops when the soil stays too moist for too long, causing fungus and bacteria to grow in the roots.

Signs of root rot include wilting or drooping leaves, which can be followed by yellowing, browning and falling off. If left unchecked, root rot will kill the plant.

To prevent root rot, it is important to make sure the soil your bear’s paw succulent is in is very well-draining.

If planted in a container, use one that is shallow, not too large, has a drainage hole and is made of porous material. All these factors contribute towards speedy evaporation of water from the soil, keeping the soil, and therefore the roots, dry between waterings.

Use as small a pot as you can – the more soil there is, the longer it takes to dry out between waterings.

Water thoroughly and allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again.

If you notice any signs of root rot, remove the affected roots and replant in fresh, well-draining soil.


Bear Paw succulents can be susceptible to infestations of pests, with mealybugs and spider mites being the most common.

Mealybugs are small, white insects that feed on plant sap. They can cause yellowing and curling leaves.

Use a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol to gently remove any visible mealybugs on your bear’s paw succulent. Look under the leaves and all along the stems.

You may also use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Repeat this process once per week until the mealybugs have been fully removed.

Spider mites are tiny critters that are barely visible to the naked eye, although they do produce telltale feathery webs on the plant. They feed on the plant’s sap, causing leaf spots, yellowing leaves, leaf drop and stunted growth.

Spider mites can be treated in a similar way to mealybugs with rubbing alcohol, neem oil or insecticidal soap.

For more information, read our post on cures for common succulent pests.


Your Bear Paw should only need repotting when you see roots starting to appear through the drainage hole of its plant pot or every couple of years to replenish the soil.

Bear Paw succulents have shallow roots and are best suited to a shallow pot made from a porous material.

A wide, shallow pot will also help stabilise your Bear Paw succulent which tends to be top-heavy with its plump leaves.

Choose a new pot that is only one size larger to ensure your Bear Paw isn’t sitting in too much soil that can be difficult to keep dry.

Take care when handling your plant as the leaves are very fragile and break off easily.

The best time to repot is in early spring at the start of the growth season.

How to Propagate Bear Paw

You can propagate your Bear’s Paw succulent from:

  • stem cuttings
  • leaves
  • offsets
  • seeds

The easiest way, by far, for home gardeners to propagate Bear Paw succulents is from stem cuttings taken from a healthy, mature plant.

The best time to propagate is in the spring when the plant is actively growing.

To propagate from stem cuttings, take a cutting that is at least 3 – 4  inches (7 – 10 cm) long and remove the bottom leaves. Use sharp, sterile scissors to avoid bacteria getting into the wound.

Put the stem cutting aside for a couple of days to allow the cut end to dry and callous over. Then, plant the cutting in a very well-draining succulent soil mix. Water lightly and place in a bright spot but out of direct sunlight. The cutting should root within 4 – 6 weeks.

It is difficult to propagate a Bear Paw succulent from a leaf and growth from seed to a good size plant is very slow. We suggest sticking to propagation from stem cuttings.

Bear Paw succulents do occasionally produce a pup or offset plant. If this happens, use a sharp, sterile knife to remove the offset and then propagate using the method described above for a stem cutting.


Why Are The Leaves Falling Off My Bear Paw Succulent?

The main reasons why leaves might fall off your Bear Paw succulent are:

  • The leaves are fragile – Bear Paw succulents have notoriously fragile leaves. Rough handling or pets brushing past can cause leaves to drop.
  • Overwatering – These plants like dry conditions and overwatering can lead to root rot. One of the first visible signs of root rot is when the leaves start to drop.
  • Fungal infections – Overwatering, damp and humid conditions and insufficient airflow can all lead to fungal infections, which can damage the plant and cause leaf drop.
  • Pest infestation – Attacks on your plant from pests such as spider mites damage the plant, leading to leaf drop.
  • Light stress – Either too light light or too much direct, intense sunlight can cause stress to the plant, resulting in leaves falling off.

Basically, anything that causes the plant’s health to decline is likely to result in falling leaves.

Why Are The Leaves Of My Bears Paw Not Plump?

Flat leaves are usually due to underwatering or lack of light. Try moving your plant to a brighter spot with at least 4 – 6 hours of bright light (preferably indirect sunlight) each day and give it a good soak of water.

Why Is My Bears Paw Succulent Sticky?

Sticky leaves on a Bears Paw succulent are usually a sign of a pest infestation. Pests such as mealybugs, aphids and scale secrete a sticky substance called honeydew onto the leaves and stems when they feed on the sap of a plant.

Check for signs of pest infestation and take appropriate steps to treat the infestation.

Is Bear’s Paw Succulent Safe For Cats?

Bear’s Paw succulent is not considered to be safe for cats. It is highly toxic if ingested in large amounts. While your cat is unlikely to eat large amounts by nibbling on the leaves if you have one small Bear’s Paw succulent plant at home, it is still wise to keep it out of the reach of your cats and other pets.

Why Is My Bear Paw Succulent Leggy?

A leggy succulent with stretched-out stems, and large gaps between leaf nodes is probably not getting enough light each day.

Read more about what causes this and how to fix it in our post on leggy, stretched-out succulents.

Where Can I Buy A Bear’s Paw Succulent?

Bear Paw plants are available at local nurseries on online plant stores.

Wrapping Up

The Bear Paw succulent is an attractive, quirky succulent that is easy to take care of as long as you know the conditions that it likes best:

  • dry, well-draining soil
  • plenty of bright light
  • low humidity
  • mild to warm temperatures

They are perfect for beginners and a really loveable, compact plant that will look great indoors or outside.


The Essentials

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