How To Care For Petal Leaf Succulent (Portulaca Molokiniensis)

The Petal Leaf Succulent, Portulaca Molokiniensis, is a beautiful, sculptural succulent perfect for beginners who want a stylish plant that is easy to care for.

Its main needs are bright light – and plenty of it – plus warm temperatures and well-draining soil. It does not need watering often and will forgive some neglect. Plus, it looks stunning.

So, let’s dive right in and guide you through how to care for Portulaca Molokiniensis, how to propagate your Petal leaf succulent to create new plants and what to do if your plant isn’t thriving.

Petal Leaf Succulent

Portulaca Molokiniensis is a member of the Portulaca family, commonly known as Purslane, which has approximately 40 different plant varieties. Portulaca Molokiniensis originates from the tiny Molokini Island in Hawaii where it grows amongst small, rocky volcanic debris and sandy areas close to the shore.

It was originally classified as a more widely found member of the portulaca family, Portulaca lutea, but differences identified by Hawaiian Bob Hobdy in the 1980s resulted in it being reclassified as Portulaca Molokiniensis and more fully as Portulaca Molokiniensis Hobdy.

It is known locally as ‘Ihi (yep, that apostrophe is meant to be there). Other common names include Petal leaf succulent and Molokini Portulaca. Portulaca Molokiniensis is listed as an endangered species in the wild.

Appearance

Petal Leaf succulent is an extremely attractive plant. It has thick, firm, petal-shaped leaves that grow in four columns around a central, woody stem. The leaves are around 2 inches (5 cm) long. Viewed from above, the leaves form rosettes with the appearance of a green rose. Viewed from the side, the layers of leaves stack upon each other like a pile of pancakes.

Portulaca molokiniensis petal leaf succulent with stacked leaves

Image source: Pinterest

The leaves are fleshy and bright-green to lime in color. The leaves are smooth and there are no spines or spikes on the petal leaf succulent. The plant has multiple stems that branch at ground level and grow fairly straight upwards.

When grown in a pot, petal leaf succulent plants can reach typical heights of 12 inches (30 cm), although it is a slow-growing plant. When grown in the ground, without the restrictions of a pot, the plant tends to spread outwards and doesn’t grow quite as tall.

Portulaca molokiniensis - petal leaf succulent growing in ground

Image credit: Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0

Does Petal Leaf Succulent Flower?

A mature, healthy Petal Leaf succulent may bloom from late spring through to late summer with clusters of yellow flowers on study, fleshy stems above the foliage. The flower stem grows out the top of a stem.

The flowers are small, with multiple yellow petals and bright yellow stamen.

After blooming, the flowers will produce small fruits. If you want to propagate new plants from seed, you should collect these seed pods. Otherwise, dead flowers should be removed, and flower stalks should be cut off with sharp, sterile scissors once all blooms have died.

How Much Light Does a Petal Leaf Succulent Need?

Petal Leaf succulent plants prefer at least 6 hours of bright, direct sunlight daily. A sunny windowsill is a perfect spot for Portulaca Molokiniensis indoors. Outdoors, Portulaca Molokiniensis likes a bright, sunny area with direct sunlight.

If the leaves begin to turn red or purple, this is a sign that the plant is under ‘stress’ and receiving too much sun. Move it to a location with indirect sunlight or direct sun for fewer hours a day.

If your Portulaca Molokiniensis is not receiving enough light, it may start to stretch out and grow lanky with larger gaps than usual between the rows of leaves. This stretched-out look is known as etiolation. The leaves may turn a paler green or even yellow.

If your Petal Leaf succulent receives light from one main direction, it may start to lean towards the light source. If this is the case, and your Portulaca Molokiniensis is in a pot, try to rotate the pot every few weeks so the plant gets light evenly from all sides and grows straight.

If your Portulaca Molokiniensis is not getting enough light in its location and you don’t have a brighter spot to move it to, consider supplementing its light with a grow light.

How Often Does Portulaca Molokiniensis Need Watering?

Petal Leaf succulents are drought-hardy and require very little water. The best way to water it is to soak the soil thoroughly enough that water runs out the drainage holes in the pot. Then, allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again.

A rough guide would be that your Portulaca Molokiniensis needs watering every fortnight, although checking the soil to see if it is dry is a much better guide to when to water your Petal leaf succulent.

During hot weather, you may need to water more frequently, but always check the soil to see that it is dry before watering.

Portulaca Molokiniensis requires well-draining conditions, so ensure it is in a pot with drainage holes at the bottom and in very well-draining soil. Over-watering this plant could result in root rot.

If you can, water using the bottom-soaking method by standing the pot in a container of room temperature water for up to 30 minutes and allowing the soil to take up moisture. Remove the pot from the water and allow any excess water to drain away before returning your plant to its regular location. If your pot doesn’t have drainage holes and you prefer to water your plant from the top, avoid getting water on the leaves and water in the morning to allow any excess surface water to evaporate before nightfall. Damp foliage can end up in leaf rot and fungal diseases.

What Is The Best Temperature for Petal Leaf Succulent

Petal Leaf succulents love the heat and grow best in temperatures of 60 – 88 degrees Fahrenheit (15 – 31 degrees Centigrade). It does not tolerate cold temperatures well.

Portulaca Molokiniensis is a native of Hawaii and prefers a temperature typical of that area, which is warm and mild all year round with very low rainfall.

If you live in an area with colder winters and you are growing your Petal Leaf succulent outside, you will need to protect it if the temperature is heading towards or below freezing. If it’s growing in a pot, it’s best to bring it inside during winter. If it’s growing in the ground, protect it with a frost cloth or make a mini-greenhouse around it.

Petal leaf succulent prefers moderate humidity. A high-humidity environment may result in fungal growth and rot on the foliage.

Large Portulaca Molokiniensis Petal Leaf Succulent in a terracotta pot

Image source: Pinterest

Best Soil To Grow Petal Leaf Succulent

Portulaca Molokiniensis needs well-aerated, loose soil that drains and dries rapidly. In its native environment, it thrives in volcanic rubble and sandy areas where water will dissipate very quickly. Petal Leaf succulents need plenty of airflow around their roots and dry conditions in between waterings. These plants are highly susceptible to root rot if left in water-logged soil.

We recommend using a succulent-specific soil from your local nursery mixed with equal parts coarse sand or pumice or perlite to create a really, loose, airy soil that will drain well.

Read our guide to succulent soil for more in-depth information.

To maximise the evaporation of moisture after watering, plant your Portulaca Molokiniensis in a shallow pot with drainage holes.

The Right Pot for Petal Leaf Succulent

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the best pot for your Portulaca Molokiniensis succulent.

  1. Size Matters – When picking out a pot for your succulent, size does matter. You’ll want to make sure that the pot you choose is not too big or too small for your plant. A pot that is too big can cause your plant to become waterlogged and could lead to root rot. The more soil there is, the longer it will take the dry and the longer your succulent’s roots will be exposed to a moist environment. A pot that is too small can restrict the growth of your plant. The best pot for petal leaf succulents should be just larger than the size of your plant, giving it room to grow while ensuring it isn’t swimming in extra space.
  2. Drainage Is Key – These succulents need well-draining soil in order to thrive. If you choose a pot without proper drainage, your plant could become waterlogged and root rot could occur. Be sure to choose a pot with holes in the bottom so that water can easily drain out.
  3. Consider The Material – When it comes to pots, there are many different materials to choose from. Some common materials include plastic, ceramic, metal, and even wood. Each material has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to choose the right one for your plant. For example, plastic pots are lightweight and inexpensive, but they can break easily. Ceramic pots are heavier and more fragile, but they’re also more attractive. Metal pots are durable but can get very hot in direct sunlight. Wood pots are stylish but can be difficult to keep clean. These succulents would be best in a ceramic pot or even an unpainted terracotta pot, which will allow excess moisture to evaporate through the porous material.

Petal Leaf Succulent Fertilizer

Portulaca Molokiniensis has evolved in low-nutrient soils and needs very little fertilizer to survive.

If you do choose to give your petal leaf succulent a boost with fertilizer, do so sparingly during spring and summer only.  Use a succulent-specific fertilizer, which will have the correct combination of nutrients for a succulent. Apply the fertilizer around the base of the plant, taking care not to get any on the leaves.

Portulaca Molokiniensis are not heavy feeders, so you should only fertilize them once a month. Be sure to water well before and after applying fertilizer, as too much fertilizer can burn the roots of the plant.

Pruning Petal Leaf Succulent

Portulaca Molokiniensis is a slow-growing succulent and should not need pruning, with the exception of removing any unhealthy or old dead areas of the plant or when taking a stem cutting for propagation.

When pruning, be sure to use sharp, clean scissors to avoid damaging the plant.

How Toxic Is Petal Leaf Succulent?

Portulaca Molokiniensis is considered to be toxic to humans and animals if ingested.

The plant contains saponins, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues. If you suspect your pet has ingested this plant, please contact your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and abdominal pain.

Petal Leaf succulent is considered poisonous and should be kept out of reach of children and pets.

How To Propagate Petal Leaf Succulent

Portulaca Molokiniensis succulents are very easy to propagate. You can do it by seed or by stem cuttings. Stem cuttings will get you a good-sized plant in the quickest time, but Petal Leaf succulent is much easier than most succulents to propagate from seed, too.

To propagate by stem cuttings, take a cutting from a healthy plant. Using sharp, sterile scissors or knife, cut off a piece of stem that is about 3 – 5 inches (7 – 12 cm) long and has several leaves on it. Allow the cut end to dry out and callous over for a couple of days before planting in coarse sand or perlite. Water it lightly and keep it in a warm, sunny spot. The cutting will root in about two weeks.  Once roots have started to form, you can move the cutting to pot with well-draining succulent potting soil mixed with additional coarse sand or perlite.

The best time to propagate from stem cuttings is in spring.

If you want to propagate by seed, collect the fruits that appear on the plant after flowering. Extract the seeds and allow them to dry. If the seeds drop onto the soil, you’ll have trouble finding them as they are very small. If planted in the ground, Portulaca Molokiniensis, seeds itself prolifically from fallen seed pods. It can be difficult to contain unless it is planted in a pot.

Spread the seeds on top of a well-draining potting mix. Water them lightly and keep them in a warm, sunny spot. The seeds should germinate in a few weeks, seedlings will appear. Allow the plants to grow for a couple more months before separating into individual pots.

Common Pests And Diseases

Pests

Portulaca Molokiniensis are commonly attacked by mealybug and spider mites. These small sap-sucking pests can cause damage to the leaves and stems of the plant, leading to yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Use rubbing alcohol to gently remove pests from the leaves and stems or spray with neem oil.

See our full guide to common succulent pests to learn how to recognise these pests and effective ways to get rid of infestations.

Root Rot

Petal leaf succulents are very susceptible to root rot, which can be caused by overwatering or poor drainage. Damp conditions and poor aeration allow fungal and bacterial growth on the roots, resulting in rot. Unfortunately, the visible signs above the soil often don’t appear until the rot is quite advanced. Look out for:

  • a plant that has become unstable and wobbly as the roots weaken
  • squishy leaves that are yellowing from the stem end
  • blackening of the stem at the soil

If you suspect that your plant has root rot, you should immediately reduce watering and improve drainage – even repot in dry potting mix if necessary.

Read our full guide to root rot – what it is, how to recognise it and effective measure to help your plant recover.

White Rust

Petal leaf succulents are also susceptible to fungal diseases such as White Rust. A White Rust infection appears as a white, powdery coating on the leaves. To treat, spray the plant with apple cider vinegar diluted to half-strength with water. Spray the plant every couple of days until the powdery coating has disappeared. Keep the plant away from other plants to avoid spreading the fungal infection.

Repotting

Portulaca Molokiniensis is slow growing and won’t need regular repotting. You should only need to repot your petal leaf succulent if it is a young plant that has outgrown it’s current pot or you feel that you’d like to refresh the soil.

It has shallow roots and can become top-heavy, so a wide, shallowish pot is perfect for Portulaca Molokiniensis. Always use a well-draining soil mix as described earlier in this article and choose a pot with drainage holes. Terracotta or unglazed ceramic pots are ideal as the porous material allows for additional moisture evaporation from the soil and their weight helps counteract this top-heavy plant. Metal pots will tend to get too hot in the full sun conditions Portulaca Molokiniensis prefers, while glass and plastic pots will inhibit soil drainage.

Wrapping Up

If you are looking for a beautiful succulent that is easy to care for, the Petal Leaf succulent is a great option. This succulent does well in bright light and requires little watering. Its striking structural appearance and delicate yellow flowers make it a popular choice. It is perfect for a bright, sunny spot indoors or a rockery or desert garden outside.

FAQs

Will Portulaca Molokiniensis Grow Indoors?

Portulaca Molokiniensis, Petal Leaf succulent likes a good deal of bright light daily to thrive and be at its healthiest. If you are growing your petal leaf succulent indoors, place it in a bright, sunny window that receives at least 4 – 6 hours of bright light every day. Rotate the pot every few weeks to ensure your Portulaca Molokiniensis receives light evenly on all sides and grows straight. If it only receives light from one direction, it will eventually grow towards that direction and lean towards the window.

If you live in an area with intense, hot sun, your petal leaf succulent may need some shade, particularly in the afternoon. Alternatively, you could diffuse the light by installing a sheer curtain on the window. If stressed by too much direct sun, the leaves of your Portulaca Molokiniensis may turn red or purple or develop brown sunburn spots.

If you live in an area with short daylight time during winter, you may need to supplement the light your indoor Portulaca Molokiniensis receives with a grow light.

Where To Buy Portulaca Molokiniensis Near Me?

Petal leaf succulents are relatively rare plants, and they may not be available in your local plant nursery. They are available in online nursery stores, such as Mountain Crest Gardens and Succulents Box.

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