Why Do Succulents Turn Red Or Change Colors

Like you, I have also wondered why my succulents are turning red or changing colors. After I learned more about why succulents change colors, I began to appreciate these color changes more and actually enjoy seeing them in my plants. While these changes are usually harmless, here are a few things you should know about color changes in succulents. 

So Why Do Succulents Turn Red Or Change Colors In The First Place?

Succulents turn red in response to the extreme conditions in their environment. Pay attention to your plant and you will notice that it starts to turn red or change its color when faced with one or more of these conditions:

  • When the plant is exposed to a lot of sun, especially full sun.
  • When the weather turns really hot or really cold. You will notice your plant turning red or changing colors during the hot summer months and cold winter months.
  • When the plant is watered sparingly. When the plant is not receiving regular watering it starts to appear less green and you will notice it turning a different shade.
  • When the plant is not well fed. When you do not feed or fertilize your plant regularly, you will notice the color changes in your plant.
  • When the plant is in poor soil. Along with not fertilizing regularly, when your plant is sitting in infertile soil or soil that is not rich in nutrients, you will see these color changes more.

When a succulent experiences one or more of these conditions mentioned above, the plant is actually under ‘stress’. The plant is reacting to the extremes in the environment by exhibiting these color changes.

What Is Stress and Does It Harm the Plant?

When you think about where succulents come from and how they grow in their natural habitat, it makes sense that succulents seem to grow even more beautiful under stress. Most succulents come from dry, arid areas and desert conditions. Some succulents are found in mountainous regions, rain forests, and even sea coasts.

Succulents naturally grow in regions that are considered uninhabitable by other plants. Their natural habitats are usually too harsh for other plants to survive. For these reasons, succulents are highly adaptable to survive and thrive in extreme environmental conditions. Therefore when succulents are under stress in cultivation, it is like mimicking their natural environment.

The plants are not being harmed by it but are in fact designed to live under these conditions. They are highly equipped to survive and thrive in these environments.

Why Do Succulents Change Colors Under Stress?

Aside from red, succulents can also turn different shades of yellow, orange, purple, blue and black. This is due to the natural pigmentation present in plants that are also found in fruits. Without being too technical, these pigments are called anthocyanins and carotenoids and they are responsible for color changes that take place in plants. These pigments are also found in fruits that are high in antioxidants.

This tells us that these pigments present in fruits that are responsible for providing us with precious antioxidants in our diets are also present in plants to protect them from their environment. This serves as the the plant’s built-in mechanism to protect it from extreme climate changes such as extreme heat and drought.

While stress can bring out amazing colors and beauty in succulents, there are other types of stress to watch out for that signal that the plant is in trouble.

How To Tell If Your Plant Is In Trouble: Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

Is there such a thing as good stress and bad stress in succulents? Yes. Generally speaking, a stressed plant that is healthy will maintain its original shape and features while changing its color. A stressed plant in trouble will appear distorted, disfigured or just unwell.

Getting to know the type of plant you have will help you determine whether the plant is in trouble or not. Some succulent plants naturally get reddish tips on their leaves when exposed to full sun or extreme heat. The plant is coping with the extreme heat by producing a red pigment (carotenoids) on its foliage to protect itself from sunburn. We can call this ‘good stress’ because the plant is not being damaged by it but actually brings out the beauty and color of the plant.

On the other hand, reddish tints on succulents’ leaves and stems could be a sign of an insect infestation such as spider mites, which leave red marks on the plant. The leaves would also appear misshapen, which signals something is wrong with the plant. We can call this ‘bad stress’ because the plant is actually being harmed and you need to take immediate action to save the plant. 

When you see red hues on your plant, examine it to see whether or not it is a natural process or something else is bugging the plant.

Some plants turn a nice shade of yellow-orange when exposed to full sun, extreme heat and very dry conditions. This is the plant’s way of coping with the extreme environmental conditions to protect itself. This is ‘good stress’ because the plant is not suffering and you do not need to take immediate action.

On the other hand, a plant can turn yellow from overwatering or constantly wet soil. Along with yellowing of the leaves you will also notice that the leaves are soft and mushy. This is ‘bad stress’ and you need to fix the situation before it becomes worse.

Unlike ‘bad stress’, with ‘good stress’ there are no accompanying signs or symptoms like mushy leaves to signal that the plant is in trouble. 

Some plants such as the Echeveria ‘black prince’ and Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ (Black Rose) turn a beautiful shade of dark purple to black under ‘good stress’. Pamper these same plants, keep them in the shade with regular watering and they will lose these beautiful pigmentation and will turn to green.

However, if you see some your succulents turning black from the bottom up with leaves falling off, this is definitely considered  ‘bad stress’. This is when the plant is rotting from the root up. The leaves turn black and the stems rot. You need to take action immediately or you can lose the plant. 

It doesn’t take much to get to know your plants so you can figure out whether they are under good or bad stress. After a while, you would be able to tell the difference.

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