Why My Succulent Has Aerial Roots (Is It Bad?)

Succulent Aerial roots

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When you see fine roots coming out of the stems of your Jelly bean plant (Sedum rubrotinctum), don’t panic!  Like many other succulents with stems, roots that grow above ground or “aerial roots” are fairly common. Although they are not bad for the plant, they are trying to tell you something about the plant’s health.

Why are aerial roots growing on a succulent?

Stemmed succulents such as the Jelly bean send out aerial roots from their stems when they are dehydrated or do not get enough light. That’s because aerial roots can absorb moisture and nutrients from the air, helping the plant make up for its short supply of water. They may also grow aerial roots to anchor themselves for support.

In this article, we will look into what these aerial roots are, why they grow on the stems of succulents, and the functions they serve.

1. What do aerial roots look like on a succulent?

Roots that grow above ground and are exposed to the air most of the time are called “aerial roots”.  They are a type of adventitious roots, meaning they grow from non-root tissues, usually from the stem of a plant. 

On succulents with stems such as jelly beans, the aerial roots appear as soft white or pale pink whiskers growing along the stem of the succulent. They are thinner and more fragile than the terrestrial roots that grow in the ground.

The aerial roots start off pale pink but fade to white, eventually turning brown and drying up.

2. Do all succulents grow aerial roots?

Succulents with stems often develop air roots.  Examples include Jelly beans, Kalanchoe, Jade plants, and Echeveria.

The same is also true for ground cover succulents like the creeping sedum, which frequently grows aerial roots to help support the new growth as they spread over the ground.

Succulents without stems such as Aloe, Haworthia and Agave rarely (if ever) grow aerial roots.

3. Why do succulents grow aerial roots?

There are reasons why Jelly bean plants and other succulents sprout roots from the stem. They include:

3.1 Dehydration

One of the most common reasons succulents develops aerial roots is that they do not get enough water from the soil.

Aerial roots are able to absorb moisture from the air, and the plant sends them out to collect water from the air when the water in the soil isn’t enough. 

One common misconception about succulents is that they do not like much water, so they are often neglected and are not given enough water. But this isn’t exactly true. Succulents just prefer to be given the water all at once and the soil dries out quickly like a rainstorm in the dessert.  Succulents do not like to have roots in moist soil all the time.

If you’re not giving your Jelly bean sufficient water, it will send out aerial roots to make up for its water needs. But just because the plant is thirsty doesn’t mean you should water your succulents more frequently. You should water the plant more thoroughly instead.

The right way to water succulents is to water the soil completely until it’s soaked and water flows out of the drainage holes. Then, water the plant again only when the soil becomes dry. 

3.2 Stability

Regular roots support the plant and anchor it to the ground.

Aerial roots can also perform the function of stabilizing succulents, especially ground covers, such as creeping sedum, ice plant, etc.

Aerial roots appear as the plant spreads over the ground, stabilizing and anchoring the new parts to the ground. 

3.3 Lack of light

Light is essential for the growth of green plants, and low or insufficient light causes a condition called etiolation, where the plant has few leaves, and the stem grows thin and tall as it searches for light.

Etiolated stems may produce aerial roots to help absorb moisture and nutrients from the air, as the distance between the ground roots is too great for transporting moisture and nutrients.

Additionally, the aerial roots will support the etiolated stems, which will eventually fall to the ground as the stem keeps growing.

3.4 Genetics

Some species of succulents, especially those with stems, like jelly beans, kalanchoe, jade plants, and echeveria are more prone to developing air roots than others.

The same is also true for ground cover succulents like the creeping sedum, which frequently grows aerial roots to help support the new growth as they spread over the ground.

4. What can we do about aerial roots on succulents?

You can leave them alone. 

Aerial roots don’t pose any problem to succulents. They don’t mean that the plant is unhealthy, suffering, or in danger of dying. The aerial roots simply mean that the plant needs more care and attention. 

If you do not like how they make your succulent look, you can clip them off with disinfected scissors or a knife (to prevent infections)

If you don’t do anything, they will eventually dry out and fall off.

Nevertheless, do not dismiss the aerial roots as unimportant, as the plant produce them to help address a need.

Try to figure out the underlying problem. Or else, the aerial roots will appear again, and it might be too late for your plant.

5. Can Jellybeans propagate from aerial roots?

You can’t grow new succulents solely from aerial roots. But you can propagate new succulent babies from stem cuttings with aerial roots.

Here’s a guide to propagating succulent stem cuttings with aerial roots.

  1. Choose a stem with four to six healthy leaves and some aerial roots. It’s preferable if the roots are clustered together and the stem measures 2 to 3 inches long.
  2. Use clean and sharp pruners to cut the stem right beneath the aerial roots.
  3. Place the cutting in a shaded area for about two to three days to allow the cut to dry and scab. There’s a high risk of the cut rotting if you put it in the soil immediately, but allowing it to dry and scab reduces that risk.
  4. Disinfect the cut area by dipping the cut end of the stem in rooting powder. This step is optional, and not doing it shouldn’t affect the new plant.
  5. Prepare a potting mix of two parts sand, two parts garden soil, and one part perlite.
  6. Get a container with drain holes in the bottom and fill it with the mix.
  7. Put the root end of the cutting into the succulent mix. Everything below the lowest set of leaves should be covered with soil.
  8. Water once every week, depending on the humidity of the environment.
  9. Roots should develop from the same nodes as the aerial roots and any other nodes along the stem, and you should see new growth in about 4 to 5 weeks.

Conclusion

Aerial roots are fairly common with succulents with stems, such as Jelly bean plants. The roots are thin, soft, white, or light pink and grow along the stems of the succulent.

Aerial roots don’t pose a problem to the plant, but their presence usually indicates an underlying issue with the plant, usually related to dehydration and the lack of light.

Given time, aerial roots will shrivel up and fall off. Too many of these roots can make the succulent look somewhat messy and can be clipped off.

You can propagate succulents using cuttings with aerial roots. Once in the soil, the aerial root node will be stimulated to produce true roots for the new plant.

Happy growing!

Related

Top 18 Plants with Aerial Roots: What are Aerial Roots?

4 Effective Ways to Promote Aerial Roots

Cleaning Soil Off Succulent Roots:  4 Simple Steps

How Much Light Succulents Need? (Not Too Much Or Too Little)

References

University of Miami (n.d.). Plants and the Environment: Tropisms, Circadian Rhythms and More.

University of Minnesota Extension (n.d.). Cacti and succulents.

Warambhe, S. (2017). An overview of etiolation in plants. International Journal of Photochemistry.

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