The Slipper Plant

Dannette Hunnel

The slipper plant is recognized as a succulent with green stems that grow upright from its root. With its woody, waxy look, many assume it’s bamboo. It’s a unique perennial with two-inch-wide, orange, slipper-shaped flowers along the stems—hence, the name. Some say the blooms look more like a mini orange bird of paradise or little orange seahorses. Unfortunately, the flowers drop just three to five days after they appear but are so small and so few that it is not considered a dirty plant. The plants’ jointed stems are three-quarters inch thick and can grow up to five feet tall, standing up well in the Arizona winds and even our monsoons. The plant can spread to three feet wide.

Because this plant hails from Colima, Mexico, it can hold up in full sun but prefers eastern daytime sunlight. If possible, it’s best to give some light shade during the hottest part of the day. If the plant is in the shade often, the stems will reach toward the sun, creating a unique, tropical look. The plant tolerates reflected heat, too. The slipper plant stores moisture and requires less water than most desert plants. It does need well-draining and porous soil. Use one-half planting mix and one-half potting soil. Fertilizer is not necessary, but a bit of succulent food or bone meal and vitamin B upon planting wouldn’t hurt. This plant can do well in large planters, but be aware that planters made of ceramic, terracotta, or plastic will keep the plant warmer, so a little extra water and/or shade added to the plant from July to October always helps, but never allow the soil to become wet and mushy. In March/April break off those dried, woody stems down to the root and toss in the trash. This exotic plant comes available for purchase around the end of March through the 1st of May where other plants are sold. This plant does need covering when temps drop below 32 degrees F. Added feature of the slipper plant? It attracts hummingbirds and blooms twice a year, between February and May and again August to October.

A height of three to five feet tall will make it noticeable in any garden, especially a desert landscape. The slipper plant is a fun, green, low-maintenance, backyard conversation piece with its simplistic beauty and peculiarity.