Conophytum ficiforme (Button Plants)

Conophytum ficiforme
Conophytum ficiforme. Close up of low lying succulent cacti with flowers.

Conophytum ficiforme, or button plants, are succulent and drought-tolerant members of the Aizoaceae family native to South Africa. These small (1-3 inches in diameter) and colorful plants are popular houseplants due to their interesting growth forms, low maintenance needs, and resistance to root rot and other diseases

Think you don’t have enough room in your home or apartment to grow plants? If so, it’s time to reconsider this belief. Conophytum ficiforme (button plants) require little care and only need one watering every two weeks to stay alive, making them the perfect plant for those with limited space or beginners who are just learning how to take care of houseplants.

Conophytum ficiforme are some of the most popular succulents in the world, and if you have one in your collection, you probably already know this! They’re extremely unique looking, with symmetrical leaves that resemble tiny flowers, hence their name!

While button plants aren’t as popular as other succulents, they have many qualities that make them an excellent addition to any home decor.

Read below everything you need to know about caring for conophytum ficiforme (button plants).

Origin and distribution

The genus Conophytum is native to South Africa. It has since been introduced to other parts of that country and is also cultivated in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Conophytum ficiforme was described by Hermann Friedrich Eversmann in 1847.

He named it after its shape, which resembles a fig. The plants are commonly known as button plants or piggy banks due to their shape. They can be found in many nurseries across southern Africa, where they are sold as novelty houseplants or small potted succulents for landscaping purposes.

Although some have grown them outdoors during summer months with success, most keep them indoors year-round. Button plants grow best in bright indirect light or filtered sunlight and should not be exposed to direct sunlight because it will burn their leaves.

Even though they are drought tolerant once established, water should still be provided regularly because it helps prevent yellowing leaves caused by too much sun exposure.

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Conophytum ficiforme propagation

Conophytum ficiforme

Conophytums are monocarpic, which means they will bloom only once and then die. However, propagating offshoots may be possible and is worth trying if you have time. To propagate from an offshoot, simply cut it away from its parent plant with a sharp knife or scissors.

This should be done in early spring or late summer when temperatures are warm but not hot. Allow your new plant to dry for a few days before placing it in the soil. Make sure that there is good drainage in your potting soil so that water does not pool around your conophytum’s roots and cause root rot.

Water lightly until new growth appears and then begin to gradually increase watering frequency as your plant grows. It takes about one year for a conophytum ficiforme to reach maturity, at which point it can be transplanted into a larger container. If transplanting your button plant, try to do so during a period of cooler weather.

Avoid moving them during very hot or cold periods of weather because they are particularly sensitive to temperature changes. When moving your conophytum, take care not to damage any of its fine roots; use your fingers instead of forceps or other tools when handling it.

Conophytum ficiforme care information

Conophytum ficiforme

Conophytums are small, winter-growing succulents. They do well in full sun with afternoon shade. It is best to water from below when soil is dry to prevent water from splashing on leaves.

Never let them sit in water as they are prone to rot if kept wet for long periods of time. Feed once a month in spring and summer with any balanced fertilizer and only every other month in fall and winter.

Light requirement

Conophytum ficiforme are native to dry habitats, so they can live in lower light levels than most succulents. They also grow with their bodies close to or touching soil; if you’re able to give them a few hours of bright morning sun, that’s ideal.

But overall, these plants need less light than many other succulents and can do well under fluorescent lights at work. Or try tucking them into a south-facing window!

Soil/potting mix

Conophytum ficiforme does best in sandy, well-draining soil. Many growers use a standard cactus mix, which consists of 50 percent to 70 percent sand and 30 percent peat moss. To create your own mix, you can use 2 parts coarse builder’s sand or perlite to 1 part peat moss.

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Alternatively, buy potting mix specifically designed for succulents and cacti. It usually contains sphagnum peat moss as well as other ingredients such as vermiculite, perlite, and composted bark.

Watering

Conophytum ficiforme require a moderate amount of water, but they do not like to have their soil completely saturated. If you’re growing your plants in a pot that drains well, water moderately and frequently throughout summer.

Water with some hesitation during winter, you don’t want to overwater them, but also be careful not to let their roots dry out too much. When watering conophytums, use room-temperature water.

Never use cold or hot water on these plants! It will shock them and cause damage. Use room temperature water so that it can slowly seep into their soil without shocking them.

Fertilizer

Button plants require less fertilizer than many other succulents. If you grow your plant in a container, fertilize once a month with weak liquid houseplant fertilizer. Alternatively, mix a small amount of slow-release soluble fertilizer into potting soil.

Water your plants before applying fertilizer to keep it from burning their roots. Stop fertilizing during winter dormancy and resume when new growth appears in spring.

Temperature

Conophytum ficiforme needs moderate light and does best in temperatures between 65-75 degrees. They are most active when temperatures are between 75-85 degrees, so keep an eye on them if your house tends to get hot or cold. If you have a room that stays at a constant temperature, you can use it as a mini-greenhouse for these plants.

Keep in mind that Conophytum ficiforme is from South Africa where it gets very warm during the summer months. If you live in a cooler climate, then you may want to bring it inside during the winter months and put it back outside once spring comes around again.

It’s not uncommon for button plants to go dormant during winter months, but they will come back once warmer weather returns.

Humidity

Conophytum ficiforme love high humidity, but they don’t like constantly wet roots. Grow them in well-drained soil, and place their pots on a tray of pebbles to catch any runoff. You can add up to an inch of water to their pot once per week. The soil should be damp when you touch it, but never soggy or muddy.

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The ideal humidity range is 50-80%. To increase humidity, place your Conophytum ficiforme near a humidifier or in a bathroom with a shower. Make sure to keep them out of direct sunlight and drafts.

The ideal temperature for Conophytum ficiforme is between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. They can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees, but they’ll grow more slowly and may experience leaf damage if exposed to temperatures below freezing for extended periods of time.

Pruning

It is important to prune your Conophytum ficiforme every few months in order to remove dead leaves and keep them healthy. Typically, you will want to cut off any leaves that are discolored or shriveled. To do so, use scissors and give each plant a haircut by snipping at an angle close to its base.

You can also clean up your plants by removing all of their leaves; however, it’s not recommended that you leave them leafless for more than two weeks.

If you’re worried about damaging a leafless Conophytum ficiforme, it’s best to wait until new growth appears before attempting to trim away dried-up foliage.

When to repot

Button plants thrive with little repotting, but when they get too root-bound, it’s time to give them a larger container. They are very slow growers, so leave them in their old pots for as long as possible. If you notice any drooping or wilting, chances are they need more room. Repot in spring and summer while keeping drainage holes clear of soil.

Dormancy/Winter rest

When winter arrives, place your plants in a cool and humid place. This can be either inside or outside depending on where you live. If you keep them outside make sure they are protected from frost, direct sun, and high temperatures. Keep soil moist during dormancy.

You may think that is contrary to what you should do in summer but because Conophytum ficiforme are adapted to drought it makes sense to use a dormancy period as some succulents do.

The only difference between summer and winter care is water. In other words, if you want to grow these little gems year-round treat them as annuals. Water less in summer when growth slows down and give more water in winter when growth stops completely for several months.

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Conophytum ficiforme flower & fragrance

Conophytum ficiforme

The flowers are bright yellow, round, with a petal length of about 2 to 3 millimeters. They’re short-lived and usually bloom in autumn and winter. Button plants have another distinctive feature: They give off a minty smell when you brush against them.

The source of that smell is not well understood, but it’s probably from oil glands in its leaves. The smell does not mean Conophytum ficiforme is poisonous!

Growth rate

These plants are very slow growers but they will benefit from every bit of light they get. The Conophytum ficiforme will produce offsets as they grow. Be sure to check out our instructions on dividing potted plants, and then you can take cuttings of your new baby button plant offshoots!

Toxicity

Conophytum ficiforme is a rare succulent native to South Africa. It must be handled with care; although most people will find it non-toxic, Conophytum ficiforme contains soluble oxalates which can cause severe irritation of the skin and mucous membranes.

USDA hardiness zones

Conophytum ficiforme thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11. In colder climates, they can be grown as annuals or brought indoors during winter.

Pests, diseases, and problems

Keep in mind that Conophytums require very little care but they do have their fair share of pests, diseases, and problems. As with all succulents, it is important to be observant and check your plants regularly for any issues.

In fact, they’re highly susceptible to two common problems: downy mildew and stem rot. These fungal diseases are almost always fatal if not caught in time. Conophytums with these problems should be disposed of immediately since there is no cure for either one.

I recommend you get into a routine of checking them once every few days or once a week if you’re really worried about pests or diseases.

Conclusion

Conophytum ficiforme are relatively easy to care for and only require very little in terms of sunlight. It’s best to keep these plants outside in containers during spring, summer, and fall.

During the winter months, it is best to take them inside because temperatures can get too cold for these plants if left outside. If you choose to keep them inside, it is important to make sure they receive sunlight from a southern-facing window that receives direct sunlight most of the day.