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Gardening 101: Burro’s Tail Succulent

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Gardening 101: Burro’s Tail Succulent

December 5, 2018

Burro’s Tail, Sedum morganianum

Honestly, burro’s tail (which also goes by the alias donkey’s tail) can be a tricky succulent plant to grow indoors. My experience with Sedum morganianum as a houseplant has been mixed: Although it belongs to the hardy sedum family, this plant is physically fragile and prone to drop its leaves. That said, if you’re a confident houseplant collector, I don’t want to scare you away from this theatrical succulent, with its luxurious, pendulous stems covered in leaves that resemble plump grains of rice.

The problem? Those fall off burro’s tail very easily. Every time you pick it up, water it, or even look the plant directly in the eye as you walk past, you will be punished. Lots of little green rice will fall off whenever burro’s tail feels defensive. The best way to treat burro’s tail, frankly, is to ignore it. Put it in an out-of-the-way spot with bright, indirect light and then come back in a month or so to see if it needs a little water. Please, don’t even think about trying to repot it.

The good news? You can propagate new plants from each leaf. And I don’t want to scare you off, if you are the sort of houseplant whisperer that can keep anything alive. (Do your orchids bloom again and again? Have you had your African violet longer than your cat? If so, burro’s tail is the succulent for you.)

Would you prefer to grow burro’s tail outdoors in the garden? Read on for growing tips:

 This is my burro&#8\2\17;s tail. Note the scabby bare spots (at right) where leaves fell off. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: This is my burro’s tail. Note the scabby bare spots (at right) where leaves fell off. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

To recap: Don’t give burro’s tail too much water or it will rot. Don’t jostle it because its leaves fall off easily. Other than that, it’s an easy plant to grow: give it partial sun, cool temperatures, and well-drained soil.

Depending on the cultivar, the leaves can be pointed or rounded; &#8\2\16;Burrito&#8\2\17; is a variety known for its round, pillowy leaves. A Sedum Burrito is £8 from Folia Planting.
Above: Depending on the cultivar, the leaves can be pointed or rounded; ‘Burrito’ is a variety known for its round, pillowy leaves. A Sedum Burrito is £8 from Folia Planting.
Tiny red flowers (or sometimes white or yellow, depending on the cultivar) appear seasonally on burro&#8\2\17;s tail succulents. Photograph by Manuel MV via Flickr.
Above: Tiny red flowers (or sometimes white or yellow, depending on the cultivar) appear seasonally on burro’s tail succulents. Photograph by Manuel MV via Flickr.

Some prefer pointy leaves (grains of rice) and others prefer round pearls. Both versions of Sedum morganianum grow long, lovely tails.

See more of this collection of succulents at Steal This Look: An Indoor Succulent Garden, Shiny Shelving Included. Photograph by Fiona Gilsenan.
Above: See more of this collection of succulents at Steal This Look: An Indoor Succulent Garden, Shiny Shelving Included. Photograph by Fiona Gilsenan.

Burro’s tail is easier to grow outdoors than in if you live in a warm climate (USDA growing zones 9 to 11). Sedum morganianum is a stonecrop, a family of hardy garden succulents. You can plant it at the edge of wall or in a well-drained container, allowing the stems to spill over the side,. Make sure  it’s protected from blistering hot sun and water it every month or so if necessary.

Cheat Sheet

  • Burro’s tail is a showstopper in a hanging basket, where its long, luxurious stems can drape over the side. The stems are heavy with the weight of water-filled leaves,  but I’ve seen them grow as long as two feet without trouble.
  • Depending on the cultivar, foliage can range from gray-green, to true green, to blue-green.
  • Like many succulents, burro’s tail may produce a chalky white wax which protects it from sun exposure. Known as epicuticular wax, this layer also helps succulents retain moisture.
A \2.5-inch Donkey&#8\2\17;s Tail Succulent is \$3.50 from Pigment.
Above: A 2.5-inch Donkey’s Tail Succulent is $3.50 from Pigment.

Keep It Alive

  • Burro’s tail is drought tolerant (those pillow leaves retain water). Don’t water it more than once a month. (Soak the soil thoroughly, then make sure to let the topsoil dry out completely before watering again.)
  • For a container plant, choose a pot with a drainage hole and use potting mix suitable for cacti.
  • Perennial in USDA growing zones 9 to 11, burro’s tail is native eastern Mexico and Honduras and accordingly, it expects warm temperatures year-round in the garden.
 Above Propagate by cuttings. See more at The New Sharing Economy, Plant Swap Edition.
Above Propagate by cuttings. See more at The New Sharing Economy, Plant Swap Edition.

Discovered by American botanist Eric Walther while he was traveling through Mexico in the 1930s, burro’s tail came back with him to California, where it has been cultivated ever since. For more of the fascinating story of how Mr. Walther first saw the succulent growing in a small town near Jalapa, Mexico, see a report from the Cactus and Succulent Journal of America.

For more growing tips, see Burro’s Tail: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated Garden Design 101 guides to Succulents & Cacti. Read more:

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