How to Care for a Lifesaver Plant Houseplant


Lifesaver Plant care is relatively easy, but there are some key points that you should know before planting your Lifesaver plant.

The Lifesaver Plant is one of the most sought-after houseplants. It has a unique and beautiful shape and can be grown in small dish gardens or bonsai containers. Lifesaver Plant care is relatively easy, but there are some key points that you should know before planting your Lifesaver plant.

The Lifesaver plant gets its name from the red stripes on the inside of its leaves, which resemble Lifesavers candy wrappers. If you want to grow a Lifesaver plant at home, here are some tips for how to care for them.

lifesaver houseplant

About Lifesaver Cactus Plant:

Scientific Name: Huernia zebrina. Huernia pronounced [hew-ERN-ee-uh], is named after Justin Heurnius, a Dutch missionary who collected plants from South Africa in the 1600s.

Common Name: Lifesaver Plant, Little Owl Eyes, Lifesaver Cactus, Carrion Flower

The Lifesaver cactus is an amazing specimen for any plant enthusiast. With its bright red stripes and easy-to-care-for nature, it is no wonder Lifesaver cactus plants are so popular in plant-lover’s homes.

Where to Buy A Lifesaver Houseplant

I bought my Lifesaver Cactus on Etsy HERE.

lifesaver plant

How to Care for a Lifesaver Plant Houseplant

Let’s go through some guidelines on how to grow and care for a Huernia zebrina (Lifesaver Plant).

Sunlight Requirements for Lifesaver Plant:

Lifesaver cactus plants need bright, indirect light. They can tolerate some direct sun, but too much will cause the leaves to bleach and turn yellow. If you are keeping your Lifesaver cactus indoors, place it near a window where it will get plenty of natural light.

Inside the home, the ideal location is by an Eastern facing window so it can get morning sunlight or a Western facing window so it can get strong afternoon sun.

My Lifesaver plant has been growing and flowering in our South-Eastern bay window. But, every home environment is different so you may need to move it around until it is happy. If you do not have sufficient lighting in your home you could supplement with a plant grow light. I use Haus Bright bulbs throughout our house and especially during the winter.

lifesaver plant

Watering Tips for Lifesaver Plant:

Lifesaver plants like to be watered thoroughly and then allowed to dry out before watering again. When planting your Lifesaver plant, make sure that the soil is porous for optimal drainage.

Your Lifesaver plant will not tolerate overwatering or soggy soil; it should never sit in water, as this can cause root rot and lead to Lifesaver cactus death.

Root rot is the number one killer of houseplants. I have a full blog post all about watering and preventing houseplant root rot HERE.

  • Signs of an Underwatered Succulent/Cactus

Your cactus tells you that it needs more moisture through one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pale, rubbery, and deflated leaves
  • Discoloration on the leaves and stems
  • Withering leaves and foliage
  • Drooping leaves
  • Dryness in appearance and to the touch
  • The lighter weight of the pot

While you may think your cactus plant is dying, it may be able to bounce back! When it begins to exhibit symptoms of being underwater, simply water it well. Allow a few days for your plant to recover and return to its normal health.

  • Signs of an Overwatered Succulent/Cactus

Overwatering is more severe of a problem than underwatering since the effects of excess moisture are often irreversible. Here are the signs of overwatering in cactus:

  • Rotting or decaying plants
  • Leaves and base are turning brown or black
  • Plants appear plump

lifesaver houseplant

Lifesaver Plant Fertilizer Requirements

Lifesaver plants do not require much fertilizer. A light application of a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every other month during the spring and summer is sufficient.

Lifesaver Houseplant Soil, Potting, and Repotting

Soil: The best soil for Lifesaver plants is one that is loose and well-draining. You can buy a good cactus soil mix or make your own blend of 1 part potting soil, 1 part sand, 1 part perlite.

Potting: The best pot for a lifesaver plant is one that is unglazed/painted so that it can allow evaporation of excess moisture.

Repotting: You will rarely need to repot your Lifesaver plant. They prefer a slightly crowded environment and this will also keep a tight, compact plant. Change the soil every two years, but you can usually keep the same pot.

Lifesaver Plant Propagation:

Lifesavers can be propagated by stem cuttings or leaf cuttings. Lifesavers are considered an easy-to-root plant because it does not require special treatment for propagation; just place the cutting in moist soil and it will start to grow.

Easy Propagation Directions:

  1. Cut off a portion of the stem and allow the end to dry and callous over for 3days. (You want to dry or callous the end in order to help prevent rotting.)
  2. Plant cutting in a small pot of soil.
  3. Water the small plant and you will see growth within a couple of months!

Mealybug Treatment for Lifesaver Plant:

Lifesaver plants do not really attract bugs. The most common pest would be Mealybugs that can affect Lifesaver cactus plants. These tiny insects attach themselves to the leaves or stems of the plant and suck the sap, which can cause the leaves to wilt and the plant to die.

If you notice mealybugs on your Lifesaver plant, treat them with horticultural neem oil, rubbing alcohol mixed with water, or insecticidal soap.


The Lifesaver Plant is a fun addition to any home because they’re low maintenance! It’s easy to care for and will grow beautifully if you just give it the right balance of sunlight exposure, water, and fertilization that it requires. If you follow this guide closely then your plant should do well for you in the long term.

Looking to purchase a Lifesaver Cactus? One of my favorite places to buy practically any houseplant online is Etsy.

Check out the Lifesaver Cactus Plants on Etsy HERE!

Huernia Zebrina Lifesaver
Etsy Seller Huernia Zebrina Lifesaver


How much light does Lifesaver Plant need when you put them indoors?

The Lifesaver Plant grows well in full sun. These plants are found throughout the arid regions of Southern Africa and the Mediterranean.

Is a Lifesaver Plant a Cactus or a succulent?

The lifesaver plant is commonly called a “Lifesaver Cactus” because of its spiky stems. But, the Huernia zebrina, is in fact not a cactus despite its common name! It is a succulent.

What is the difference between a succulent and a cactus?

Succulents and cacti are two different types of plants that have similar characteristics. Both feature thick, fleshy leaves or stems to store water for times when there is little rainfall. Succulents can come from desert habitats as well as grasslands; they need a dry climate with infrequent rainfall whereas cacti prefer warm, dry climates. Cacti are generally characterized by spines while succulents tend to have either none or tiny, almost unnoticeable thorns.

Another difference is that cactus leaves grow in a spiral shape around the stem of the plant, whereas succulent leaves grow in clusters along the base/stem of the plant (whereas succulent leaves grow in clusters along the base/stem of the plant, cactus leaves grow in a spiral shape around it).

lifesaver houseplant

How much fertilizer should I give my Lifesaver Plant?

When you are first bringing your opuntia home from summer vacation, feed them once with half-strength general purpose liquid fertilizer. Then wait another month before feeding it again. Once you begin to see flowers or fruit growing, switch your feeding schedule for half-strength fertilizer every two weeks rather than weekly.

Is a Lifesaver Plant toxic?

This plant is part of the milkweed family which means it is toxic to animals and people if ingested or if the latex “sap” gets into your eyes. This plant produces a white latex which is poisonous if eaten and which can cause eye damage when in contact with the eye.

How often should I water my cactus/succulent plants?

Generally, cactus and succulents will need watering every 7 to 10 days for optimal growth during the spring and summer months.

But, you cannot set a fixed watering schedule with cactus plants because many factors affect the plants’ watering needs.

For example, indoor cactus plants require less watering than outdoor cactus plants because their growing conditions are different. And, indoor cactus plants that live in the Midwest may need less water than indoor cactus growing on the West Coast.

Another factor when it comes to watering cactus plants is the plant’s age. Younger cactus plants need more frequent watering to support their growth. These plants also require more watering in spring and summer than in colder months since they are actively growing. My “baby” Lifesaver Plant is about 2 years old and requires a lot of water! It surprised me when I first got it how much water it drinks!

How do I water my Lifesaver Plant?

Water your Lifesaver plant only after the soil has been completely dry for at least 90%. To determine when to water, keep an eye on the plant’s health and the state of the ground. Check the moisture levels with a moisture probe or your fingertips. Water your cacti in the morning before any excess moisture accumulates throughout the day. This will help prevent any bacteria or mold from growing.


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