Saucer Plant

Aeonium tabuliforme

Raquel Patro

Published in

Aeonium tabuliforme
The flowering of the Saucer Plant.
The flowering of the Saucer Plant. Photo by Andy Mabbett

Popularly known as the saucer plant (Aeonium tabuliforme) due to its flat, circular shape, this species stands out not only for its curious appearance but also for its remarkable hardiness. Indeed, the saucer plant was honored with the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, a testament to its value as an ornamental and its resilience under different cultivation conditions.

Its tolerance to poor soils and its ability to thrive in both full sun and partial shade make Aeonium tabuliforme a versatile choice for gardeners of varying skill levels. The origin of the name Aeonium comes from the Greek “aiṓnion,” meaning “eternal,” a reference to the longevity of these perennial plants. The specific epithet tabuliforme, derived from Latin, refers to its flattened shape (“tabula” means “board” or “plate” and “forme” indicates form), a description of its distinct silhouette.

Native to the Canary Islands, more precisely to the moist cliffs facing north and the rocky crevices on the island of Tenerife, the Aeonium tabuliforme has evolved into a flattened form that maximizes sunlight capture in its vertical habitat, while minimizing exposure to strong wind and evaporation.

The most remarkable aspect of the Aeonium tabuliforme is its almost flat rosette, composed of succulent leaves densely overlapping in a spiral from a short or almost non-existent stem, giving it a disc or plate-like appearance. This rosette can reach up to 18 inches (45 cm) in diameter, varying in height from just about 0.8 to 2 inches (2 to 5 cm), depending on cultivation conditions and the plant’s age. This rosette displays impressive radial symmetry, contributing to the plant’s stunning appearance. The peculiar shape of the rosette is not merely decorative; it has an evolutionary function, allowing the plant to maximize sunlight capture in its natural habitat while minimizing wind exposure and reducing water loss through evaporation.

The leaves of Aeonium tabuliforme are light green, more or less spatulate, ending abruptly in a short, sharp tip. Although fleshy, they are thinner and softer compared to other succulents. Moreover, these leaves, measuring 1.2 to 4 inches (3 to 10 cm) in length by 1 to 1.6 inches (2.5 to 4 cm) in width, have margins adorned by delicate cilia. The roots of Aeonium tabuliforme are relatively small and superficial, adapted to quickly absorb available moisture in its natural environment, consisting mainly of vertical cracks in rock formations.

The Aeonium tabuliforme in its habitat, in Tenerife
The Aeonium tabuliforme in its habitat, in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Photo by pantalaimon

After several years of growth, the plant produces a strong erect floral stem that can reach 16 to 24 inches (40 to 60 cm) in height, culminating in a dense inflorescence of the raceme type with numerous small, yellow, star-shaped flowers. These flowers, which typically appear in the spring, mark the monocarpic life cycle of the plant, as after flowering, the main rosette enters into decline. However, before reaching this terminal stage, the plant can produce “pups” or lateral shoots at the base of the stem and on the floral stalk, ensuring its continuity.

There are also two variations of the species, the Cristata form and the Variegata variety. The A. tabuliforme f. cristatum is a form that develops through a cristate mutation. This mutation causes the plant to grow in a wavy and twisted manner, forming a gentle mountain of fan-shaped sections that may alternate between the cristate and normal modes over the years. Thus, each plant presents a unique growth pattern, adding an unusual shape to the collection.

The variety A. tabuliforme ‘variegatum’ stands out for its variegated leaves, where the darker green is framed by white edges, creating a beautiful contrast. This variegation not only enhances the beauty of the natural pattern of the leaves but also adds a new interest to the plant, with a touch of brightness typical of variegated plants. It is important to note that like other variegated plants, this variety shows slower growth compared to the type species.

In landscaping, the Aeonium tabuliforme is exceptionally versatile, adapting well to rock gardens, succulent gardens, and environments with Mediterranean and arid themes. Its tolerance to poor soils and its resistance to periods of drought allow it to thrive in conditions where many other plants might not survive, offering a low-maintenance option for challenging areas of the garden, such as in raised beds. Moreover, its resistance to pests and diseases minimizes the need for pesticide applications.

The interesting spiral arrangement of the Saucer Plant.
The interesting spiral arrangement of the Saucer Plant.

Composing with the saucer plant in mini-gardens and open terrariums is another way to appreciate its unique aspect and compact size. In open terrarium arrangements, it can serve as a focal point or complement to other succulents and cacti, creating an intriguing miniature landscape. The ability to grow in sandy or rocky substrates with excellent drainage aligns with the needs of many other succulent plants, facilitating the creation of a harmonious small-scale garden.

The Aeonium tabuliforme thrives in full sun to partial shade, although the coloration of its leaves is more vibrant when the plant receives plenty of light. However, it is essential to avoid direct sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day, especially in warmer climates, as this can cause leaf burns. Filtered light or partial shade during the peak heat hours helps maintain the ideal balance. The species adapts well to indoor environments, where it can enjoy filtered sunlight and protection from extreme temperatures, especially in regions with tropical or equatorial climates, where outdoor conditions may be too harsh for its year-round outdoor cultivation.

The saucer plant is tolerant of brief cold periods but is sensitive to frost. In regions where winter temperatures drop to freezing limits, it is advisable to grow the plant in pots that can be brought indoors during the colder months.

A well-drained soil is crucial for the successful cultivation of Aeonium tabuliforme. A potting mix suitable for cacti or succulents, enriched with fibrous organic material, can provide the necessary drainage and nutrients. The addition of sand or perlite further improves drainage and porosity, preventing water accumulation and potential root rot issues.

Terracotta or ceramic pots are a good choice due to their porosity, which helps avoid moisture buildup, and their refractory characteristic, which prevents excessive heat. Good drainage holes are essential. Given the plant’s relatively shallow root system, a wide and shallow pot is ideal to accommodate its growth. Consider the saucer-like growth, and allow enough space for the succulent to develop “its leaf plate.” Avoid using a saucer under the pot.

The Aeonium tabuliforme likes to root between rocky crevices, and its foliage adapts to the shape of the stones.
The Aeonium tabuliforme likes to root between rocky crevices, and its foliage adapts to the shape of the stones. Photo by Gianluca Cosmacini

During the growing season, in autumn, winter, and spring, monthly fertilization with a balanced fertilizer, diluted to 1/4, can promote healthy growth. Even better if a fertilizer with micronutrients suitable for cacti and succulents is used. It is important to avoid fertilization during the dormancy period in summer when the plant reduces its active growth.

Watering should be adapted to the seasons, being more frequent during the growth months (autumn to spring) and reduced in summer. The soil should dry out completely between waterings to avoid waterlogging. During the dormancy period, in summer, watering should be minimized to just enough to prevent the plant from drying out.

Aeonium tabuliforme is generally resistant to pests and diseases but can be susceptible to spider mites, aphids, and scale insects under conditions of water stress or excessive heat. Appropriate fungicides can be used to treat fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew, although prevention through proper cultural practices is preferable.

Propagation of Aeonium tabuliforme can be performed by seeds, rooting of leaves while still attached to the mother plant, separation of shoots on the flower stem, and decapitation. Seed propagation is the most common for this species, as, although slow, it produces the largest number of seedlings. However, seed propagation is not recommended for the multiplication of cristate or variegated plants, as seeds tend to not reproduce the characteristics of the mother plant.

In early spring, spread the seeds over a light and well-drained substrate, ideally a mix of sand and peat. Cover the seeds lightly with a thin layer of the substrate. Keep the substrate lightly moist, but not waterlogged, and in an area with bright indirect light. The ideal temperature for germination is between 66-75°F (19-24°C). After germination and when the seedlings have grown enough to be handled, transplant them carefully into their individual pots.

Propagation by rooting of leaves kept on the mother plant is a peculiar technique to Aeonium tabuliforme, given its unique structure. Its leaves do not have much reserve, and thus simple leaf cuttings tend not to be very successful. Choose a healthy and intact leaf on the floral stem of the plant. Lightly scratch the underside of the leaf or make a small cut to stimulate root formation. Maintain normal cultivation conditions. The leaf will begin to develop roots while still attached to the mother plant. Once the leaf has developed robust roots, it can be carefully removed and planted in its own pot.

After flowering, Aeonium tabuliforme can produce shoots along the inflorescence stem. Wait until the shoots have grown enough to be safely removed, usually when they have a few leaves of their own. Cut the shoots from the flower stem with a clean, sharp knife. Allow the shoots to cure (dry) for a few days to form a callus over the cut. Plant the cured shoots in a well-drained substrate, keeping lightly moist until they establish new roots.

After flowering, the rosette begins to perish.
After flowering, the rosette begins to perish. Photo by Opuntia.

Beheading is used to rejuvenate a plant or stimulate the production of lateral shoots. Using a sterilized cutting tool, behead the plant’s rosette, leaving a few inches of stem at the base. Let the rosette and the remaining stem dry for a few days under shade until the cut forms a callus. Plant the rosette in a new pot with well-drained substrate. The remaining stem at the base usually produces new shoots. Gradually acclimate the small plants to sunnier conditions as they grow.

About Raquel Patro

Raquel Patro is a landscaper and founder of the Since 2006, she has been developing specialized content on plants and gardens, as she believes that everyone, whether amateurs or professionals, should have access to quality content. As a geek, she likes books, science fiction and technology.