How To Grow & Care For the Lifesaver Cactus

Lifesaver Cactus

The Lifesaver Cactus, a fascinating and distinctive succulent, draws its name from the unique appearance of its star-shaped flowers, which resemble a lifebuoy or lifesaver candy. These fascinating flowers, often with a vibrant red or deep maroon color, can be quite a conversation starter and make the plant a desirable addition to many indoor plant collections.

Native to the dry and arid regions of eastern and southern Africa, the Lifesaver Cactus is scientifically known as Huernia zebrina. Despite its name, it’s not a true cactus but belongs to the Apocynaceae family. The plant’s trailing stems and textured appearance add to its charm, and it has become a popular choice among succulent enthusiasts.

Caring for the Lifesaver Cactus is relatively simple, making it suitable for both novice and experienced gardeners. However, it does have specific requirements regarding light, water, soil, and temperature that must be understood to keep the plant thriving and blooming.

Common NamesLifesaver Cactus, Lifebuoy Plant
Botanical NameHuernia zebrina
Plant TypeSucculent
Mature Size4-6 inches tall, 12 inches wide
Sun ExposureBright, indirect light
Soil TypeWell-drained, cactus mix
Hardiness Zones10-11
Native AreaEastern and Southern Africa

Lifesaver Cactus Care

Caring for the Lifesaver Cactus is not particularly demanding, and it’s known for its hardiness and ability to tolerate neglect to some extent. The plant thrives with good light and a proper watering schedule, allowing the soil to dry between waterings.

Fertilization is minimal, and pruning is mostly unnecessary unless controlling its growth or removing dead parts. One must be attentive to the Lifesaver Cactus’s specific needs, particularly regarding soil and water, to keep it healthy and encourage the appearance of its striking flowers.

Light Requirement for Lifesaver Cactus

The Lifesaver Cactus thrives in bright but indirect sunlight. Too much direct sunlight can scorch the plant, while insufficient light may lead to weak growth and fewer blooms. A sunny window with filtered light or a spot with partial shade is ideal.

Soil Requirements for Lifesaver Cactus

A well-drained soil mix, specifically designed for cacti and succulents, is ideal for the Lifesaver Cactus. It’s essential to avoid waterlogged soil as this can lead to root rot. If using regular potting soil, consider adding sand or perlite to improve drainage.

Water Requirements for Lifesaver Cactus

While the Lifesaver Cactus is drought-resistant, regular watering during the growing season will keep it healthy. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and reduce watering during the winter months. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other problems.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant prefers warm temperatures and low humidity, mimicking its natural desert habitat. It can tolerate a range of indoor temperatures but should be protected from frost if kept outdoors.


A diluted, balanced fertilizer designed for cacti and succulents can be applied during the growing season. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can cause weak growth and fewer flowers.

Pruning Lifesaver Cactus

Pruning is generally unnecessary except for controlling the plant’s size or removing dead or diseased parts. Care should be taken not to damage healthy stems.

Propagating Lifesaver Cactus

Propagating the Lifesaver Cactus is done through stem cuttings. Allow the cuttings to dry for a day or two before planting in a well-draining soil mix.

How To Grow Lifesaver Cactus From Seed

Growing this plant from seed can be a slow and challenging process. Fresh seeds should be sown in a well-drained mix, and patience is required as germination may take several weeks or even months.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases


Mealybugs can be treated with insecticidal soap or alcohol.

Root Rot

Caused by overwatering, root rot can be avoided by using well-drained soil and a proper watering schedule.

Common Problems With Lifesaver Cactus

Yellowing Stems

This may be a sign of overwatering. Adjust the watering schedule and ensure proper drainage.

Lack of Blooms

Insufficient light or improper feeding can result in a lack of flowers. Ensure the plant receives bright, indirect sunlight and consider a balanced fertilizer during the growing season.

Pro Tips

  1. Avoid overwatering and use well-draining soil to prevent root rot.
  2. Provide bright, indirect sunlight for optimal growth and flowering.
  3. Protect the plant from frost if kept outdoors.
  4. Use a diluted fertilizer during the growing season for better blooms.