Conophytum calculus, more commonly known as the marble buttons succulent, is a small succulent plant that grows without needing any water or soil at all.
In fact, it’s so adept at conserving water that its stems are actually covered in tiny pores and translucent hairs which help to capture and retain humidity from the air around it, allowing this plant to survive in even the aridest of environments.
Marble buttons are succulents that grow very easily in the right environment, but they’re quite temperamental and difficult to maintain if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Their nickname comes from their habit of plumping up into little marble-like protrusions during their growth period, so it’s easy to see why someone might make the connection between conophytum calculus and marbles!
Conophytum calculus is an interesting South African species of plant in the Aizoaceae family. It’s fairly easy to grow and propagate, but it does need some special care that it doesn’t get in order to thrive properly.
Origin and descriptions
Conophytum calculus is a type of succulent that originates from Western Cape Province, South Africa. This particular species of succulents can be found in several places throughout South Africa, as well as Namibia and Swaziland. All members of Conophytum are endemic to Southern Africa.
They generally live in extremely arid regions that experience both summer and winter seasons, Conophytum calculus can be found in rocky crevices, often on cliffsides or hillsides that face north or east. These plants grow slowly and have only two growth periods per year: one during late spring/early summer, and another during late autumn/early winter.
During these periods they grow new leaves as well as flowers and fruit. The fruit of Conophytum calculus is edible for humans, though it must be boiled first due to its bitter taste. It has been used traditionally by indigenous peoples for medicinal purposes, majorly for stomach aches or nausea after consuming spoiled meat.
Conophytum calculus propagation
Conophytums are very easy to propagate by stem cuttings. Just clip a stem, let it dry for several days, then stick it in some coarse sand or gravel with a little bit of water and let it sit on your windowsill or under your grow lights. It should root in a few weeks, after which you can transplant it into your potting mix.
You can also propagate conos from leaf cuttings—just make sure that you have at least two leaves per cutting. You’ll also want to make sure that both leaves have developed their baby teeth before cutting them off; these will be used as anchoring points for new roots.
Keep your cuttings moist but not wet, and keep them out of direct sunlight. Once they’ve rooted, plant them in small pots until they get big enough to plant outside. Conophytums love to be transplanted! If you want more than one plant, just keep taking cuttings until you have enough.
Be careful when taking cuttings though—you don’t want to break any teeth! That could cause problems down the road.
In addition to propagation via stem and leaf cuttings, conos can also be propagated by seed. The seeds are tiny and hard to see, but they’re there! Conophytums are self-pollinating, so you don’t need a second plant for pollination.
If you’re having trouble finding seeds in your own plants though, you can collect them from other people’s plants—just make sure that they haven’t been treated with any kind of pesticide or fungicide first!
Conophytum calculus care information
During dormancy, Conophytums need very little water. During their growing season, they need to be watered more often. It is important to not overwater them. Like all succulents, overwatering is fatal, but underwatering can lead to rotted roots and eventually a plant that no longer produces offsets or flowers.
The main way to tell if your conophytum needs water is by observing if it needs its soil re-wet or dried out completely. The conophytums make great additions to any succulent collection. While their care requirements are similar to other succulents, they have a unique look and can thrive in a wide range of environments.
Here are some tips for keeping your marble button plant happy and healthy!
This succulent can grow outside in full sun, but will require protection from intense heat. Marble buttons do best with about six hours of direct sunlight a day. If you can’t provide direct sun, try to get two to three hours of filtered light or an east-facing window.
Avoid full shade since your plants will become stretched and leggy without enough light. They need well-drained soil to thrive, water only when dry, and let them go completely dry between waterings to prevent rot.
You’ll need some good-quality, fast-draining soil to plant your conophytums in. Well-draining soil is important because you don’t want to overwater your succulents or rot their roots. You also don’t want them sitting in water for too long, which can cause root damage.
My favorite potting mix is a combination of about 70 percent pumice and 30 percent regular cactus/succulent soil. Pumice is great because it allows for excellent drainage while still retaining moisture well.
It’s pretty lightweight as well, so it won’t weigh down your pots when you start filling them with rocks and other decorative elements. The last thing you want to do is put your plants at risk by using an inferior potting mix!
Watering the marble buttons succulent
Conophytums are almost always in need of water, especially during warmer weather. Overwatering is just as harmful as underwatering when it comes to these plants. It’s recommended that you check them daily, and provide water only when their soil is dry.
Once they are established and growing well, they will be able to handle more time between watering periods. If your conophytum is wilting or drooping at any point, try misting it with a spray bottle instead of giving it a heavy dose of water. This can help perk up your plant without drowning it.
Conophytums are considered to be cool weather plants, which means that they should not be exposed to temperatures over 90 degrees.
If you’re growing them indoors, place them near a window where they can soak up sunlight during cooler hours of the day and then move them away from the direct sun after sunset. Use containers with good drainage holes and make sure that you allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Dry air and extreme temperatures can dry out or burn your marble buttons succulent. Be sure to keep your marble button’s soil moderately moist, with a humidity level of 50 to 70 percent.
If you live in a particularly dry climate, misting your plant with water will help keep it hydrated. In addition, make sure that your plant is not exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Perennial succulents may die back to their roots during periods of drought or cold, so it’s important to prune them in spring.
Plants that are too tall or dense should be cut back by half or more; cutting too far above a leaf node can actually kill your plant. It’s also a good idea to remove any offsets (babies) you see growing on your plant.
These will take energy away from your main plant and cause it to grow less quickly. Just snip them off with clean scissors or shears and tuck them into the soil if you want to try keeping one alive.
When to repot
Repot your conophytums every two years, in spring or early summer. The best time is after flowering in spring when they are actively growing. Repotting can be done at any time during their active growth cycle and should not be delayed unless a plant is suffering from pests or other problems that need to be addressed first.
If you live in an area with seasonal extremes, repot succulents after flowering in spring and again after winter dormancy ends.
While many succulents look like they’re dead when they are dormant, Conophytums actually sleep. When summer days are long and hot and water is scarce, it may appear that your Conophytum has died from dehydration or heat. It’s not dead at all, just sleeping!
Keep your Conophytum in a dry place for several months, making sure to keep them out of direct sunlight and heat.
Once fall comes around, you can bring your plant back outside and enjoy its blooms again next spring. If you forget about your plant and accidentally leave it out during winter, don’t worry, it will likely wake up on its own come springtime.
Flowers & fragrance
Conophytum calculus, or marble buttons, is a succulent plant that has beautiful yellow flowers, with leaves that can range from light green to dark brown. The flowers of conophytum calulus open at night and close in sunlight; they are very fragrant, a trait it shares with many other succulents.
Conophytum calculus growth rate
Conophytum calculus grows slowly; it may take several years for them to begin putting out shoots again. In fact, they are considered by many growers to be among the slowest-growing of all succulents.
This makes conophytums a great choice for beginning succulent enthusiasts and collectors, as well as those who have little time or space to devote to their collections.
Conophytum calculus toxicity
Conophytum calculus has mildly toxic sap, so do not leave them within reach of your pets. If you suspect your pet has eaten a succulent, contact your veterinarian immediately. Humans are less likely to be affected by conophytum toxins than animals; however, it is still possible for humans to be affected by these chemicals.
Avoid touching your eyes or mouth after handling Conophytum calculus and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if they come into contact with sap from these plants.
USDA Hardiness Zones
Conophytum calculus will thrive in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. The plant is native to South Africa, so it’s used to harsh conditions and can withstand temperatures as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
In areas with milder winters, such as USDA zones 8 through 10, you can grow conophytum calculus outdoors. In colder climates, it’s best to grow conophytum calculus as a houseplant or in a greenhouse where you can protect it from frost.
Pests and diseases
It can be a good idea to spray or dust Conophytum calculus once or twice during the late spring and summer months. This should help keep pests such as aphids and mealybugs away.
If you notice any fungal issues, it’s best to clean your marble buttons succulent off with a soft cloth dipped in water and then lay it out in indirect sunlight for a few hours.
Keep an eye on your plant so that you can pull it back if necessary! While most pests aren’t too common of an issue, some more serious infestations could lead to problems down the road. Make sure you know how to identify signs of pest damage so that you can treat them right away.
A well-maintained conophytum calculus will have very few problems; if yours gets sick or damaged, though, make sure you get advice from someone who knows what they’re doing before attempting a fix yourself!
Conophytum calculus is an amazing succulent to work with and it can be very rewarding. I find that I have a great time taking care of these plants and in return, they reward me with bright colors and interesting patterns.
Also, if you’re thinking about keeping Conophytum calculus indoors, but are afraid of overwatering them, don’t worry: you probably will not kill your plant even if you occasionally give it too much water. Conophytum calculus are extremely forgiving!