Graptopetalum rusbyi (San Francisco River Leatherpetal)

Graptopetalum rusbyi

Last updated on July 10th, 2022 at 10:22 am

Graptopetalum rusbyi, more commonly known as the San Francisco River Leatherpetal, is native to Arizona and California, where it grows on rocky cliffs and hillsides, often near water sources like rivers and streams.

This plant prefers soil that drains easily, so it’s important to plant it in the right environment to keep it healthy and happy! Its bluish-green color adds a beautiful contrast to a garden that could use a boost of color.

The San Francisco River Leatherpetal (Graptopetalum rusbyi) is a small perennial flowering plant that grows in the understory of coastal chaparral and montane coniferous forests at low to moderate elevations along the western coast of North America from southern Oregon south to Santa Barbara County, California.

Origin and distribution

Graptopetalum rusbyi is native to San Diego County, California. It occurs below 1,400 m altitude in its habitat of mountains, foothills, and canyons of chaparral, woodland, and grassland plant communities. The type locality is in San Diego County near Ramona, where it was first discovered by Alexander L. Graptover in 1934.

Today’s distribution stretches over southern California from Santa Barbara County to San Diego County along elevation changes with 10 occurrences of Graptopetalum rusbyi documented. A few populations are protected within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Outside of protected areas it has been reported on private land only once before.

Graptopetalum rusbyi propagation

Graptopetalum rusbyi

Graptopetalum rusbyi is easily grown on average, dry to medium, well-drained soil in full sun. Graptopetalum rusbyi prefers a light sandy loam that is friable and slightly acidic to neutral. Tolerates light shade but generally does not perform well in areas that are too heavily shaded.

Established plants have some drought tolerance but thrive with ample moisture. Avoid excess water, especially during winter dormancy. Plants may be propagated by either seed or vegetative means. Graptopetalums are rather easy to propagate from cuttings, although propagation is still slow.

Leaf cuttings can be rooted in potting soil, but it may take as long as two years for successful rooting.

Rooted cuttings will grow into clones of their parent plant. The same leaf cutting should not be used to make multiple new plants. Seeds germinate readily if they receive adequate moisture and warmth.

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Germination takes about one month at 70 degrees F. Sow seeds on top of moistened, sterile seed starting mix in containers that allow for good drainage. Seeds should germinate within 10 days at 70 degrees F. Thin to one plant per container when true leaves appear. Transplant when there are at least two sets of true leaves.

Graptopetalum rusbyi care information

Graptopetalum rusbyi

Graptopetalum rusbyi need bright light but don’t like heat, so let them bask in direct sunlight only during their midday summer break from school. Water when soil is dry to touch; too much water can lead to root rot. You can fertilize monthly with a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer for an extra boost. If leaves start to fall off, you’re over-fertilizing or letting it get too cold at night.

Light requirement

Graptopetalum rusbyi prefers full sun to partial shade. Can tolerate some drought and heat. Prefers soil with excellent drainage, but can tolerate clay soils if kept moist during dry periods. Light pruning may be necessary for plants in small pots. Fertilize lightly every two weeks from spring through fall with a general-purpose fertilizer.

Soil/potting mix

Well-drained soil is necessary for maintaining a healthy plant. At least one-third of your potting mix should be composed of coarse sand and perlite or vermiculite. The remaining soil should consist of a good quality potting mix that contains fertilizer, as well as peat moss or composted bark.


As with most succulents, San Francisco River leatherpetal likes to stay on the dry side, so in summer water them every 1–2 weeks and allow their soil to dry between waterings. In winter, allow them to go completely dormant. Be sure that you are allowing your leatherpetals plenty of airflow.

If they are planted in an enclosed container or a terrarium without proper ventilation, they will likely develop root rot. If they begin to wilt, give them a good soak until they perk back up.

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If you notice its leaves drooping or curling up, increase watering immediately! Overwatering is very common when growing these plants indoors; if you see standing water at the bottom of your pot after watering, you’ve over-watered! Letting them dry out between waterings is also bad for them, they like moist soil but not soggy soil.

It’s important to keep plants in containers evenly moist at all times but never soggy wet. Watering once a week will suffice when grown in pots outdoors; water more often if it’s very hot out.


You can add 10% to 20% organic material such as manure, compost, or leaf mold.

You can also use an organic liquid fertilizer diluted with water at half strength every two weeks during spring and summer.

Use an all-purpose fertilizer sparingly on leatherpetals as they tend to burn when fertilized too heavily. For best results, use a slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote® or Miracid®. Prune after flowering is finished and new growth begins. Wait until new growth has matured before removing old flowers or dead leaves.


Graptopetalum rusbyi will not tolerate extended periods of heat or direct sunlight and requires partial shade in an area that maintains a temperature between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperature fluctuations are detrimental to these plants, so make sure you choose an appropriate location for their growth. In addition, its tolerance for cold can be precarious; once temperatures dip below freezing it is unlikely Graptopetalum rusbyi will survive.

If you live in an area with a mild climate, plant your Graptopetalum rusbyi outdoors and enjoy them during the summer months. If you live in a colder region, bring your plant indoors during the winter months and keep it on your windowsill near indirect light.


The San Francisco river leather petal thrives in humid conditions. In areas that are not very hot, humid growing conditions can be achieved with mulch and a shallow pool of water. To increase humidity even more you can submerge the roots in a bucket of water for an hour or two each day. If your home has low humidity, consider using a humidifier to increase it.

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The ideal humidity range is 50-80%. You can measure it with a hygrometer, which you can find at most garden stores. If your home has low humidity, consider using a humidifier to increase it. Be sure to keep it away from your plants, however, as too much moisture in your home can be harmful to them.


When a plant grows in an area that has too much shade, it will grow wide and flat. This causes branches to rub against each other and wounds that are susceptible to rot. Pruning can be done with hand pruners or larger shears.

It is important to select a branch that is slightly thinner than your thumb, as one of its functions is to carry water and nutrients up from the roots of a plant. To prevent wilting, remove no more than one-third of any branch during each session.

When to repot

Repot your Graptopetalum rusbyi every year in late winter or early spring when new growth starts to emerge. Any other time of year, especially during warmer months, is too stressful for most succulents. You can also repot into a larger pot size if desired. Graptopetalums can grow quite large, so you’ll likely want to eventually upgrade to a large container. If so, move up gradually by starting with one size up from your previous container and moving up yearly.


In areas where there is a dry season and rainfall becomes erratic, you will need to choose plants that can go through a dry dormancy. A few members of the Crassulaceae family are well known for their ability to go through long periods without water and still look healthy.

When dormant they look almost dead with leaves that lie flat against stems and appear wrinkled. Plants in the genus Graptopetalum are well-known in cultivation for their ability to survive months of desiccation.

Graptopetalum rusbyi flower & fragrance

Graptopetalum rusbyi

A beautiful white-striped flower, followed by a fragrant fruit resembling a fig, measuring up to 3 inches long. The leaves are succulent and glossy.

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Growth rate

This plant is native to California and grows wild in sandy soil at a low elevation. It grows very slowly, not much more than one inch per year. You will have a long time to enjoy its velvety gray-green foliage if you purchase it. This herbaceous perennial looks good year-round as long as it is kept properly watered and fed often with compost.


Graptopetalum rusbyi is toxic to pets. It contains graptoline, a fatty acid that is poisonous to humans as well. Touching or ingesting it can cause pain and irritation to the skin and mucous membranes.

Symptoms in animals include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, excessive salivation, vocalization, and hypersensitivity. If you suspect your pet has ingested Grapetmohylum contact your veterinarian immediately for treatment advice.

USDA hardiness zones

Graptopetalum rusbyi thrives very well in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11. It can be grown as an annual or perennial depending on where it is planted. In zones 10 and 11, it will grow year-round as a perennial. When planting outside of these two zones, grow as an annual and plant during spring or fall for best results. In colder climates, it is recommended to bring indoors when temperatures begin to drop below freezing.

Pests and diseases

In addition to common aphid infestations, California’s dry summers can be tough on many garden plants. One of these is Graptopetalum rusbyi (aka San Francisco River Leatherpetal). This plant is an excellent choice for those who love succulents but can prove troublesome in areas with mild winters.


Although not as widely recognized as other members of its genus, Graptopetalum rusbyi is a beautiful and unique plant that can thrive in containers when given proper care. This succulent will make an excellent accent or specimen in any collection.