Get to know the Mexican Snowball

You’ve probably seen this dainty evergreen showcasing its thick carpet of rosettes on a well-manicured rock garden. It has been known to shine as a center piece in a wedding bouquet, as well as being functional when planted on rooftops to keep tiles in place. There is a folk tale that people in Mexico would grow this succulent forming glowing silvery blue-green borders, believed to ward off evil spirits. Maybe that’s how this succulent got its title, The Mexican Snowball.

As the name indicates, this plant has its origins in Mexico. It stems its roots across the eastern state of Hidalgo, around the Pachuca mountain region, and through Peña de Jacal and adjacent areas. The Mexican Snowball’s fleshy rosettes are impressive on the rocky outcroppings in the Chihuahuan-Tehuacán Deserts. It thrives on semi-arid habitats (desert-like).

This perennial plant belongs to the Crassulaceae family and is scientifically known as the plant genus Echeveria elegans. Other names that make this succulent famous include Mexican Gem, White Mexican Rose and Pearl Echeveria. The succulent has gained its identity as the Mexican Hens and Chicks due to the swift rate at which it produces offsets around the base of the mother plant.

Behold the intricate beauty of the Mexican Snowball

What makes the Mexican Snowball stand out from other succulents is the notable, tightly-packed rosette of thick pale green, almost see-through, chunky leaves. The spoon shaped leaves grow up to 2.6 inches (6 cm) long and 0.8 inches (2 cm) wide, while occasionally take on a blue hue. The rounded, cupped leaves are covered in a glowing silver aura, giving the succulent an enchanted feel.

The Mexican Snowball is not a tall succulent but it does spread around making it an amazing choice as groundcover as well as a dazzling eco-friendly roof. Reaching a maximum height of 8 inches (20 cm) tall and 12 inches (30 cm) wide, the Mexican Snowball definitely puts on a show in a quirky succulent container.

This freely offsetting succulent spreads out into dense, tidy clusters. From late winter into spring, this evergreen succulent’s floriferous behaviors produce blush pink, lantern shaped flowers with yellow tipped edges. The flowers are perched on several 1 foot (30 cm) tall stalks that are pale pink in color. It’s no wonder this Echeveria’s epithet “elegans” is derived from the Latin word meaning ‘elegant’ in reference to its appearance.

Tending to Echeveria elegans

The warm weather conditions of the Mexican Snowball’s origins may have a bearing on why this succulent is a sun enthusiast. This is why it flourishes in the subtropical climates of Southern California. This long-suffering succulent is drought tolerant, however it does appreciate some shelter from full afternoon sun, especially during the summer.

When cultivated as an ornamental potted plant, the Mexican Snowball blossoms on a sunny patio in a container that can be brought indoors. It fancies locations that receive early morning and late afternoon sunlight. A southern-facing windowsill bearing at least 6 hours of sunlight a day helps this succulent thrive in the home.

As much as these hardy plants can tolerate a range of temperatures, they are advocates of USDA hardiness zones 9a to 11b. While it can endure the cold better than other Echeveria varieties, going below 20°F (or -6.7 °C) it can be a delicate balance. The Mexican Snowball may not make it through winter if the temperatures regularly drop below zero.

Feeding and watering the Mexican Snowball

It does not take much to please Echeveria elegans seeing as it has the typical watering needs of a succulent. The house plant will do with a ‘soak and dry’ once a week during the summer while during the winter, all it may need is a sprinkle in the pot. This succulent has been known to go all winter without water and still be perky.

It is advisable to wait until the soil completely dries up and starts to crack before giving the plant a drink. Identical to most succulents, the Mexican Snowball despises being wet for prolonged periods, and likewise, it should not be left thirsty for a long time.

The right soil for the Mexican Snowball

Considering that this plant can dramatically change the landscape as it juts out of rock cracks, it does not need a large soil bed. It spends many happy days in extremely porous soil with minimum to dry moisture levels. A sandy succulent soil mix is the most suitable environment for the Mexican Snowball.

Indoor plants will do well when grown in a commercial potting mixture because it is free of weeds, lightweight and pre-sterilized to remove disease and bacteria commonly found in garden soil. The outdoor Mexican Snowball will relish a home-made planting bed made from a mix of standard potting soil and coarse sand. This can be topped off with peat moss and perlite to allow air to circulate and promote root growth.

Propagating the Echeveria elegans

We mentioned earlier that Mexican Snowballs like to spread around by sprouting small offsets in Spring. It may take several years for the plant to reach maturity and start producing offsets. The offsets develop around the base of the succulent and can be removed from the mother plant and grown separately.

Using a sharp knife, slice the offset away from the main plant and brush off excess soil from it. Leave it to dry in the sun for a few days, allowing the offset to callous. Create a shallow hole in your moist succulent mix or home-made substrate and place in the dried-out offset, ensuring the roots are covered. Let your re-planted offset have a drink only after the soil dries out.

Echeveria elegans can also be propagated from leaf and stem cuttings. Select a healthy, firm leaf that is not damaged in any way. Twist the leaf from side to side gently yet firmly while tugging it from the stem. Ensure that you pull out the entire leaf from the stem otherwise the leaf will not propagate. For stem cuttings, slice off about 2 inches from the stem with a sharp clean knife and dust-off extra soil. Like the offsets, let the leaf or stem dry and callous before replanting in well-draining soil.

Caring for the Mexican Snowball

The greatest threat that the Mexican Snowball faces is drowning. Overwatering an Echeveria can result in fungal disease and root rot, or even worse, it can be the cause of death for the plant.

Echeveria elegans are self-groomers. They do not need extensive pruning other than getting rid of dead leaves and blossoms now and then.

The Mexican Snowball is not a toxic plant and is safe around little people and curious pets. This succulent is generally ‘disease-resistant’ but always be on the lookout for mealy bugs, vine weevils and aphids.

Hats off to the award-winning Echeveria elegans

The Mexican Snowball is a versatile succulent that catches your eye with its intense hues and tightly packed rosettes. The simple needs of aerated soils and water once in a while have earned this succulent the Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in the United Kingdom. It is unforgettable, whether in a pretty pot on a windowsill or sprawled around a rock garden. We enjoy the company of the Mexican Snowball.

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Posted in Succulents