Fenestraria Rhophalophylla ‘Baby Toes’ is currently the only species in the genus Fenestraria. This plant is native to Namibia but distributed all over the world as its popularity grows among succulents enthusiasts. There is possibly another species which has yellow flowers (Rhophalophylla has white) that is currently being reviewed to see whether it’s a new plant or just a subspecies of Rhophalophylla. If it’s approved as new species it will be called Fenestraria Aurantiaca.
If there was such thing as succulents fashion this plant could be described as very ‘in’ at the moment. But many people seem to be having an issue with the cute little succulent.
Fenestraria Rhophalophylla is very prone to cracking or splitting its leaves if the plant receives too much water. This problem can be mitigated by keeping the Baby Toes in a dry and very bright spot so the water intake can be controlled.
Let’s have a closer look at this succulent and how to care for it.
Fenestraria Rhophalophylla is a very interesting plant. In its natural habitat it mostly lives under the surface with only the tops of the leaves above ground. The leaf tops are translucent and allow light to pass to the rest of the body so photosynthesis can occur. Unlike with many other plants, photosynthesis in Fenestraria is subterranean.
The subterranean growth protects the plant from harsh conditions and strong sun.
In cultivation Baby Toes environment can be managed better. When the plant is kept out of strong sun it will show more of its leaf. The tops look as if they have a window into the rest of the leaf.
The colour of the leaves is usually a shade of green, but when the plant is stressed or exposed to the sun a bit of reddish-brown colour can come through.
Fenestraria grows into large clumps that can spread to about 20cms or more in good conditions. The leaves grow to approximately 5cms tall.
As mentioned above Fenestraria Rhophalophylla flowers are white and appear above the foliage as single, daisy like flower per stem.
Baby Toes can be propagated by cuttings or grown from seed. It is not possible to propagate this plant from only leaves.
To take cuttings a whole branch needs to be cut off. We recommend to only propagate from fairly mature plants that have a few branches. It is best to do this in spring. Propagating cuttings can have its disadvantages as Fenestraria may sometimes have trouble sending roots.
At the nursery we have tried dividing Baby Toes and some offsets did not take. Why, we do not know.
Fenestraria can easily be propagated from seed. We have successfully grown many plants this way over the years. Again it is best to start in spring and make sure the seeds are bought from a reputable seller.
There are many seed adverts up on trading sites with enticing images of succulents that just don’t exist (photoshoped to oblivion) and it is highly unlikely the seeds will grow into anything that looks even remotely like the advertised plants (if they germinate at all).
We found the best and most viable seeds come from local sellers. Fenestraria seed is also quite inexpensive. Round about $4 should get you at least 10 seeds. They usually take a year or two, depending on the conditions, to grow to a good sized plant.
Position & Care
Fenestraria Rhophalophylla is an easy plant to look after AS LONG AS IT IS NOT OVERWATERED. There are only a few plants that we grow and cannot leave out in the open, Baby Toes being one of them. They have to be safely tucked away in a greenhouse with a plastic cover over, so rainwater cannot get to them. It is a bit of a balancing act, but Fenestraria will tell you when thirsty.
The ‘window’ on the top of the leaves will start shrivelling a bit and that is when you water. In summer we water on average once a week as the polytunnel can get quite hot and water evaporates quickly. In the cooler months the plant needs hardly any water. The same should be followed as with summer watering all year round- wait for the leaves to shrivel a little and let the plant tell you when thirsty. Do not mist or spray, soaking well and leaving to dry out is the best watering method for Fenestraria and other succulents.
Because Babies Toes need to be dry for extended periods, the potting mix can become hydrophobic. We would recommend soaking the whole pot thoroughly every other month so the plant does get the water it needs. We sometimes leave ours soak in a dish of water for 10 or so minutes until the water saturates the pot. It is important that the water is then left to run out of the pot.
It may also be a good idea to modify the potting mix and make it more free draining. Adding extra perlite, coarse sand (large grains- never use ordinary sand) or pumice will allow the water to drain faster. To help water evaporate faster terracotta can be used as the walls are porous.
As to the position, Fenestraria will like a very bright spot with filtered sun to stay pretty and compact. Plants that are in too much shade will grow leggy and the leaves may fall on their side. A good position may be by a window that has sun shining through or on a vernadah with plastic sheets that allow filtered sun in. Direct sun exposure may be ok in cooler months, but in summer, especially when temepratures climb over 30 C (86F), Fenestraria could burn.
The only pests we have experienced feeding on our Babies Toes were slugs & snails. They can raze young plant pretty much to the ground overnight. The plants may not recover if the slug has eaten too much.
Touch wood, we have not yet seen aphids or mealybugs on this plant.
There is a bit of conflicting advice out there on the toxicity of Baby Toes. Some claim the plant is non-toxic, some say it can be mildly toxic and I have even found a reference that said Fenestraria is very toxic if ingested.
There is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims (usually sites such ASPCA will advise on toxicity and we understand that they base their claims on actual evidence), so we would advise to be cautious if you have small children or pets that like to nibble on plants.
Where Can I Get It
Fenestraria Rhophalophylla may prove a bit difficult to track down as they are slow growers. If your local nursery doesn’t stock them try online nurseries or sites such as eBay or Amazon.
If you’d like to have a go at seeds, always buy from reputable sellers. Check their facebook/ instagram for customer feedback.