How to grow Hoodia
Frank Fletcher, who has been growing Hoodia since 2000, shares his experience in growing Hoodia: It is often said that one cannot grow Hoodia anywhere in the world except in a few countries in southern Africa. That is poppycock; I have been growing thousands of Hoodia gordonii plants in the United States for the past thirteen years. I know a fellow that took great pride in growing Hoodia Gordonii in his basement in Norway. Location is important, but I doubt that you are going to try growing in Norway.
Light, warm air and water — or, actually the restriction of water – these are all very important. I will address these one by one.
Selecting Hoodia seeds
Seed selection is very important. There are at least 50 kinds of Hoodia, but Hoodia gordonii is the preferred species, in that it is known to have the right molecule for appetite suppression. Years ago, I met a botanist who spent 30 years working to improve the growth rate, taste and percentage of the appetite suppression molecule in his Hoodia plants. He gave me some of his seeds and a plant. All my plants came from his Hoodia seeds or plant. He also taught me how to grow Hoodia and he continued to mentor me via email for years.
Watering Hoodia at different stages of life
THE big issue around Hoodia concerns watering Hoodia. Overwatering is where most folks go wrong. When Hoodia plants die, it is almost always because they’ve gotten too much water. All living things need water, but, for most of its life, the Hoodia plant needs very very little water.
During the first 3 months of the life, Hoodia needs more water than it will ever again. In the next section, I will tell you how to germinate Hoodia seeds, and you will see that, yes, some water is definitely needed during germination. Then, in the section after that, I will tell you how to take care of the new baby seedling. This is right after the seed has germinated, and yes, the baby seedling needs some water. Now, to specifics on different stages of life:
Germinating Hoodia seed
There are a couple of ways to germinate Hoodia seeds, but this is the method I use:
You will need two paper plates and three paper towels. Fold two of the paper towels twice, get them sopping wet, place them on one of the plates and pour off the excess water. Now, place your seed or seeds on the wet towels. You can use one to 30 seeds. Next wet the other paper towel, shake off the excess water and cover your seeds with it. Cover the seeds with the single wet towel and then cover the whole thing with the second plate, but turn it upside down. You must keep your seeds moist, not floating in water, but moist.
Soon you will see a little white root pop out. You can plant it, root down at this point, but I prefer to let the seed grow a little more. Soon after you see the first little white root, you will see a little root pop out the other end of the seed. Remember, the food in the seed is all this little plant has to live on.
Transplanting the seeds with roots into peat pots
As soon as you see that the seedlings have little white roots, about the time they are about ½ inch long, they are ready to be planted, root down, in a small container. When you put the baby seedling into the pot, just cover the root, and if it still has the seed pod attached, DON’T try to pull the old seed pod off. Just let your plant do it. I know that it is tempting, but you will kill your plant
I use the little square Jiffy peat pots (square or round) that can be found at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.
I fill each little Jiffy square with some of the soil mixture that I make up. After you put each seedling into a peat pot, let it sit undisturbed for 24 hours, giving the tiny roots a little time to heal from the move. ANYTIME, you transplant a Hoodia plant, don’t water it for 24 hours. Transplanting causes little cuts and breaks in the root system. They need time to heal before you wash dirt into them.
The right amount of water for baby seedlings
There are a couple of safe ways to get just the right amount of water to baby seedlings. First, you can use a spray bottle that is set to spray a fine mist right on to the green baby seedling, once a day.
Second, you can have your baby seedlings in little peat pots set on a tray and let the water wick up from the bottom.
When I have new baby seedlings, I use both methods. At this stage of life, the little baby seedlings need water almost all of the time, but just a very little. The advantage of the “wick” system that you get when you put your baby seedlings into peat pots is that you only need to add water to the tray every three days. Having water wick up to the baby seedlings builds roots because the little plant sends down roots to get water. However, if you have warm dry air, the top of your plant may dry out and die. Bottom line, If you are trying to grow several plants; use the peat pot wick system and spray (one light spray) daily right on the plant.
My soil mixture
I buy cactus soil and “play” sand and liquid cactus plant food (also at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.) “Play” sand is sterile. To make my soil mixture, I mix the cactus soil and play sand, half and half. Then I remove the wood chunks that always show up in the cactus soil. The liquid cactus food is added to any water I use, just a few drops per spray bottle.
I use a spray bottle that can spray a fine mist to spray to water on the baby seedlings, once or twice a day. I place the seedlings where they will get a little indirect sun light or florescent light. If you want your plant to grow faster you can keep the florescent light on 24 -7. But DON”T OVERWATER YOUR PLANTS!. Just spray them twice a day with just one squirt each time. If a plant falls over, it will die. Use a tooth pick to prop it up.
Transplanting when each Hoodia seedling starts to look like a little cactus
This is the time when you can transplant the Hoodia seedling from the peat pot to a little plastic pot. But again, remember that transplanting causes little cuts and breaks in the root system. They need time to heal before you wash dirt into them. So let them rest and don’t water for 24 hours. You may need to make a little hole in the soil before placing the young plant in it.
For years I had used the clay pots from Home Depot. I thought they were great with cactus and succulent plants. Much to my surprise, in one e-mail, my botanist buddy told me that I should use plastic pots. He explained that even a little too much water will kill cactus and succulents. If water collects around the base, the plant will die within an hour. Water will run right off the plastic pots, but it will be soaked up by the clay pots and fed back to the plants later. So, just use plastic pots and make sure they have several drain holes in or near the bottom. If the water rushes through the pot and out the bottom after the soil is in place, use a few of your small rocks to partly block the drain holes, but do not block any of them completely. I just pick up a few dime size rocks and rinse them off before putting them at the bottom of the plastic pots.
Sometimes young plants seem to fall over. You can see them lying down on the soil. You do NOT want to let them lie there. Use tooth picks to prop up small plants. Large plants in pots can be propped up gently with a thin stick. Be careful not to put pressure on the young plant.
The plant needs less and less water as it gets older
Providing good drainage in the plastic pot is part of the continuing need to avoid having the young plant get too wet. ONLY water when your plant is DRY. Don’t fill the pot with water. Use the spray bottle until the plant is at least one inch tall – then switch to a turkey baster. You still need to put a few drops of cactus food in the water. Water your young plant once a week in the summer and once every two weeks in the winter. Water only when the plant and soil are dry. Just spray the water right on the plant or drop it right on top of the plant until the soil is damp for about an inch around the plant.
I know some folks that had an attic window. It was warm and dry in the attic and the sun poured in through the window. They watered their Hoodia plants, placed them near the window and forgot about them for about three months. When they returned, the plants were green and growing well.
I also remember a friend who had his Hoodia plants in pots outside on a hot Tucson summer day. While he was away from the house briefly, a monsoon rain came up and soaked his plants. His plants died. Hoodia may look like a cactus, but it is not a cactus. It’s an African succulent. Arizona cacti can handle monsoons and freezing winter days. But succulents like Hoodia cannot. You can put your Hoodia plants outside in hot weather, but bring them in or put them under a covered area before any rain starts.
Harvesting Hoodia stems does not hurt the plant
When Hoodia plants are about 2-3 years old, they start to flower and have seeds pods in the spring. After the each flower is done blooming, it will turn into a seed pod with many many seeds. This is a good time to collect your own Hoodia seeds from your plant. You will have hundreds of seeds which you can then plant or give/sell to other people. My Hoodia mentor told me that a good way to collect seeds is to use a little car vacuum cleaner with a clean bag. Let the newly harvested seeds dry out after you take them out of the vacuum cleaner bag.
In order to have some Hoodia that you can use as an appetite suppressant, you cut out a stem or two at a time. You do not cut down the entire plant. You can start to harvest stems when the Hoodia plant is about a foot tall. What you really go by is the center of the plant. This first plant has an open center and does not need to be pruned, although you could still harvest a stem or two.
Next are two views of the same Hoodia plant which has an overgrown center. This is not healthy.
As soon as you see that a plant’s stems are starting to crowd one another in the center, you know it’s time to thin out the center. To get ready, assemble a pair of pruning shears, (rubbing) alcohol which you use to clean the shears, paper towels and “Saran” plastic wrap.
You harvest pieces of Hoodia by cutting stems out of the center and leaving the rest of the plant.
This is how the African natives have eaten pieces of Hoodia for thousands of years. It does not hurt the plant to have central stems pruned. The Hoodia plant is actually healthier when its center has been thinned out.
As soon as you cut off a stem, you will see moisture come out of the stem and the plant. Take a small piece of “Saran” plastic wrap and cover the little wound where the stem was removed. This will minimize loss of moisture.
I have grown thousands of Hoodia plants from seed. In fact, I usually have so many seedlings and young plants that I use a Hoodia incubator.
Every shelf in the incubator can hold many plants. Any time you have questions about growing Hoodia plants, you can send me an email: