How & Why Do Succulents Change Colors?


If you’ve owned a succulent or two in the past, you may have noticed that the colors of your plant slowly started to shift over time. For most succulents, this changing of colors is normal and not necessarily an indication of poor health. Succulents can actually change colors many times over their lifespan. Their environment determines how often they do it and how intense the change is. This occurs naturally, but succulent owners can also foster an environment that encourages a color change.

So we know that succulents can change colors, but what exactly is going on that causes these changes? Whether you’re curious as to why your own succulents have recently shifted in color, or if you want to experiment with shifting their colors yourself, we can help give you a little more understanding about the science behind the phenomenon. We’ll explore how and why succulents change colors in this article so that you can understand these unique plants a little bit better.

What Causes Succulents To Change Color?

Numerous factors play into how succulents’ colors change over time. While many succulents have a reputation for being easy to take care of and good for beginners, all plants are sensitive to their growing environments. The biggest factors that go into how and why succulents change color are the amount of water they receive, temperature, and sun exposure.

Controlling these factors will allow you to influence and improve your succulents’ colors over time. Let’s take a closer look at each of the main factors to see what part it plays in the process.

Sunlight Exposure

Most succulents thrive in bright, sunny conditions. Depending on how much sunlight a succulent receives throughout the day, its colors can change to adapt. In fact, sunlight exposure is arguably the most impactful factor in succulent color changes.

Large amounts of sunlight will cause "light stress" and lead to succulents changing color to compensate for this stress. Many green succulents start to develop red coloring when left in the sun for long periods. On the other hand, a lack of sunlight will cause them to conserve their energy by turning lighter and greener as they produce more chlorophyll.

Water Amount and Frequency

While sunlight is a large factor in succulents' color, the amount of water they receive can also inhibit or promote more color. Different varieties of succulents respond to water in various ways, so it’s best to experiment with your watering frequency and individualize it for each unique succulent.

Just as the stress of full, direct sun induces vibrant flushes of color, so does drought stress. Succulents that receive frequent water will be largely green, but succulents that go a long time without water will show more intense pigmentation. If getting more color in your succulents is the goal, try to spread out the amount of time between waterings.

Ambient Temperature

The temperature at which you keep your succulents also plays an important role in their coloration. This is also due to stress, as the succulents try to regulate themselves to their surroundings. In colder environments, many succulents will develop colorful tones as a stress response.

For soft, frost-tender succulent varieties, temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit can bring out colorful blushes. However, the frost-hardy outdoor types like Sempervivum often respond to deep, extended frosts with intense burgundy and purple tones. This is why frost-hardy succulents are such a great option for adding winter interest to your garden.

Note: What Does “Stress” Really Mean?

The idea of putting your succulents under stress just to change their color might seem a little off-putting to some people. However, remember that this is just a term we use to describe a situation where succulents respond and adapt to their environmental conditions. Putting your succulents under small amounts of light, drought, or temperature stress won’t hurt them—succulents are excellent survivalists and experience far more extreme conditions in nature. So don’t stress stressing your succulents!

What’s Happening Inside the Succulent?

Now that we have a better idea of the conditions that cause succulents to change color, we can start to look at what’s chemically going on inside the plant to cause the color change. Here’s a deeper look into the pigment-shifting compounds inside your succulents.

Pigment Shifting

Your succulents have a specific color because of the pigments inside of them. What kind of pigments the succulents will produce is based on the environment they’re in and what they need to continue surviving.


Succulents that don’t receive sunlight for long periods will start to produce more chlorophyll, which the human eye perceives as a green color. Chlorophyll helps the plant capture more sunlight, which is why your succulents make more of it when they aren’t getting enough sun.

Carotenoids & Anthocyanins

Depending on the variety of succulent, stress will cause them to either create more carotenoids or anthocyanins. Carotenoids are pigments that we perceive to be orange or yellow, while anthocyanins are pigments that we tend to perceive as red or purple. Succulents will make these pigments to protect themselves from getting too much ultraviolet exposure and from colder temperatures.

Best Tips for Changing Your Succulents’ Color

To encourage pigmentation in your succulents that isn’t green, you can apply what you’ve now learned about how and why they change colors. Use the following tips to slowly shift your succulents’ coloration to the deeper orange, yellow, red, and purple you might want:

  • Leave them in more sunlight for longer periods
  • Lengthen the time between watering
  • Place them in colder environments (appropriate to their frost hardiness)

Whether you’re looking for beautiful greenery or you want to play around with coloration, succulents are an excellent choice. And if you’re as passionate about your succulents as we are here at Mountain Crest Gardens, our succulent subscription service is perfect for you. When you join The Ultimate Succulent Club™, every month you’ll receive new and colorful succulents—delivered right to your door—in fantastic varieties you likely haven’t seen before.

How and Why Do Succulents Change Colors?