Bear Paw Succulent Care (Cotyledon tomentosa)

Cotyledon tomentosa is commonly referred to as Bear Paw succulent or Bear Paw cactus. This African native is a succulent shrublet with adorable, velvety leaves.

Like all tomentose plants, its leaves, flowers and stems are all covered with a down. Its fuzzy leaves have a toothed edge highlighted in red. These teeth are arranged in a neat row and vary in number between three and ten. Indeed, their chubby, ovate leaves truly resemble a bear’s paw.


  • succulent shrublet


  • H: 12-16″ (30-70 cm)
  • W: 12-20″ (30-50 cm)


  • USDA zones 9A-11
Sun Exposure

6 hours of bright light per day

Water Needs

Average Water Needs, water regularly, do not overwater

Soil Care


Foliage Color

Green, Variegated varieties green, white or yellow

Foliage Season


Flower Color

Red to almost Yellow

Pronunciation: Kot-uh-LEE-duhn Tow-men-TOE-suh

Common Name(s): 

  • Bear’s Paw
  • Kitten Paws
  • Woolly Cotyledon
  • Ladismith Bear’s paw
  • Bear Paw cactus
  • Bear claw cactus
  • Fuzzy Bear Paws

Bear Paw Succulent Care

Although Cotyledon tomentosa is pretty easy to grow, their leaves can be quite fragile. Therefore, knowing how to properly care for this beauty is a must. They make lovely houseplants and can be grown outdoors year round in certain climates. A summer dormant succulent that thrives with bright light and ample airflow.

Bear Paw Succulent Care (Cotyledon tomentosa)
Bear Paw Succulent Care (Cotyledon tomentosa)

Cotyledon Tomentosa watering is similar to most succulents. They love to have their roots soaked, but must be allowed to dry out. Thankfully Bear’s Paw is one of the easiest to know when to water because of their cute paws. 

Personally, I know when my Bear’s Paw is thirsty as its leaves become slightly squishy and start to lose that plump look. Leaves may also begin to curl inward; tops of the leaves get a little concave. Therefore, if leaves are looking thin and limp, and the soil is dry, it is probably time for a good drink.

However, if you are still unsure if your Bear’s Paw is thirsty, give their leaves a gentle squeeze. Leaves won’t fall off at a slight touch, unless they’re overwatered (or you’re manhandling them). If they are all firm, then they do not need water. If they feel like celery you would throw out…like limp and rubbery…get that baby some water! 

Typically this is anywhere from 2 weeks to a month for me in Southern California. 

Another fool proof way of watering is to use a moisture meter. It takes all the guesswork out of watering. They are easy to use and are inexpensive. I use this one here.

If grown in a container, bottom watering is highly recommended. Typically, I will submerge about 3/4 of the pot in room temperature water. I set a timer for an hour to let the plant’s soil soak up the water. 15-30 min for smaller pots. 

Golden Plant Rule #1: When in doubt, let it drought. Overwatering is much harder on Cotyledon tomentosa than underwatering, as it is easier to solve in time. Also, avoid giving small amounts of water at a time. A thorough soak will make your Bear Paw much happier. If any standing water remains in the pot’s saucer, be sure to dump it out.

Pro tip: Indoor plants will need less frequent watering. Place them in an area where they will not be touched because their paws are prone to falling off at the slightest of grazing.

Is it good to water plants with fish tank water?

If you have an aquarium (or know someone who does) I would highly suggest watering your Cotyledon with aquarium water. As the aquarium water becomes dirtier, it is becoming richer in nitrogen, potassium, and many other nutrients you normally find in store-bought fertilizers for plants. In fact, water from aquariums includes nitrates that are simple for plants to assimilate. 

Plants use these nitrates to produce green, leafy branches, stimulating photosynthesis and producing food essential for healthy growth and development. Avoid using water from salt-water tanks because the amount of salt may harm the plants, particularly if they are potted. I have also heard that diluted fish emulsion is a great natural fertilizer as well. However, I personally have not tried it.

Indoors your Cotyledon tomentosa will love a bright spot where they will receive about 6 hours of bright light per day. A south facing window is ideal, although any sunny window should work. If you plan on moving your plant to direct sunlight, do so gradually to avoid sunburn.

Outdoors your Bear Paw will love a bright spot with morning light and shade when there is afternoon sun. I have a medium sized pot that gets direct sunlight from 8am to 3pm and it is doing great with no sunburn. In summer keep cool and provide shelter from direct sun during the hottest hours if necessary. Many fuzzy succulents can take full sun because their furry texture is designed to help them cope with lots of direct sun.

In full sun, leaves will develop a pale yellowish tinge and bright red tips. Although, you must gradually increase the amount of light if you want to see sun stress colors. Otherwise sunburn may occur if moved from shade to full sun too quickly. 

Filtered sun is also good, but Cotyledon tomentosa can handle some shade too. However, leaves will remain more green and variegation will be less intense in shade. In deep shade your plant may become etiolated or get really leggy. This stretching is the succulent searching for light. A grow light may be a good idea if you need to supplement natural light. Inadequate light not only results in a less desirable looking plant, but also weakened growth.

Ideal temperatures for Cotyledon tomentosa range from around 68-82°F (20-28°C). Although, it can tolerate temperatures as high as 100°F (38°C) and as low as 40°F (5°C). Bear’s paw prefers warm temperatures and thrives best in sunny, dry climates. Cold hardy in USDA zones 9A-11. 

Additionally, do not put them too close to windows as they may get too cold. Protect from frost to prevent scarring. In colder climates Bear’s Paw should be brought inside in winter. A grow light may be needed to supplement indoors in winter as well.

Bear Paw Succulent Care: Soil

Cotyledon tomentosa prefers well-draining soil with a pH of 6. A cacti and succulent soil works great, but I still add about 50% perlite or pumice for increased drainage. I also may throw in some orchid bark

When using standard potting soil I mix 2 parts soil, 1 part perlite and 1 part coarse sand. If a soil is too organic, it will retain too much water, increasing the chances of overwatering and rot.


Lightly fertilize your Bear’s Paw with a succulent fertilizer one to two times a month during spring and summer. Hold off on fertilizing in the winter months. In addition to fishwater as mentioned above for nutrients, worm castings are also a great idea.

Bear Paw Repotting

Repot your bear paw every two to three years or after it has doubled in size. Specifically in spring. For pot size, the root ball should take up about 1/2 to 2/3 of the pot’s volume. Too large of a pot can result in overwatering. In fact, excess soil stays wet longer. Thus, increasing the risk of overwatering and rot.

I always repot mine when I bring them home from the nursery. In fact, I actually do this for three reasons. 

First, because it is much easier to repot Bear’s Paw when it is smaller. They are really delicate and harder to handle when they are big and bushy. Additionally, I want to minimize the amount of leaves that may drop when repotting.

Second, soil from many nurseries and big box stores is not always the best quality soil. Most plants come in peat-based compost, and that stuff eventually starts repelling water. For example, the roots get wet unevenly and absorbing water becomes harder. Furthermore, I like to swap out the soil with a gritty, inorganic mix.

Third, I prefer using unglazed terracotta pots over plastic nursery pots. Since terracotta is porous, it helps the soil dry out faster. In fact, it allows more airflow to the roots and tends to keep the roots dryer. Definitely make sure your pot has drainage holes as this is a must. 

Cotyledon Tomentosa For Sale

Pruning your Cotyledon tomentosa helps the plant bush out. Normally I just trim the end off of any long branches. This encourages fuller growth, but also keeps it more symmetrical and overall stronger. 

Do not be afraid to prune your adorable Bear’s Paw succulent. I promise you will not hurt your plant. In fact, pruning is the exact thing that makes them healthy and full.

In my experience, Cotyledon tomentosa does not propagate well from leaves. It can, but the success rate is quite low in comparison to other succulents. In fact, my preferred way to propagate Bear’s Paw is from stem cuttings. 

First, use some clean shears and cut a stem from the main plant. Second, allow the stem to callous over for a few days. Third, place your cutting in well-draining soil and place it in a spot with filtered light. Finally, wait to water for about 2-3 weeks. 

Once established you can resume your normal watering schedule and gradually start introducing more sun. Keep in mind, Bear’s Paw takes a bit longer to establish roots than other Cotyledons.

Caring for your Variegated Bear’s Paw is pretty much the same as the non-variegated version. Although, they will grow slower like most variegated plants. They also may not be able to tolerate as much direct sun and the non-variegated version. 

Cotyledon tomentosa variegata
Variegated Bear's Paw (Cotyledon tomentosa variegata)

Bear Paw succulent dying? 

The two most common issues with the Cotyledon tomentosa are pests and overwatering. In my experience if the leaves are falling off then shriveling up it is from overwatering. While shriveling up and then falling off is most likely from pests. Let’s review the common problems and solutions for Bear’s Paw.

Leaves of Cotyledon tomentosa are a great attraction for pests. Therefore, regular inspection is a must. Pests often hide on the silver fuzzy leaves and can be hard to find. Common pests include mealybugs, scale, aphids, spider mites and fungus gnats.


The evil mealybugs are sap-sucking insects and show up as waxy white insects. Mealybugs secrete a sticky sap and leave behind a cottony web. Specifically look for these bugs on the base of the leaves and stems. 


As for scale insects, they are often covered in a waxy shell-like cover and found on the plant’s stems and underside of leaves. They are quite hard and can be scraped off with a fingernail without causing too much damage to the plant.


Ehen aphids attack Cotyledon tomentosa’s new growth, they secrete a sticky substance called honeydew that can attract ants. They will typically show up as either green or black or red/brown pests. Left untreated, they will multiply out of control within days. In addition to sucking the energy out of the plant, the “honeydew” they excrete creates sooty mold that can quickly lead to fungal issues.

Spider mites

To check for Spider mites on your Bear’s Paw succulent, check if any parts of the plant are turning yellow or brown and wilted. Spider mites are microscopically small, and are usually present in large numbers and webbings. Don’t mistake red spiders for spider mites. In fact, spiders are helpful and will eat bad pests.

For all of the above mentioned pests I prefer using an organic insecticidal soap. Another option is to use a diluted solution of isopropyl alcohol and water (1:1) with 1-2 drops of dawn dish soap. Spray directly onto your plant at the first sign of pests. Keep the infected plant away from all other plants until you have eradicated all pests. 

Fungus gnats

These small black flying insects hover around the soil. On their own, they’re not harmful. However, in large infestations they can be. My personal favorite is to use Steinernema feltiae nematodes to eradicate them for good. I always use some every time I buy new soil. 

Diatomaceous earth is another popular option that has worked great for me on fungus gnats. Additionally, those yellow sticky traps are quite popular as well.

If your Bear’s Paw succulent is getting too much water or your potting mix is holding water for too long, it can eventually lead to root rot disease. Thus killing your plant. If Bear’s Paw leaves are falling off at the slightest touch and are still plump, it’s being overwatered. Leaves may also be yellow or translucent and soft from overwatering. 

Cotyledon Tomentosa Root Rot

Additionally, black spots may appear if root rot has started setting in. Succulents store extra water in their leaves, roots and stems so they can survive the arid conditions of their native desert. Too much water overfills the plant’s water storage tissue and causes it to bloat and explode. The black spots are a fungus that has developed in the damaged plant tissue.

When leaves at the bottom of the plant dry up and fall off, it does not necessarily mean it is in need of water. It may also need more sun or better draining soil as well. In fact, it could even be just the natural aging process of the leaves.

What to do about an overwatered Bear Paw?

If you fear it is being overwatered, get it out of the pot! Inspect the roots and make sure they are not slimy or mushy. If so, cut off any mushy roots. Gently shake the dirt off the roots and put it in dry grittier soil. Definitely wait to water until signs of lack of water appear.

You will likely lose a few more leaves, but you’ll definitely lose the entire plant if the soil stays too wet for too much longer!

Bear Paw Succulent Leaves Falling Off 

Cotyledon tomentosa is quite sensitive to too much water, excessive humidity or intense sun. In fact, any of these issues could cause Bear Paw’s leaves to fall off at an alarming rate. Overwatering could be caused by a number of issues. Specifically poor draining soil, poor watering habits or poor airflow. 

As part of the natural growth process, older lower leaves will be reabsorbed. This allows the plant to spend that energy elsewhere, such as in creating new roots. Typically you can tell that it is reabsorption if the leaves are drying up and then falling off. 

Bear Paw Dirty Leaves

When repotting it is super easy to get dirt on their cute chubby leaves. I use a little paint brush or small make-up brush to dust the dirt off my freshly potted succulents. Others suggest using children’s toothbrushes or even Q-tips. They also work  great at dusting the pollen off leaves without hurting their sunscreen. 

Bear’s Paw Losing Hair

Hairs on your Bear’s Paw succulent are called trichomes (TRY-combs) and are modifications of the plant tissue. They act as sunscreen protecting them from harsh sunlight by reflecting it. The hairs’ main objective is to reduce transpiration or the loss of water through evaporation, in arid environments and under full sun. This includes release of moisture and oxygen and uptake of carbon dioxide. 

Kind of like breathing for plants, but mostly at night for succulents. Given that, your Bear’s Paw could be losing hair because they are not getting enough light. If there is no harsh sun, there’s no need to grow fuzz. However, it might also be that they are getting too much water and want to increase their transpiration.

Bear’s Paw Succulent Sticky

Many of the pests mentioned above secrete a sap. They attack the plant’s new growth and secrete a sticky substance called honeydew that can attract ants. This may explain the stickiness on the leaves. I’d recommend thoroughly checking your plant for pests if you notice any stickiness on your Bear’s Paw succulent.

Bear Paw Round Leaves

All varieties of bear paws that I have seen start out with round little cub paws and they get defined claws as they grow larger. Baby leaves definitely appear more round. 

Round leaves in larger, more established leaves, could be that the light isn’t strong enough or not close enough to the plant.

Bear Paw Succulent Brown Stem

Many succulent stems cork with age. They grow woodier and stronger. The stem turning woody and brown is a normal part of Bear Paws’ growth, it just happens with age and allows the plant to stabilize itself.  

Bear Claws Plant Poisonous?

Cotyledon tomentosa is mildly toxic to animals, pets, and humans. Therefore, no matter how cute those chubby leaves look, don’t take a bite! Others report that this plant is generally considered non toxic but there have been a few reports that it can be mildly toxic to children and pets.

Bear Paw Succulent Stinky? 

The “weird” paw smell is its natural smell. Definitely an old, musty smell all around the plant, but I never found the smell too intrusive. Almost like oranges starting to turn bad, a wet dog or old spit.

Brown Scabs on Bear’s Paw 

Scabs can form overwatering. This damage is called edema. In fact, the roots actually take up more water than the leaves can transpire. Thus, excess water ruptures the cells and leads to water-soaked patches that turn corky and brown.

Something eating your succulent?

Bites out of your succulent leaves? It could be a caterpillar larvae or slugs. Therefore, thoroughly inspect the plant for pests.

Bear Paw growing Mushrooms

A mushroom means wet soil that has been wet for a long time, and that’s a no no for succulents. Either change how you water or change your soil. It’s staying wet for too long if mushrooms can grow in it. It might not hurt it for some time, but in the end it’s a risk.

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