Fixing Etiolated Succulents

It’s almost spring, and the unseasonably warm weather has my plants all confused. I’ve got a new basal shoot on my nepenthes, my cacti are putting out new growth, my pothos and aloe are threatening to take over my apartment… So, even though it’s a bit early still, I figured now was a good time to take inventory and see who’s going to need some pruning and re-potting. Unfortunately, it looks like the lack of winter sunlight has left some of my younger plants in a bit of a state, and they’re going to need some “fixing.”

Why is fixing in scare quotes? Well, unfortunately, once a plant is etiolated, there’s really no going back. A stretched-out echeveria is not going to become a neat, compact rosette again, no matter what you do for it.

That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, though.

Let me start from the beginning.

What is etiolation?

Etiolation, in simple terms, is when a plant gets weirdly tall because of a lack of sunlight. Plants have evolved to stretch out to get more sun, but this isn’t really a good sign — outdoors, in nature, etiolation is a survival mechanism that allows plants to reach past obstacles and get the light they need to survive. Indoors, where there might not be enough sun no matter how much a plant stretches, it’s a sign that conditions aren’t right and the plant is stressed.

It’s usually most notable in compact, rosette plants like echeveria and some graptopetalum. In others, it can be very easy to mistake etiolation for regular growth, at least in the beginning.


These aren’t supposed to be shaped like that. Also, notice the curvature of the stems — they were reaching for the window.

So, how do we fix it?

Even though etiolation is caused by a lack of sunlight, fixing it requires more than just moving plants to a sunnier window. (Don’t get me wrong — you’ll have to do that, too.) Once a plant’s stem is elongated and the leaves are all gapped like the babies above, there’s really no putting that horse back in the barn. Increasing the light will keep them from stretching out more, but they’ll still show signs of their period of etiolation.

If you want to get them back to their typical shape, there’s only one thing to do: cut off their heads.


Pardon my nails.

The nice thing about many succulents is that they are super easy to propagate.

(I’ve got a graptopetalum that’s actually become a nuisance in this regard — it drops leaves if you so much as look at it too hard, and they will take root pretty much instantly for no reason at all. I’ve had grapto leaves that fell behind the shelf, with no soil or water, optimistically put out roots. It’s bonkers.)

So, the best way to get an etiolated plant back into shape is to find a) nice, plump, healthy-looking leaves to start fresh with, or b) an un-etiolated area to behead and re-root. In the picture above, I’ve cut away the still-compact middle of the rosette.


Remember the perle von Nurnberg on the left? If not, it’s the same one I propagated from a leaf I found on the floor of a hardware store.

From there, all that’s needed is to put them in some clean, moist soil, and keep it moist so they don’t dry out. Some prefer to wait for the cut end to callous over to prevent infections, but I haven’t had a problem doing it this way. Some also prefer water propagation, but I’m not really a fan, myself. Cuttings, wet dirt, keep it wet, boom.

Lastly, I make a sort of ersatz greenhouse with a re-used plastic bag. It keeps the soil from drying out (and with warm weather and small containers, that doesn’t take very long).


This grow light makes it look like my plants are at the club.


Etiolation can be heartbreaking, especially if you’re blindsided by the fact that what appeared to be new growth was actually a sign of distress. But worry not! As long as you’re able to take cuttings from your plants and provide them with more light, you can still save them.


Let’s eat paste!

Okay, not really.

I haven’t written much lately, mostly because of two reasons:

  1. I was incredibly sick and felt like death, and
  2. It’s almost time for me to turn in all of the essays I’ve written over the past year for evaluation by whoever at ADF is in charge of that kind of thing.

So, in essence, I haven’t written much because I’ve been busy writing in between bouts of coughing and other assorted misery. I have done some other creative-type things, though, which is awesome. I’m in the process of moving my altar (hopefully to a place where cats can’t happen to it), too.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what the paste bit is about. Let me explain.


DIY Brain Chemistry

I’ve been doing a lot of reading.

I don’t want to call it “research,” because looking up a bunch of studies isn’t really the same as designing an experiment or compiling a meta analysis, but it’s a lot of reading nonetheless.

See, for years, I’ve been trying to find ways to mitigate some Brain Things. It isn’t purely panic disorder, because there are some very evident physiological aspects to that aren’t really adequately explained by anxiety. It also isn’t purely physical, either.

The first doctor I ever discussed it with was my pediatrician. I was thirteen, had begun experiencing regular panic attacks, and my mother was tired of it.

“It’s anxiety,” he said. And that was it.

It went untreated for years — I was told it was all in my head, that the liver absorbs adrenaline in under a minute (lol what), and there was no reason for any panic attack to last longer than that. This left me with two things:

  1. A raging, untreated panic disorder.
  2. A diagnosis of anxiety.

Getting diagnosed with anxiety is a curse in its own right, particularly if you’re medically female. Women’s pain is often ignored as it is, particularly for black women. If you have a history of anxiety and depression, it is downright impressive how many medical conditions it’ll get blamed for. (Like the time I was given SSRIs to treat a symptomatic hemangioma. Fun!)


Living my best life is sucking the life out of me.

Its 2:00 in the morning, and I am writing because I have, once again, destroyed my sleep schedule.

Well, not just my sleep schedule.

I have idiopathic intracranial hypertension. It makes me forget things, feel crushing headaches every moment of the day, occasionally lose my ability to see, and want to sleep basically forever. Left to my own devices, I will sleep for twelve hours and still be able to take a substantial midday nap.

Such is life.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow me much time for anything else. This doubly sucks, because what time I am left is also devoted to coping with the headaches, dizziness, anxiety, depression, and other trappings of having a head full of surplus brainjuice. Showering is tiring. Clothes hurt. On a high-pressure day, even holding my head up is more than my neck can manage.


Why “Unseelie?”

So, I’ve gotten asked, “Why do you go by Unseelie J online?”

There are a couple of reasons. Yes, it’s a pun on unseelie fae, but it goes a bit deeper than that.

While the word unseelie, particularly when attached to the unseelie court, is taken to mean “malevolent,” it has a number of uses. Seelie, its opposite, meant blessed, lucky, or happy. Unseelie, therefore, meant unhappy, unfortunate, or not blessed. It’s a term that resonates with me.

I have mostly created my own luck in life — I was born to a poor family, in a not-terribly-great family situation, raised by an abusive, staunchly religious homophobe, nearly killed in a car accident as a teenager, and, to top it all off, was diagnosed with a very rare, poorly understood, incurable, potentially lethal neurological disorder about six years ago.
It’s been quite a time.

I’ve also long realized that my primary purpose in life may very well be to serve as a cautionary tale to others, and I’ve become okay with that. I’m also okay with the fact that I am chiefly alive out of pure contrariness.

After all, like Maria Bamford says,


So, while I’ve got a neurological disorder, anxiety, physical pain, and the weight of my past to carry around, I’m okay with being unseelie. At this point, I also aim to be the biggest thorn in the side of the status quo that I can be, so I’m even okay with being considered malevolent.

It all depends on who’s doing the considering.  💜


I did the thing!

Years back, I had an Etsy shop. It worked out pretty well — I made a little money, a few friends, and had customers who genuinely enjoyed my art. Unfortunately, I fell out of it after I moved, was diagnosed with a neurological disorder, and began losing my sight.

I’ve always wanted to start it up again, though my artistic output isn’t as prolific as it used to be. Finally, I figured, why not? I have some finished paintings, jewelry making supplies, and other things I could use to start my store up again, so why not?

So, I did:


It isn’t yet fully stocked, because I had the sneaking suspicion that, if I chose to wait until it was stocked to my complete satisfaction,I’d never get around to actually opening it. So, if you’re interested in tarot readings or prints of my artwork, I’ve got you covered. In the meantime, I’m working on more things to add, so please favorite and keep an eye out!


The baby got locked in the car, and then an exorcism broke out.

I wasn’t always self-employed. Did I ever tell you that I used to work retail?

If not, this is why.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad gig — I learned a lot, especially about nutrition. The management was often a nightmare, but the work was decent enough to keep me doing it for several years.

I also had a number of customers who seemed to think I was pretty neat. One lady managed to avoid putting down her son’s dog after I made a dietary recommendation (he had been medicated for severe allergies of unknown origin, then needed phenobarbital to counteract the seizures his medication gave him. It turned out to be a severe allergy to corn). One couple straight-up told me that, when I changed stores, they would continue shopping at whichever one I ended up working at.

Those times were nice. The other days, though? Ho-lee crap.