Rescuing a Kosmik Kaktus painted succulent

If you've been to a home improvement store like The Home Depot or Lowe's in the last year or two, you've probably seen painted succulents on display in the garden center:

“Nature perfect succulents,” says the sign in the photo above. And they would be – if they weren't painted.

My disdain for this marketing gimmick is no secret. I would never have bought one if I hadn't spotted these sad characters languish on the clearance rack at my local Lowe's:

They were neglected, unloved, and 50% off.

I decided to rescue the bright blue one in the front row for a little experiment: Is it possible to remove the paint and, if not, will the plant be able to outgrow it?

These painted succulents are part of Altman Plants' Kosmik Kaktus line, “Boldly Going Where No Plant Has Gone Before.” That's a slogan worthy of a registered trademark!

The sign you see in the photo below sheds some light on the paint: “Kosmik Kaktus plants get their otherworldly look from colors specially formulated for plant life. The artificial coloring does not harm the plants and they will grow out of it in time. New growth will normally emerge as green or golden yellow. Easy to care for with just a sunny window and a light drink every few weeks.”

The exact formulation of this paint is not publicly known, but it is permanent. I have a hard time understanding how the paint could not impair the plant's ability to photosynthesize, in spite of what the sign says. Quite possibly the only way to survive this ordeal is for the plant to grow new leaves as quickly as possible.

My plant is a haworthia of some kind, or more likely a haworthiopsis. The label doesn't give an ID, but it does make this wonderful promise: “As I grow I form a Kosmik halo showing my true colors.” Oh,  I should also mention that my “colorful coating” may cause cancer and reproductive harm. 

The paint was not only on the leaves of my plant, there was also a light dusting of it on the soil – if you can call the crummy peat mix “soil.”

Luckily, the “soil” fell away immediately after I took the plant out of the pot, exposing a healthy-looking root:

Here's my blue velvet beauty repotted in fresh succulent mix:

I tried to scratch off some the paint. It's possible, but the paint doesn't come off easily. In addition, scratching might damage the epidermis. 

Instead of removing as much of the paint as possible, my initial idea, I'll wait to see if the plant survives long enough to produce new healthy leaves. Look for an update next year.

In the meantime, I spotted this at Lowe's:

Could caged succulents be the latest trend? 

At least they're not painted.

P.S. Lest you wonder why painted succulents continue to be sold, enough people must buy them. From a marketing perspective, Kosmik Kaktus is genius.

© Gerhard Bock, 2023. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Is it water-based paint? Is it possible it could wash off?

  2. I really don't understand painted plants (or flowers for that matter) at all. I suppose they might appeal to children but, if the paint contains carcinogens, why would you give them a plant like that in any case? My first thought was to try the Dawn liquid detergent used to clean oil off seabirds.

  3. Like Kris, I don't get this abomination. What's not to love about the natural, bumpy, speckled green of Hawortia? I don't have anything against artificial plants, some are done quite well, but suffocating live ones is a travesty against nature.
    After owning a lovely tillandisa for a few years I noticed it was growing out of it's red tips... I realized it had been lightly sprayed with embellishment. It seemed natural when I was new to the world of tillandsia.
    I'm happy you decided to rescue one of those babies. I'm sure it will thrive under your care.

  4. I totally agree with the other responders. I think anyone who loves and grows plants would think this is an "abomination." It reminds me of when I was a kid and retailers used to paint little chicks and turtles. Disgusting. Anything to make money. I could go on and on--but I'll stop!!! Please keep us updated on this post. I wish you could have taken all of them to try to help!

  5. It continues to astound me the number of ways succulents are tortured. I have found them glued to plastic 'soil' in a decorative pot, coloured as above in horrible garish hues and crammed, and I do mean crammed, into tiny tight containers. One wonders what new horrors growers and sellers will dream up next. The fact that the coloured forms are advertised as 'Nature's perfect...' but are carcinogenic is a pretty scary.

  6. I soooooooo agree. I cringe every time I see something like that. I had been fooled by a reddish hued tillansia as well at a garden show and when it turned green the vendor divulged that it has been sprayed. (not so blatant as these cosmos abominations -such an appropriate word) It is so offensive to anyone that has any compassion for plants. They're living things too. Altmans should be ashamed of themselves. Their moral compass needs to be hitched up a notch or two.

  7. Such a horrible thing to do to a plant!
    I wonder how many sales are purely people just trying to rescue the poor things?

    In any case, these are usually Gasteria, not Haworthia, Tulista, or Haworthiopsis, probably the ubiquitous cultivar "Flow". I wonder if a couple squirts of isopropyl alcohol might help dissolve some of the paint? If it's not in full sun it can take a little alcohol without damage- (besides, it's covered in paint...) I've never tried this, but I have heard of people actually dunking and soaking their entire plant (except the roots) in rubbing alcohol to get rid of mealy bugs. If a plant can take that, it can handle trying to dissolve the paint. If you can save it, it will love you forever. These Gasteria aren't the most interesting plants out there, but they're sturdy and pretty good growers if they aren't covered in paint. Nice supporting plant that isn't monocarpic.

  8. Wish they'd at least be transparent about the makeup of the paint, then one could see if it actually is "tested to be safe for the plant" like they say it is, or at least try to determine what its base is to be taken off more easily. I know California puts the cancer and reproductive harm warning on absolutely everything anymore, but one might think maybe if that's the case it's best left off of exteriors of plants...

  9. Have you considered experimenting on just one leaf with cotton swabs soaked in various things: alcohol, dishwasher detergent, etc. You could cut out a leaf to experiment on so as not to accidentally get any of these things on the soil or rest of the plant.
    With Christmas just 5 weeks away, I suppose the spray-painted, glitter-covered Poinsettias are probably starting to show up in the stores.

  10. At some point, I wonder why not just by a plastic plant with the same color. It would last longer and look just as artificial.

  11. I thought I read someone at Altman's saying: "People will buy them if we paint them, so we paint them." I hope your little plant lives to get rid of the paint and look truly beautiful. -- hb


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