The Giant Chalk Dudleya – Dudleya brittonii

dudleya brittonii

Written ByJen Greene

Posted: April 10, 2024
When you see one of these growing well in someone’s garden, positioned beautifully with a giant chalky white rosette in contrast against some sprays of brilliantly colored sedum or sedeveria, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. And by hard, I mean impossible. When I’ve seen these grown well, I practically drool on them because they’re so incredible to see. Cool winter temperatures will tint the leaves a brilliant red, while milder conditions year-round lead to an almost pristine, powdery-white plant through springtime.
dudleya brittonii

My first Dudleya brittonii, June 2023

2023 had a particularly long and wet spring, so all my Dudleya looked amazing well into early summer.

Dudleya brittonii in habitat

These are very very similar to Dudleya pulverulenta, a species that’s found close to me here in San Diego. A major difference between the two is that D. brittonii is found almost exclusively in Baja California, and gets much larger. If you’re in the US and you see a chalky white plant on a cliffside, it’s almost guaranteed to be a D. pulverulenta and not a brittonii. It switches to D. brittonii right around Tijuana, although to the casual observer, it’s impossible to tell the difference. 

The brittonii supposedly tolerates cultivation better than the US cousin, but both species do not do well when transplanted. In particular, poached plants rarely thrive, so make an effort to ask about your plants’ origins when selecting your Dudleya


As a genus, these are a harder plant to grow in cultivation compared to many other succulents. They also take years to reach appreciable size, and the powdery white coating on the leaves is a characteristic that seems to draw poaching and desperate plant collectors like flies to feces. 

In California, it’s illegal to poach Dudleyas no matter the species, and even if it weren’t – it’d still be deplorable. They can seem locally abundant on their cliffsides, thanks in part to their prolific blooming and seed production, but their habitat is increasingly threatened by human development. When you see one in habitat, admire it, but leave it be. 


As with Dudleya pachyphytum, these are seasonal growers. When evaluating your plants, consider the time of year and seasonal conditions before deciding one is struggling.

Their growing season starts in winter, typically in December, and wraps up by early summer. In habitat, they receive plentiful winter rain and little to no moisture in summer, and they’ve evolved beautifully to cope with these extremes. 

The powdery white farina protects the leaves from the sun’s intensity, especially in summer. Unlike its cousin Dudleya pulverulenta, these accept some summertime watering. Growers by the coast supposedly can keep them looking beautiful year-round, but I’ve never had such luck. 

dudleya brittonii

My first Dudleya brittonii showing the typical battered and sad appearance for the time of year – November, 2022 

Potting your Dudleya brittonii

If you’re lucky enough to live on the Pacific coast, and don’t get winter temperatures below 20F, you can plop these beauties right in the ground. They’ll do best with well-draining soil, on at least a small slope, and ideally have them situated where they get shade in summer. 

Even if you’re not by the coast, if you’re somewhere that doesn’t get much in the way of summer rains, you can still successfully grow them in the ground. Just be aware you’re more likely to see them go dormant in summer, die back a bit, and look a bit ratty. That’s okay! Plant some summer growers around them, and get some seasonal variety with no effort. 

You can also grow them in pots, but you’ll have different considerations. Again, keep them situated so roots can stay cool in summer. I struggled with mine looking good when I had it in a large, dark-red ceramic pot on the concrete around our pool, for example. Repotting the Dudleya into a smaller, still dark pot but moving it to afternoon shade and with air flow underneath had a dramatic difference on how well it seemed to do. 

Dudleya brittonii

First Dudleya brittonii – August 2019

Over-potting these plants in an effort to keep roots cool or with the idea of providing insulation from heat can backfire on you. Their roots won’t necessarily go down all the way, it won’t necessarily take over the entire pot, and this can put them at risk for rot. The bottom can stay too wet, while the top where the roots are dries back too much, creating a swampy muck at the bottom that can grow bacteria and host pests.

You may be able to get around this by including other plants that do develop deeper roots, but I personally struggled with the balance. 

Soil mix for Dudleya brittonii

For this species, and my other Dudleya, I use a variation on my favorite mix of pumice, orchid bark, and succulent soil. 

I use roughly 50% succulent soil, 25% pumice, and 25% orchid bark. My go-to soil is readily available locally, but you’ll have to evaluate what you can get and adjust your mix if needed. If you can only find Miracle Grow or an equivalent highly organic mix, swap your pumice and soil ratio (50% pumice, 25% soil). 

You could even use houseplant soil if you need to! When you’re mixing it with that much pumice and orchid bark, and using only a small portion, it’s not likely to stay too soggy or damp. 

Dudleya brittonii hail damage

My D. brittonii after a hail storm in February, 2021


Same plant, April 2021

Above are two pictures of the same plant, two different show pots, same year and same season. You can see that the hail didn’t really have a major impact on the center rosette, even though it froze into blocks for a bit. You can see some of the rings from the moisture and ice rubbing off the farina, though. The red tips are a sign of the cold winter we had that year.

Looking at my dates, you’ll notice I repotted this plant an awful lot for the first few years! I tried the big pot – it never really took off. Tried the smaller square pot, and it didn’t thrive well there, either.

That year was when I learned about the root temperature needs, and that they appreciate room for their roots. I figured it would be less bad to repot it again, less than a year after I’d moved it to the square pot, and get it set up right, than to let it slowly whither away. It worked! 

dudleya brittonii

In 2023, I won best Baja Plant in the SDCSS summer show and sale. We’d had a long, wet spring that lasted well into early summer, and my Dudleya was in perfect condition for the summer show. 

The soil mix in that pot is what I described above, and on top, a layer of sifted desert gold decomposed granite, and chunks of granite and quartz to build up a bit of a mound for the Dudleya roots to be protected under. It sits on a wire shelf, at the back, where other pots in front keep the dark blue of the fired ceramic sheltered from direct sun. It does go dormant in summer, but returns beautifully every winter. 

I share this to say – it’s not the end of the world to need to repot your Dudleya to a more appropriate soil mix or better pot. Just expect the plant to take a bit to recover; my plant in 2022 was still a bit rocky but as you can see, it was a show winner the next year! 

dudleya brittonii


Keeping in mind that these are winter growers, your watering schedule should reflect that. 

Mine seem to start waking up for winter around December, or when nights get below 40F. At that point, they’ll accept water on a regular basis. If it’s starting to rain, you can just let the natural precipitation take care of watering for you. 

The best growing years for me are when we get some rain in December, then a couple times a month up through April or May. In 2023 and this year, 2024, I’ve offered additional water only once or twice when we had a warm spell and no rain for a few weeks. 

Starting in June and July, water can and should be pulled back to every two or three weeks, or just once a month.

Through the hottest time of the year, they should be watered about once a month at best. A few years ago (2018, 2019, 2020) the hottest months for us were July, August, and a bit into September. More recently, our hot weather has shifted later in the year, to August, September, and October instead. 

I don’t offer fertilizer to my Dudleya more than once or twice a year. It’s usually incidental (or not offered at all), and is usually in spring, often just extra fertilizer I’ve mixed up for seedlings I’m moving into the greenhouse. Plants in the ground don’t need anything extra, but in pots, after 2 or 3 years in one pot, you should consider a little boost. 

dudleya brittonii

My Dudleya brittoniii this year – March 2024

Sun and Light for Dudleya

In ground, these are extremely tolerant of nearly full-sun exposure. Makes sense – they grow on cliffsides! 

In pots, as I’ve noted earlier, you’ll want to have it placed so the pot itself is shaded or sheltered from direct sun, but the plants themselves should be able to receive plenty of direct sunlight. My show plant has done very well with direct morning sun, and filtered light in the afternoon. 

You should see nice, compact growth in the center rosette, with the leaves pointing up towards the sky. Leaves should neatly stack, and you shouldn’t be able to see the stem between the leaves in active growth. I go into more depth about etoliation, spotting it, and correcting it (if you can) in my post about Dudleya pachyphytum

At right shows one of my in-ground Dudleya pulverulenta after some spring rain in March, 2024. This placement technically gets full sun year-round, but I have it planted under a California False Indigo. The bushy shrub shades this part of the hill for most of summer, and as a result, this looks the best of my leafy chalk Dudleyas in the front plantings. 

I’ll admit that without a label, I’m not 100% confident on identifying these plants vs. a Dudleya brittonii. Seeing them thrive in my garden, though, brittonii has had narrower leaves that are fairly straight from the base to where it narrows to a pointed tip. Pulverulenta has more of a tear-drop shape, getting wider before it narrows at the tip. 

dudleya pulverulenta
dudleya brittonii

This is my in-ground Dudleya brittonii, and as you can see with the blooms, it’s insanely happy. It is also unruly looking as hell, but I’ll take it. I thought this plant was going to die, and figured dropping it into the ground was a last hail-mary for it not to completely kick the bucket. 

You can see, though, that the leaves are more slender and elongated. 

Interesting to note about the brittonii above is that it’s fairly spindly and splayed, even though the placement is one that’s full sun exposure. This is a result of being heavily shaded in recent months by a massive overgrowth of weeds.

It’s not etoliated, but the somewhat lanky leaves and big spacing between them is indicative of not quite getting enough light. I point it out as just a data point to be aware of. It’ll go dormant as summer heat and sunshine hits it, and if I’m better at keeping up on weeds next season, it’ll produce new leaves that are nice and compact.

The black spiky looking stuff at the right is an old bloom stalk with seed capsules. My fellow cactus club members say these will often self-seed, quite prolifically, but I haven’t had that experience yet. Looking at my planting above, I’ll probably need to move either the Dudleya or the Tephrocactus behind it. With how happy the Dudleya is, and how much they hate being moved, I’ll likely dig up the tephrocactus and move that…and propagate it, so keep an eye out for some Tephrocactus articulatus var. enermis.

Are you growing dudleya at home? Share your growing conditions! I’d love to write an update post in a few months with examples of Dudleya from other folks, their general conditions, and how they care for them. You can email me ([email protected]) or find me on Instagram to share your plants (@trexplants)! 

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