Seeing adenium plants with soft caudex can be quite disappointing for growers. We understand this feeling, but don't worry. It shouldn't feel like a liability. When you understand your babies more, you can help them improve. Let's go through this together with some tips below.

shrinking-adenium-caudex
Adenium soft shrinking caudex

Some Causes for Soft Caudex

1. Suffering From Shipping

Very often, when you buy adenium plants and have them shipped to you, the plants are picked up from the soil & wrapped in newspaper or hay in a bare-roots condition. There is very little sunlight in the box & there may be shock during the shipment.

Soft caudex can especially happen if your desert roses are grafted. Because of this movement shock, the caudex can get soft upon arrival. Or they might turn soft after some time you've planted it.

2. Damage From Dropping

If the desert roses have been accidentally dropped, part of the caudex can get bruised. If you use a finger to poke into it & see some mushy stuff, that part is rotted.

You can see the damage right on the skin of the adenium. It will have a darker color than the rest of the body. Depending on the age & strength of the plants, they may or may not survive this.


3. Dehydration

Although many people say that adenium don't need a lot of water, their bodies can actually get shrunk because of dehydration. If you compare the soft caudex plants with others, you may notice that their size is smaller.

The shrinking is more noticeable during root training period where growers dig the plants up & hang them upside down for about 2 weeks. Dehydration, however, is not root rot. There are cases where some adenium are dry but their roots are still growing.

4. Under Nourishment

By under nourishment, we mean the babies may not be getting enough N, P, K & other micro-nutrients. This may lead to a weak overall nutrient transportation & usage. It can be a reason why the caudex has been softened. The plant may be too weak to have energy to function.

5. Root Fungal Disease

Your plant roots may be under attack from fungi. You can see this by digging up the plants to check. If there are numerous white spots webbing around the root ball, it is a sign that your plants may be suffering from fungal infection.

adenium-root-fungi
Fungi webbing the adenium root

This may be why the root is weak. With weak roots, water & nutrients may not be pumped up. The plants then may have to suck up the 'back-up' nutrients & water stored in the caudex for surviving. This could lead to a soften caudex.

6. Too Many Little String Roots

Many growers ask a question like this: Why is my adenium caudex soft but the leaves are still green & healthy? The reason for this may be there are too many little string roots. They suck up all the nutrients like little octopus tentacles. The good bits therefore may not reach the upper caudex part, causing it to soften.

You may not see leaves yellowing immediately, but the rot is there. If the leaves start to yellow, that's a sign that things are getting too late. Save it immediately.

7. The Grafted Branches

grafted-branches-drooping
Drooping adenium grafted branches

Sometimes, when the plants do not have enough water and nutrients to nourish the grafted branches, it may lead to a soften caudex.

You can see this happening when the grafted branches seem to droop downwards. They may not be strong enough to carry the flowers. Soften caudex may also happen when the grafted scions are quite long.

Continue Reading Below

The Basic Idea

This is a very simplified picture of how the energy flows in & out of adenium:

adenium-energy-flow

When you get the basic idea, you may make some sense of what's going on to help your plants.

With sunlight, the adenium has energy to pump water & nutrients in from the roots. These "energy money" then get spent out as leaves, branches & beautiful flowers.

When the caudex is soft, it may mean the bottom part is troubled. We can imagine two approaches to this: the top & the bottom.

Many people suggest then that we save this by "spending less" or cutting off the top part. If the bottom part is infected, we need to do some cuttings down there too.

It's recommended that you save the desert rose as soon as you have time. Otherwise, the cost of delay means the plants might be getting weaker; thus, slowing down the recovery process.

Let us show you next how to save a soft caudex:

Save Soft Caudex Adenium: Step by Step

1. Cut Off the Leaves

If your plants currently have leaves, cut them off. Leaves are huge nitrogen consumers.

So by temporarily saying goodbye to them, we can focus the plant's energy to nourish the weak part, that is the caudex.

Leave some of them on for some energy absorption. Your leaves will grow back as the tree recovers.

2. Cut Off Some Branches

Look for branches that have 2-3 smaller branches. Then, cut some small ones off.

After cutting them off, you can use some cinnamon ground or garden lime powder to cover up the cut. This helps fight against bacteria & keep the cut dry.

3. Wave Goodbye to Flowers & Buds

Oh, we're sorry to cut off those beautiful flowers too. But at this time, we may need to do so to prioritize the survival of our tree.

With this done, we're off-loading the "burden" of some potassium & phosphorous eaters on the tree. This helps in case the tree is under-nourished.

4. Snip Off Those Rotted String Roots

At this time, you'd want to keep some big roots. You can dig the plants up to see the roots.

If some string roots are mushy & appear black, then we snip them off to avoid further spreading to the whole tree.

Cut off lots of string roots to focus more energy on the caudex. If your root ball is infected by fungi, use some water to spray them off.

5. Dry the Plant

After digging the plants up & cut off some damaged roots and big energy consumers, you can take the plants out to dry under the sun for about 2 hours.

We do this to fully exhaust the plants & let the water out in preparation for the resting period.

6. Let the Desert Rose Rest

In a shady, not-too-hot area, hang the desert rose for resting. We've completely cut off water intake as well as the outlets at this point. Just let it rest. Something like "Baby plant, you don't need to do any more work. We know you've had enough & just rest well".

Depending on your plants, this period can be from 7, 10, 15, or 21 days. No water is needed during this time. You can wrap a towel or shirt around the caudex to avoid some remaining leaves become wilted.

7. Replant Your Adenium Into Fresh/Cool Medium

After the resting time is over, you can prepare fresh, new medium to put your adenium in. At this time, give your super-thirsty baby a good amount of water. Make sure the potting mix & container drain well and are not too hot.

This is optional & depends on each tree, but you may spray some root hormone to promote more root growth. Phosphorous fertilizer can help with root growth as well. Some potassium can also nourish the recovering leaves.

Some folks recommend not to use fertilizer high in nitrogen at this point yet. Especially for grafted trees because they might race up top to nourish those grafted branches, leaving our caudex soft again. So we want to slowly work the good bits up as the plant fully recovers.

After 3 Remarkable Recovery Months

The recovery process takes time. It can be somewhere from 3 months or more. But be patient with your plants as much as they are trying to heal themselves. When conditions are sufficient & supportive, bounce back will naturally happen.

Don't worry too much my friends. Many growers have had issues with soft caudex. The caudex will get harder & healthy when you give adenium care and love. The soft caudex will harden again with life & strength.

We don't know everything in this world. But we hope this was somewhat helpful. Please share your experience to help other adenium lovers just like you in the community. Thanks for visiting & have a great time!

Responses to Readers' Questions

I sm travelling interstate in a couple of months and wish to take my 1 year old plant, my understanding is that the plant is ok to take but not the soil...s o I was planning on a week prior to travell I will remove all soil and wrap the roots in wet paper towel and replant into soil asap once over the border. Can you offer any advise please as I love this plant, she's very special to me Thanks Katby.

--> Hi Katby, sounds like you have a great plan for your desert rose! She definitely needs to be in your carry-on for the best chances of survival. You could alternatively wrap the roots with damp cotton buds–or perhaps in a small Ziploc bag or a little cup so the water in the paper towel does not get dripped else where. Some folks wrap extra newspapers or wrappers around the leaves and stem for extra stability. You could put your plant in a paper bag, a shopping bag or any holder you're comfortable with. The in-flight temperature is usually quite cool so the plant won't lose too much moisture. Sending my love to you and your baby plant. I hope this helps. Be safe!

I just received a bare root desert rose via usps. The caudex was a little soft. I placed it in a pot, barely covered the root and watered well, it drained well. Will it be okay?

--> Thanks for your question. In most cases, if your desert rose has quite a good-sized caudex in proportion to the trunk and branches, it will be okay. A little loss in water won't knock it out easily. With the resources in the caudex reservoir + new home and new soil, the plant will be able to recover and harden up when given time.

Before shipping the plants, some sellers cut water, pick the plants up, and dry them for 2-3 days to lower chances of rotting, especially near the string root parts. Whereas others may not. You could check if the string roots are good. Big rotting often starts from some of these tiny guys getting rotted. Snip off any blackened/bruised/damaged ones if needed. Some growers also cut off the roots which they think are unnecessary to promote new root growth. If your desert rose is grafted and in bloom and you think that the whole plant won't be able to carry all those flowers at the moment, cut off some buds and leaves to conserve energy.

If you go the cutting route, apply cinnamon or lime powder to protect the new cuts and let them (or the plant) dry before getting in contact with water. During the drying time, the caudex might shrink a bit but when the cuts are dry or new root buttons start to poke out, you could plant the desert rose in new soil and begin watering. It will grow well. Otherwise, if all is good (no bruised parts just a little soft caudex), then sunshine + water + soil will suffice. You'll be good to go. I hope this helps!

>> More info here: Received bare-root adenium by post, what to do next?

Hi My plant's caudex has soften once I moved it indoor due to a weather change. I live in GA and as of now, it's sort of getting cold. When Fall started I kept putting it outside when the sun is out and warm, but bringing it inside when weather goes below 50 degrees and I think that is the reason why the caudex soften. Help please! What to do?

--> Thanks for your question. Based on what you've shared above, I am thinking (and half-guessing too) that weather change may be a reason for the softening caudex. To start with, you may recall if the plant has been getting good amount of water, especially at times when it was out in the sun. Also, is your plant carrying buds or flowers? Sometimes, at the budding/flowering stage, it may need to 'suck up' quite a bit of water/nutrients from the caudex. When the caudex is not getting some food to 'rebuild the muscles' (after sharing with the flowers), it may soften. In another case, if your plant is young and still growing vigorously, the leaves and growing branches may be big energy consumers. Have a look around the pot and growing medium. If it's quite root-bound or the medium has been used for a while, you could prepare a bigger pot with new yummy medium for it. If you want to let it enjoy some sunshine on warm days, make sure to give it enough water. If you think it's necessary, offload (prune off) some energy consumers like leaves, branches so the plant can focus on the caudex for now.

As it is getting quite cold, would you want to let your plant go dormant? Folks do this by not watering their plants for some time. The leaves will turn yellow and fall off. If you let it go dormant, you could keep it indoors all the time until the weather warms up more. This lessens the need for bringing it in and out for you. A good indoor temperature can be from 55F and up. If it gets really cold, place the plant near a wall where some heat may be trapped. Or you could use some wrappers around the plant to retain the warmth. The plant won't die! Many have overwintered their desert roses in similar ways to that and they've survived the cold months. A while back I kept some adenium seedlings indoors. I used a light bulb like this:

indoor-led-lighting
shining-light

From my experience, some small ones that I (somewhat lazily) under-watered got soft/squishy and quite wrinkled. But if we reduce lighting, it will slow down the softening. And if the plants have enough resources to live by, they will make it through and hang in there–for months (about 4 to be exact)! I have now replanted these little guys in new soil, with water & sunlight. It took several weeks or more, 5-8 weeks in my case, before things really kicked in. But once they do, the plants have been gradually hardening up and doing very well fortunately. I am often pleasantly surprised by how resilient these little plants are. Until we give up on them, most won't give up on themselves easily. I see them as little miracles.

wrinkles-on-adenium
Soft wrinkled underwatered adenium seedling

So, all of this is to say I think if your plant is bigger than this, it will make it through. The caudex will harden up and the plant will be happy again once spring comes. I hope this helps!

Update (14 April 2021): Also if you notice the sun in your local area is quite strong in the fall, then you could place the desert rose outside for a shorter period of time. In some places, the sun could be strong and low in the sky during the fall season.

Relevant info: Winter care tips for desert rose

Hi...i noticed my adenium leaves started to lie low like they are very week after it bloomed flower.. my plant is watered regularly. Some grower advised me to dig the plant and repot it.. after digging i saw the caudex was very soft, there was not a sign of fungi and there are little roots too... i am from Philippines and its almost summer here but the weather is unpredictable. It sometimes rains in the middle of the night so my plants get soaked.

--> Thanks for sharing what's going on with your plant. From what I think while reading it, the plants may usually get weaker after flowering because of the energy expense. Thus, the low-lying leaves or softer caudex. To share some thoughts with you, could it also be as the weather is getting hotter the plant is evaporating faster and in need of some more water than usual. Have the nutrients in the soil run up? If there's quite some carbon in the soil component, it could heat up the bottom part, making the plant "sweat" more.

Is it soft all around the caudex or just some side or part? If it feels mushy soft (like mashed potato) that you can easily poke a finger through or it looks bruised on the skin (darker color circle), then may be it's the opposite that is getting too much water. My guess for the string roots could be they are trying to find the way out for the big root. Just a thought but maybe the high humidity from the night rain to early morning (+frequent watering) could trigger the little root growth. Have you also checked the pot size is good enough, not too tight for them?

Lastly, I guess frequent changes in temp may turn the plant "dizzy" a bit. May be after the flowering you could let it rest and give it some time to recover–in a not too hot area. After flowering, you can feed it with some nitrogen for the next cycle. My little seedlings here have been experiencing some hot-n-colds, many have yellow leaves now.

How to recover them

--> Thanks for your question. Give it some time, place it in a shady place, the plant will recover itself.

My plant having seed bearing pods what to do above mentioned suggest that cut off leaves branches

--> Thanks for your query. Please send us a picture for more accurate diagnosis.

Here are some ideas: Observe the condition of your plant first before making any actions. Don't blindly, mechanically follow but do your thing and what makes sense to you. If the plant is bearing seed pods and the caudex is soft, a possible mentioned cause could be dehydration–as the plant is using the energy to produce seeds. You could then check the watering, if anything else is taking away the water from the plant. There may be other reasons. Check how its health is now. Hope you'll find out the reason and make it better.

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Here are some ideas to begin with:

  • Have the plants been dropped or fallen off somewhere recently? If they are weeks- or months-old seedlings, dropping from a certain height can damage their bodies.
  • Have they got enough water? Caudex is like the water storage of the adenium. If it's soft, it means that there may not be enough water inside. This can cause the whole body to shrink.
  • Have the desert roses been transplanted recently? After re-potting or any kinds of movement shock, the plants need some time to rest and recover. If your desert rose is bigger & older, it may survive with the remaining water amount.
  • Have they been pruned recently? It is quite normal for the caudex to be softer during the pruning period, especially if the weather is hot. In this case, provide some water for your thirsty adenium moderately.

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