Plants To Dye For

January 27, 2013 | By | Comments (13)
Photo by Bubba Bussell.

Painted thimble cacti — plant abuse at its worst. Photo by Bubba Bussell.

Grumpy is a tolerant guy. He didn’t go postal when he discovered blue-and-purple poinsettias with sparkles on the leaves for sale at Christmas. And when he chanced upon white moth orchids with their flowers dyed blue, he forswore his usual reaction of biting the head off of a doll. But today, he was presented irrefutable evidence of a crime against the innocent he CANNOT abide. Painted plants.

My Southern Living colleague, Bubba Bussell, took the photo above at a big-box store I shall not identify for fear of violence. Apparently, the store’s marketers think that normal green thimble cacti are no longer exciting or marketable. Therefore, let’s spray-paint them red, sapphire, pink, swimming pool-blue, and any other color French girls with nose rings typically dye their hair.

The sad part is that spray-painted cacti probably will sell like hotcakes. Spray-painted hotcakes. Most people just aren’t as tasteful as you and I.

Wait — It Gets Worse…
If there’s one ray of hope is this awful, bizarre enterprise, it’s that only the tops of the thimble cacti were spray-painted. Most of their sides are still green, which means the plants can still carry out vital functions like photosynthesis and transpiration to some degree. So after the paint wears off, they’ll recover. Wish I could say the same for these poor guys below. Oh, the inhumanity!

Photo by Bubba Bussell.

Painted echeverias in soon-to-be-nonliving color. Photo by Bubba Bussell.

These formerly happy, little succulents are Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ — a popular plant for use in mixed succulent planters. (Succulents are drought-tolerant plants that store water in stems and leaves.) Their normal color is grayish-green. Not any more! Now they’re screaming orange, burgundy, guacamole, purple, and tillapia! There’s hardly any original leaf surface left. “Topsy Turvy’ is right!

Rather than cheapo spray-painting, it looks like these were hand-painted. Both of the upper and lower leaf surfaces are entirely painted over. How do you like this paint job?

Photo by Steve Bender.

Where did I put my purple lip gloss? Hmm. Photo by Steve Bender.

Tell me you wouldn’t buy one of these. Please. I need to believe in mankind again.

Why Painting Plants Is Bad
Aside from aesthetic and mental health considerations, painting plants is bad for a couple of reasons. Plants use leaves and stems to make food from sunlight (photosynthesize) and breathe (transpire). Completely coating the leaves with paint prevents this and will probably kill the plants or, at least, seriously injure them.

And don’t for a moment think people are immune to this heinous practice. Remember what happened to agent Jill Masterson in the James Bond movie, “Goldfinger”?

Silence is golden, says Goldfinger. Photo by 007.

Silence is golden, says Goldfinger. Photo by 007.

Goldfinger painted her entire body gold and, according to Bond, she suffocated. Even now, the cruelty of this act takes Grumpy’s breath away.

So don’t let me catch you buying painted plants! Otherwise, I’ll send Oddjob over and you could lose your head.


  1. Ashley

    While I am a nature-lover myself, and hate to see any harm to our environment, I’m going to have to strongly agree with “E P” here. I don’t know for a fact whether the paint used was non-toxic, but if we are going to get all worked up about the possibility that these stores are “harming” plants intentionally- we should probably have concerns about the other plants that I am always seeing at these stores which are being over/under-watered, and the ones that I see knocked over and stepped on, or shriveled up and left to die on the shelves….not to mention the many OTHER ways these stores contribute to pollution in our environment…I mean- I find it kinda pathetic that a little paint on some plants (that can likely be EASILY propagated to grow more/”new” plants) is causing this much grief for some folks– maybe they should be more worried about people like my mom and her brown thumb! Cuz she DEFINITLY can’t keep a plant living longer than these painted plants will live! She’s like a serial killer for plants!

    April 22, 2016 at 11:38 am
  2. Steve Bender


    It won’t harm the cactus as long as you paint only the spines.

    March 20, 2015 at 9:30 am
  3. Rabbit LaBlue

    I have this cactus where only the needles are painted red. Since eventually it will grow new spines, I was wondering if it would be ok to repaint the new ones after they grow in? I can’t think of how this would harm the plant as long as I use a safe nontoxic paint.

    March 17, 2015 at 10:38 pm
  4. Steve Bender


    As long as you’re just covering small spots, what the heck, go ahead. And please stop burning your plant!

    November 28, 2014 at 9:27 am
  5. Tim

    My 25+ year old cactus is 6 ‘ tall with burn marks , covering the marks with the same color paint seems like a good idea, yes , no?

    November 20, 2014 at 7:03 pm
  6. E P

    …we tattoo our naturally non-tattooed skin. …we dye our naturally non-dyed hair. …we pierce our naturally non-pierced skin. …we kill weeds…we kill grass growing where we don’t want it…we uproot bushes where they are bothersome…we kill spiders…we kill insects…we let cats and dogs run around impregnating each other just so we have more unwanted animals in the shelters….I do not agree that a plant should be painted everywhere because of the fact that they can’t live. But sprucing up a plant to make it look creative is the same as artwork. …you kill trees to make the pencils you write with, the paper you draw on, the canvas frame it’s on. What I am getting at is the word “cruelty” is EXTREMELY misused in this. Insisting that people are also cruel for buying something like this is also, I repeat, a misuse of the word.

    Now serial killers and rapists use the correct form of cruelty…

    June 25, 2014 at 2:52 pm
  7. Spray painting plants? I think NOT. | Container Crazy Cathy T

    […] Plants To Dye For – The Daily South | Your Hub for Southern Culture. […]

    February 5, 2013 at 11:13 am
  8. Steve Bender

    Yes, some Echeverias have burgundy and even blackish leaves, but that wasn’t the case here. They were painted. The paint doesn’t come off. I have one at home that was painted purple and it’s dying, because light can’t penetrate the paint.

    February 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm
  9. Martina Creger

    Grumpy’s probably right that these will sell like crazy and that’s what’s scary…

    January 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm
  10. Tree Dellinger

    I’m no fan of artificial colors in my plants, but don’t some Echeverias come in non-green colors? ‘Black Prince’ is a chocolate color that looks much like that dark one second from the right, and I’ve seen some coral and orange colors online as well. Or are these plants dyed with colors in the water? Seems like paint would just wash off with all the water on the leaves seen in the photo.

    January 27, 2013 at 5:48 pm
  11. Carolyn Choi

    Just when you think there’s nothing new and repugnant under the sun you manage to find it, Grumpy. This affirms your good taste.

    January 27, 2013 at 10:36 am
  12. house185

    Very cruel indeed. Nature cannot be improved upon. These plants are gorgeous in their natural state.

    January 27, 2013 at 10:32 am
  13. Tammie Doler

    Horrible that this has been done to plants!!

    January 27, 2013 at 10:19 am

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