Albuca Spiralis: A Twisty Frizzle Sizzle

Looking for something unique? Albuca spiralis, “frizzle sizzle” as it’s sometimes called, is a great choice. This bulbing succulent plant produces spiral leaves which can look like corkscrews, making it a whimsical and fun addition to any collection of houseplants!

Whether grown in containers or in garden beds, frizzle sizzle plant is well worth your time… and it won’t take up much of it. Easy to care for, you’ll find this South African plant will keep you smiling.

And did I mention that its flowers smell kinda like butter and vanilla? 

Read on, and we’ll give you all the insight you’ll need to grow your own frizzle sizzle albuca!

Good Products For Your Frizzle Sizzle:

Quick Care Guide

Common Name(s): Frizzle sizzle, corkscrew albuca, curly Albuca, helicopter plant, slime lily
Scientific NameAlbuca spiralis
Family:Asparagaceae
Zone:8-11, but zones 9-10 ideal
Height & Spread:6″-8″ tall with flower spikes up to 12″
LightFull to partial sun
SoilSandy, loose soil
Water:Consistent moisture during winter, drought-tolerant in summer
Pests & Diseases:Pest and disease free

All About Frizzle Sizzle

Albuca flower spike developing
An albuca developing its flower spike.

Native to South Africa, the frizzle sizzle plant is just loads of fun! As a whimsical addition to your garden, you’ll find albuca spiralis has very distinctive leaves. Each leaf has glandular hairs that make it feel almost sticky to the touch, and it forms a tight curl at the tip that looks like a curlicue or corkscrew. 

Sometimes described as grasslike, the leaves are narrow and long, although they appear deceptively short due to their spiraled tips. They’re thick despite their narrow width, allowing the plant to store water in them. This is essential, as this plant’s natural environment is feast or famine when it comes to water availability.

Since it typically only receives water in the winter months, the plant has adapted to an entirely different schedule than most of us are familiar with. It does most of its growing when the weather is cool and its soil is moist. At the end of its growth spurt, it sends up long stalks upon which interesting flowers form. Each spike can have ten to twenty flowers on it.

The flowers are slightly aromatic, and produce an interesting scent you don’t expect to find outside of a bakery. It’s almost butter-like, but at the same time it has a hint of vanilla to it and a clean, crisp aroma. Alas, they’re not edible (and in fact are poisonous if consumed, or at least will give you a bellyache), so they definitely don’t taste like they smell.

As the heat comes on, the bulb goes dormant. The leaves may still remain in place, but the plant conserves its energy throughout the summer months and well into the fall. Albuca spiralis then springs back to life again once the weather cools down, erupting new twisted growth throughout the winter once more.

There’s a number of names that the semi-succulent frizzle sizzle albuca goes by. We’re all familiar with its most common, “frizzle sizzle”, but because of the spinning leaves, it’s occasionally called helicopter plant. Occasionally it’s called spiral grass, particularly when the flower stalks haven’t appeared. And, like all albucas, it’s considered a slime lily because of the mucilaginous sap it produces.

You’ll find that this lovely albuca is a phenomenal addition to your collection!

Albuca Spiralis Care

Albuca spiralis
Albuca spiralis, or frizzle sizzle, is a fascinatingly twisty plant!

Due to its unique and innate timing, the frizzle sizzle Albuca spiralis is practically made for indoor growth. A controlled temperature can really allow this plant to thrive! But there are still a few things you’ll need to know to keep it happy.

Light & Temperature

The frizzle sizzle, Albuca spiralis, is accustomed to lots of light in its native range. Full sun is best, but partial sun may be alright as long as it gets it consistently. 5-7 hours is absolutely necessary, but more full sun is even better.

Too little light will prevent the leaves from curling, and instead, they’ll just become long and wavy.  If you don’t have a reliable light source inside the house, consider getting a grow light.

For container-grown plants, consider putting them in a south-facing window or other location where they’re guaranteed to receive lots of natural sunlight. Turn the plant a quarter-turn every day to ensure that the leaves don’t all point towards the sunlight!

Not very frost hardy, frizzle sizzle albuca prefers a minimum temperature of 60 degrees. However, to produce viable seeds, it does need to dip down into cooler temperatures during the winter months. It can be grown in zones 8-11, but prefers the range of 9-10. Avoid complete freezing conditions when possible, as that will cause damage to your plant.

For best growth, keep the temperature between 60-75 degrees. This often matches perfectly with our indoor climate controls, making it easy to maintain!

One thing to note: during the height of the summer, while the plant can take the heat, those twisty leaves can still get occasionally sunburned if the sun’s too intense. Cooler indoor temperatures will help even when it spikes into the 90’s or 100’s, but stay watchful to make sure those thick little leaves don’t start to scorch.

Water & Humidity

The key to successfully growing your albuca spiralis frizzle sizzle is drainage. While your plant does need water, it’s also like other bulb plants in that it’s at major risk of bulb rot. And it also needs to be watered a bit differently than your other plants.

Know how most plants need more water when the heat comes on? Not your frizzle sizzle albuca! That’s when you actually need to water the least. From the beginning of the summer through most of the fall, you want your soil at most barely damp to the touch. Let it dry out between waterings.

As the weather shifts to cooler conditions outside, begin watering consistently. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Don’t leave your pot sitting in water, as this can make the soil too wet and cause bulb rot to occur. Instead, be sure excess moisture drains away easily.

Don’t go overboard with watering or humidity. Too much moisture will cause the plant’s leaves to be floppy or soft. The plant tries to store water in its leaves, and an excess of water can also stop those pretty spirals from forming!

Don’t worry about providing added humidity for your frizzle sizzle. Albuca spiralis just doesn’t need it.

Soil

Sandy soil is ideal for your albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle comes from a naturally sandy region of the world, and the bulbs perform best when they’re in that soil type. A little compost is fine to add, but be sure not to provide too much material that will hold moisture directly against the bulb of the frizzle sizzle. Albuca spiralis is tolerant of poor soils!

For your base soil, especially if you’re planting in containers, consider a succulent and cactus mix, perhaps blended with some African violet mix. This provides good aeration and just enough water retention for your albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle can also perform well in a typical soil with 50-70% mineral grit added. Coarse sand, pumice, or perlite are all excellent sources of mineral grit.

The pH of your soil is generally unimportant for your albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle grows well in most residential soil pH levels. Aim for a neutral range if you can, but don’t panic if you can’t.

Fertilizer

It’s best to fertilize at certain times of the year for your Albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle needs a good kick-start in the late fall as it starts to go into its active growing season. After that, a second fertilizing when its flower stalks start to form in the spring is ideal. 

A balanced liquid fertilizer is best for your plant. Water your plant well the day before you fertilize to ensure it’s already fully hydrated. Then, apply the liquid fertilizer to the soil, not to the albuca itself. Let any excess drain through the soil.

Fertilize once at the very beginning of the growing season, with a second dose if it needs it a few weeks later. If you’re using a weak organic fertilizer, fertilize monthly during its growth spurt, but if you’re using anything 2-2-2 or above, stick with just one to two doses early on. Fertilize again when you first start to see evidence of flower stalks developing. Do not fertilize in the summer or early fall.

Repotting

As a bulbing plant, you will find that repotting is not a regular thing for your albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle creates bulbs, which do spread, but it takes a while for them to develop new bulblets. Since they’re fairly slow-growing, you probably won’t need to repot for the first year, but likely will in its second year of growth.

If you’re not dividing the plant, select a pot which is about 2” wider than its current one. Remove your plant carefully and dust off excess soil to expose the bulbs and their root system. Examine the bulbs carefully, removing any which have visible rot. Dispose of the rotten bulbs.

Once you’ve confirmed the rest of the plant is free of damage, add new potting soil as described in the soil section above. Carefully plant into the soil at the same height at which it was planted previously. Pat the soil down gently around the plant when done, but don’t pack it too tightly to prevent compaction.

Propagation

Frizzle sizzle flower
A close up of a frizzle sizzle flower. Source: 澎湖小雲雀

Frizzle sizzle is propagated via seeds, bulbs, or division.

Seeds should be planted within six months of collecting them. In the wild, these plants will self-seed around their parent plant, and the seeds will begin to germinate within a week. The small bulblets thus formed will go dormant through the hot months and then rapidly develop when the weather cools down.

You can mimic this by planting your seeds when you’ve just finished gathering them from your plants. Plant them no deeper than twice their size, as they don’t need a lot of soil overtop of them and they’re tiny! They can just be sown on the soil surface as well. Mist them to keep them damp, but not soggy, until they begin to come up. Provide full sun for them to help keep them warm enough to germinate.

To plant bulbs, carefully separate a bulb or two with healthy roots from the parent plant and replant them as a new plant. Division works in much the same way, except that you separate the whole cluster of bulbs into 3-4 groups of bulbs before replanting.

Pruning

One of the best things about albuca spiralis: frizzle sizzle doesn’t need a lot of pruning!

The major pruning you will need to do is to remove the flower stalks. You can wait until after the seeds have formed. If you’re not saving seed, remove them once the flowers fade. This can cause the plant to do a second round of flowering, although that’s rare.

Outside of that, leaves that have been in full sun may have developed a bit of sunburn. Remove those. In the summertime, it’s also possible that your plant may have leaves go yellow during dormancy, and you’ll want to trim off those yellow leaves too.  Use a good pair of pruning snips to make a clean cut.

Troubleshooting

Growing problems are rare for your albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle is pretty good at taking care of itself! But here’s the few issues which might appear, just so you’re prepared for them.

Growing Problems

Like many plants, you’ll find a few oddities about your frizzle sizzle. Albuca spiralis prefers a minimum temperature of about 60 degrees, but it can handle slightly colder conditions. Some reports say that it can survive temperature dips of down to 17 degrees Fahrenheit, but will have damage from the cold. If possible, try to keep it warmer most of the time.

To form viable seeds, you’ll need to give your plants a bit of a cold snap in the winter to spur spring flowering. For a few weeks, let it get down into the 40’s at night for your albuca, but keep it warmer during the day. Remember that this is the plant’s active growing phase, and keep an eye on its moisture levels to make sure the soil stays consistently damp!

In the summer, leaf wilt is not uncommon. Yellowing also occurs to at least half of the plant’s leafy foliage while it’s dormant. Remove the damaged leaf material, but try to ensure it’s got enough left to survive. If it loses all leafy material, don’t throw the bulb out, as it should spring back to life in the cool weather later in the year.

Pests

Pests just aren’t a problem for albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle is virtually pest-free! If anything, your biggest concern should be the potential of spider mites in your soil during the summer, but even those are rare. They just don’t seem to like albuca much. If anything, a few opportunistic snails might sample them if they’re outside.

Diseases

Diseases also tend to avoid albuca spiralis. Frizzle sizzle is not immune to bulb rot, though, so be careful to avoid overwatering or other conditions that could promote fungal growth. Sandy soils help to drain off excess water quickly to protect your bulbs, so be sure to use either a heavy-sand mix or a cactus and succulent soil blend.

Frequently Asked Questions

Bulb of albuca spiralis
The bulb of albuca spiralis looks almost like an onion.

Q: Is Albuca spiralis a succulent?

A: Yes, mostly. Technically it is a succulent, but it’s a bulbing succulent. It forms thick, but narrow leaves that store water as a mucilaginous gel, which makes it a succulent. However, it has a bulb that looks kind of like an onion in how it forms. So by technicality, yes, but it doesn’t look like what most people think of when they imagine a succulent!

Q: Why is my frizzle sizzle turning brown?

A: In the summer, you may see yellowing of your albuca spiralis. Brown tips are a sign that it’s starting to put up a flower stalk, but actual yellowing is part of the dormancy process. Both are completely normal, but if you’d like to avoid brown tips, remove the flower stalk before it fully develops. If you want it to bloom, just use a pair of pruning snips to clip off the brown material, leaving the green intact.

You can also snip off any yellowed leaf as it goes into dormancy, close to the plant’s base if possible. If it completely yellows, don’t panic, it may just be dormant for the hot months. Keep the bulb through the warm season, occasionally watering when it’s completely dry. It will return in the cooler weather.

Q: Why is my frizzle sizzle not curling?

A: Most of the time, this is caused by too much water. Reduce your watering a bit to give those corkscrews a chance to form. Since it stores water in its leaves, you’ll find that excess water just makes fat little stick-like leaves, and you lose all of its quirky charms!

Too little light also can prevent it from curling, though. Be sure it gets enough light, even if it’s indirect bright lighting. It needs it.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

Clarisa Teodoro
Researcher

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