Meet the Crassulas

Crassula 'Campfire' with blue and green companion plants

Crassula ‘Campfire’ with blue and green companion plants

There is one family of plants whose forms, flowers and foliage could keep a gardener enthralled for several lifetimes.
None of the plants in this family needs more than twice-a-week watering and some barely require any water at all.
This family is known as Crassulaceae, derived from the Latin crassus, meaning “thick” and referring to the thick, rubbery leaves of all family members.
Genera in this family include Crassula, Kalanchoe, Sedum, Aeonium, Echeveria, Sempervivum and Dudleya. They flower over a long period, from January to June, and many of them are flowering now.
One of the most drought-tolerant ground covers is Crassula multicava. This oval-leafed plant spreads in shade and partial sun and offers an abundance of spidery white flowers. Its foliage and flowers will remind you of jade plant (Crassula ovata), that notable and sculptural succulent that can grow up to 9 feet tall, but it is usually encountered at a more modest height.
Jade plant is ideal for containers since, when protected from hot sun, it can go for weeks without water. Jade foliage is usually encountered in green, but variegated versions such as “Sunset” (yellow and red) and “Tricolor” (green, white and pink) are also available. Kalanchoe (kal-an-CO-ee) is actually a Chinese word for one of the species in this most fascinating of all succulent groups.
Each species seems to have a dynamic personality of its own. Maternity plant or mother of thousands (Kalanchoe diagremontiana) has numerous baby plantlets that grow on the margins of its leaves. Whether grown in a pot or in the garden, these plantlets drop to the soil in due time and take root. Alternatively, detach the plantlets and start a maternity plant nursery on your own.
Kalanchoe pinnata has shimmering light green foliage and panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) has furry teddy bear appendages that pass for leaves. Both grow into bushy specimens up to 3 feet tall. The giant felt plant (Kalanchoe beharensis) grows to 10 feet and has deeply lobed triangular leaves up to 8 inches long. It is highly adaptable and lives in sun or shade but prefers a minimal watering regime. Foliage is silvery green when grown in shade and coppery and fuzzy in the sun.
Felt plant becomes an arresting focal point in a drought-tolerant or succulent garden. Florists’ kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) has shiny foliage and silky flowers in red, orange, salmon or yellow. All kalanchoes may be propagated from individual leaves that are detached and placed in close contact with fast-draining soil, whether at their bases or all along their length.
Sedum comes from one of two Latin words, either sedare or sedere. Sedare (to sedate) would refer to its calming properties, as it was used medicinally for curing a large variety of inflammations.Sedere (to sit) would refer to its close attachment, in nature, as a ground cover to rocks and other surfaces that seem inhospitable to plants.
Certain sedums have tiny leaves in red, yellow, green or blue and, planted together, create a pleasantly kaleidoscopic effect in the succulent garden. For additional color, plant Aeonium “Sunburst,” whose rosetted leaves bear stripes of green, pink and yellow cream, and Echeveria “Afterglow” with violet blue foliage.
Sempervivum means “live forever” and was given its name based on its high degree of drought tolerance. In one test case, it went 18 months without water and survived.
The Romans grew the symmetrical rosettes known as hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) on rooftops to protect from lightning and fire, muffle the sound of thunder and for culinary and medicinal purposes as well.
Dudleya is the chalky blue grey succulent genus that includes many California natives. As you drive up Angeles Crest Highway on the approach to Wrightwood, you will see Dudleya growing in the cracks of nearly vertical limestone embankments. They appear as silvery starlike creatures that somehow draw sustenance from the gritty walls that they call home.
Many of the plants listed here may be found at David Bernstein’s landmark California Nursery Specialties, located at 19420 Saticoy St. just west of Tampa Avenue in Reseda.
The nursery is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information, call 818-894-5694.
Tip of the Week: You can make relatively carefree horticultural hanging baskets from a number of noteworthy succulents.
Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum), a slow-growing plant, consists of porcelain, pale blue jelly-bean leaves that will eventually produce geotropic chains 3 feet (or longer) in length. String of hearts (Ceropegia linearis woodii) consists of delicate heart-shaped leaves connected by thin, dental floss-like strands. String of beads (Senecio rowleyanus), laid among other baubles in a jewelry box, could easily pass for a string of pearl-sized, polished globes cut from pale green jade.

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