Crassula (2008)

PhotoBy Eric Driskill (May 2008)

Crassula is a large genus in the family Crassulaceae containing around 200 species of succulent plants ranging in size from less than 1 inch in height to over 6 feet. In Latin, “crassus” means thick and aptly fits the stems and/or leaves of many species of Crassula.

Crassulas grow throughout the world, but the species that are used in gardening or by collectors are found almost exclusively in South Africa. Some species of Crassula are monocarpic and die after flowering. Typically crassulas are propagated by stem or leaf cuttings.

Many crassulas tolerate some frost, but excessive cold or heat will usually result in loss of foliage. The main pests you are likely to experience with crassulas are root and stem mealy bugs. Most Crassula species tolerate a wide range of light levels. However, the compact growth and leaf coloration seen in habitat require high light levels, preferably direct sunlight.

There are many crassulas worthy of adding to your collection. The most popular and well known by far is Crassula ovata, commonly known as the jade plant. C. ovata is from the Eastern Cape and can grow into a large shrub, which is a great bonsai specimen.

If you don’t have room for C. ovata, you may want to consider C. agrentea, pygmae jade. With red-edged, bright-green leaves, it is half the size of C. ovata. These are easily trained, and when referring to this plant, I heard one grower say, “This one isn’t your grandma’s Jade plant.”

One of my favorites is Crassula pyramidalis, which is a small, dichotomously branching plant up to 4 inches tall. C. pyramidalis has long, triangular green leaves densely arranged to form cylindrical columns.

Some of the most popular crassulas are C. ovata cultivars that include such gems as Gollum and Hobbit. The leaves of both remind us of some other world or something you might find under the sea. Popular hybrids include Morgans Beauty, C. mesembryanthemoides x C. falcate, and Buddha’s Temple, which is a C. falcata x C. pyramidalis hybrid.

With so many crassulas from which to choose, with so many colors, sizes, shapes and geometric patterns, there is surely a crassula to suite anyone’s taste. You could count several among your collection without sacrificing much of your precious space.