Resources

Kalanchoe (2021)

An Often Overlooked Genus

Photo
Kalanchoe katapifa ‘Tarantula’ is easy to root and grow, and produces “bouquets” of pink flowers. (Photo by Nikki Murdick.)

By Nikki Murdick (October 2021)

When people hear the word kalanchoe, most immediately think of the plant known as “mother of thousands.” They then state they don’t want that hated plant, as it sends its plantlets to reproduce everywhere! Kalanchoes are plants that one can easily find on the shelves at big box stores. They are a wonderful group of plants for both beginners and those with more experience.

History

Kalanchoes are members of the Crassulaceae family. They are found in southern and tropical Africa south of the Sahara Desert, Madagascar, islands of the Indian Ocean, India and Malaysia. The genus was originally described in the mid-1700s by Michael Adanson.

Currently there are about 125 different plants in this genus, so there are many more from which to choose than just the mother of thousands, Kalanchoe diagremontiana. Kalanchoes have many different leaf types, growth forms and flower colors. They are a great genus to have on your shelves.

Propagation

Propagation of this plant can be done by leaf or stem cuttings, or seeds. Some plants in this group self-propagate through the development of plantlets – those tiny leaves found on the edges of many kalanchoes that root anywhere they can.

Care

Kalanchoes mostly grow in xeric habitats, so you need to be careful not to overwater them. On the other hand, during their growing season (in most cases, our summer), they need regular watering, usually every week or so. They also need water during the winter, although their watering schedule should be reduced. They do best if they are in well-draining soil, and some say that clay pots, which do not hold water, are the best options for this type of plant.

Kalanchoes are not cold-hardy here in Missouri, so they must return to your greenhouse or house for the winter. They do best in temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees F, although they tolerate higher summer temperatures if they have plenty of water and well-draining soil. In addition, they do not seem to mind our humidity, so they are a good plant for this area of the county.

Photo
K. diagremontiana, the mother of thousands, produces plantlets along its leaves that drop and quickly spread. (Photo by Nikki Murdick.)

The plants are photoperiodic and so need a lot of sunlight in order to bloom. Be careful, however, as they sunburn easily. The best spot to have them is one that gets morning sun and then shade from our direct summer sun. Along with sunlight, they like to have some fertilizer in order to enhance their blooming. They should be fertilized about once a month with a general fertilizer during the spring and summer.

These plants are susceptible to aphids and mealybugs, so be alert after you bring them into your house. Whenever you buy a new kalanchoe, it is best to check the roots and leaves for infestation. Wash thoroughly if any suspect is found, and then provide the plant with new soil.

Beware!

One concern is that kalanchoes are toxic to animals, so you should keep them away from your pets. The leaves and the flowers are the culprits, as they contain a chemical compound called bufadienolide. This compound is also found in other members of the Crassulaceae family, as well as tylecodons and cotyledons.

It is believed that this compound, which is a neurotoxin, probably evolved as a defense mechanism against grazing animals. The symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea and abnormal heart rhythm. Be sure to keep these plants out of reach of your pets and children.

Sources:

Kalanchoe (Crassulaceae) in Southern Africa – Smith, Gideon F.; Figueiredo, Estrela; and Van Wyk, Abraham E. – 2019
How to Grow and Care for Kalanchoe Indoorshttps://www.thespruce.com/growing-kalanchoeplants-1902982
Kalanchoe (HSCSS Plant of the Month) – Driskill, Eric – 2015