Tylecodon paniculata (2021)

A winter grower, T. paniculata is the tallest and fastest-growing Tylecodon species. Photo by Brit Stoskopf.

By Brit Stoskopf (February 2021)

In October 2019 at the HSCSS meeting, I had the opportunity to choose a Tylecodon paniculata as my attendance prize. When I got back to my seat, I remembered Don Lesmeister or Mike Hellmann mention I had a winter grower. At the time, I thought “OK, what the heck do I do with it?” I’ve now had a year’s learning experience on what to do and what not to do.

It is nice to have something green and growing in the winter, when most other plants have dropped their leaves. The leaves of Tylecodon paniculata are bright green and waxy, with a paddle shape that slightly curls under at the tips. The leaves can get up to 3 inches long and about 1 inch across, and grow in spiral clusters from the tips of the branches. I haven’t tried it yet, but read that the branch tips can be pruned to encourage branching.

The other noticeable feature is how the bark peels off in papery tan sheets, exposing the green bark underneath. During the hot summer, T. paniculata conserves energy by dropping its leaves and photosynthesizing through the greenish stems.

During the growing season, I water my plant about every seven to nine days. In the spring, the leaves start shriveling, go limp and eventually fall off. I gradually reduce the frequency and amount of water during this transition to dormancy. Tubular flowers, 0.8 inches long and orange-yellow to red, appear during this period.

By June, the leaves are gone, and the tylecodon has entered its summer dormancy, when it likes hot and dry conditions. In St. Louis, the heat comes easily. Keeping the plant dry is a bit of a challenge. I do give it a little water about once a month during dormancy.

After a summer of dormancy, leaves start showing in September as just a little bit of green at the tips of the branches. After my T. paniculata leafed out this year, the leaves on two of the branches shriveled and turned brown. Within a week, I noticed new leaves appearing, and now they are almost as big as the “old” ones, showing the resiliency of this plant.

T. paniculata is the tallest and fastest-growing species of the genus Tylecodon. It is an erect shrub with a caudiciform trunk that is usually well branched. There are 45 species of Tylecodon, with the smallest only a few inches tall. They belong in the family Crassulaceae.

In its habitat of South Africa and Nambia, the plant can grow to 6.5 feet tall with a 20-inch trunk. The shrubby plants grow in a wide variety of habitats, from rocky slopes in the north to coastal sands in the south. Farmers cut them down because they are poisonous to livestock, causing a disease called krimpsiekte when eaten. In the home, Tylecodon paniculata can be kept under control by keeping it in a smaller pot using a well drained substrate.