The Afrikaans name “meelplakkie” is most appropriate for this plant as it does indeed look as if the whole plant has been liberally dusted with flour (“meel”). Being a succulent perennial, it does not require much attention in sunny dry gardens. Plants take about 3-4 years to mature, but flowers may appear from the second year and remain for another year before seeds are dispersed. These plants are ideal for sunny areas and being perennials, they can be used as semi permanent features in beds of annuals or bedding plants.
Like most of the southern African Kalachoe species, Kalenchoe thyrsiflora forms a basal rosette of large rounded, fleshy leaves, which are grayish cream with red margins. Plants reach about 60 cm ; the erect, upward facing, tightly arranged leaves are without petioles. The rosettes send up dense inflorescences to 1-1.3m, which are coated with a white powder. On the inflorescence the lower leaves are rounded and become smaller as they ascend along the flowering stem. The dense inflorescence has small tubular flowers approximately 15mm long. The flowers are greenish with yellow recurved lobes and appear from February to June. The flowering may persist for a long time on the plant until the whole plant eventually dies.
Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is not endangered. Due to its free seeding nature and perennial life cycle it is abundant in certain habitats from the Eastern Cape to the Lowveld.
Distribution and Habitat
The genus Kalenchoe occurs throughout Africa, Madagascar, Cyprus, Indochina and Malaysia. It is a very well known group and has become famous for certain attractive cultivars. Kalenchoe thyrsiflora occurs from the central to the southern escarpment and foothills in bushveld habitats. The plants have a preference for open rocky situations or exposed hilltops.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Adanson, who derived the name from the Chinese epithet for one of the species, described the genus Kalenchoe in 1763. Being widespread over Asia and Africa, the genus is distinguished by its flowers, which have their parts in fours, the stamens being in 2 whorls of 4. In species of Kalenchoe occurring in southern Africa the plants mostly have erect flowers. Kalenchoe thyrsiflora, first described by Harvey, is one of 6 species of Kalenchoe listed in Flora Capensis which was published in 1861 It was also the first Kalenchoe to be illustrated in “The flowering plants of South Africa”. The species name thyrsiflora refers to the inflorescence, which is a thryse or many-flowered kind of inflorescence. Kalenchoe is one of 6 genera found in the family Crassulaceae. The related genera include Cotyledon, Adromischus, Tylecodon, Bryophyllum, and Crassula. The family name Crassulaceae means thick fleshy leaves which is characteristic of the plants in the family.
In its natural habitat, plants are sometimes exposed to harsh temperatures and have adapted to survive over many years. Besides succulence, the plants always erectly point their leaves upward toward the sun in order to minimise the surface area that is exposed to the sun. This helps the plant to conserve moisture even more. Another clever technique to stay cool is by employing a pale leaf colour. The white floury coating on the leaves and inflorescence helps to reflect the sun away thus keeping the plant cool. It's a little like wearing a white T-shirt instead of a black T-shirt on a hot day. Other succulents like Cotyleodon orbiculatata and Aloe dichotoma uses the same technique. Ants, bees and other flying insects, which visit the flower at midday, are responsible for pollinating Kalenchoe. The fertilised flowers may persist on the plants for a long time and the very small seeds are effectively dispersed by the wind.
Uses and cultural aspects
Apart from being used by the Sothos in South Africa as a charm to ease difficulties, no other cultural or traditional uses have been recorded. Horticulturally the plants are very popular in rock gardens, on rocky embankments, and as perennial container plants. They make beautiful displays when planted in mass and their red leaf margins are particularly attractive. Remember that these plants are from rocky areas and prefer a similar garden habitat with plenty of direct sunlight in order to thrive.
Growing Kalanchoe thyrsiflora
It is possible to grow these plants vegetatively as well as sexually. For quick results leaf cuttings can be made from mature plants. When making cuttings it is important to ensure that a small piece of stem is attached to the leaf. Make cuttings during the warmer months. Place in coarse river sand in an area with air movement and shade of about 40%. Cuttings must be kept moist especially after roots appear which normally occurs within few days after cuttings are taken. Alternatively the seeds which are light brown and very fine can be sown on a sandy medium then lightly covered. The following medium usually works well with most succulents:
- 4 Parts coarse river sand
- 4 Parts fine river sand
- 1part sieved well rotten compost
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
Always treat seeds with a pre emergence fungicide as seedlings often suffer from fungal diseases and may die rapidly after germination. Other plants that do well with K thyrsiflora include Cotyledon orbiculata, Tylecodon panicululata, Crassula rupestris, and Crassula arborescens.
- Oliver, Ian B, 1998. Grow succulents. Cape Town, NBI
- Germhuizen, G, 2003. Plants of southern Africa. Pretoria, NBI
- Kalanchoe thysiflora in Flowering Plants of South Africa. 1929. Vol.9: pl.341.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden