Crassula capensis (L.) Baill.
Common names: Cape snowdrop (Eng.); skaamblommetjie (Afr.)
A tiny deciduous perennial, with spectacular, snowy white, star-shaped flowers in winter.
Crassula capensis is a succulent, tuberous perennial, with an erect stem, 50–200 mm tall. It has 2 to 4 pairs of thin-textured leaves that develop in autumn, before the flowers appear. They are paddle-shaped to rounded, about 80 mm wide, with scalloped edges.
It bears several, white, cup-shaped flowers with a pinkish tinge on the outside, on a slender stalk. The petals are about 3–8 mm long. The flowers are nodding and cup-shaped at first and turn to face upwards as they open, showing their star-shaped faces. Each stamen has a bluish purple anther and is attached to a petal. The flowers occur in autumn and winter, from May to August.
The leaves turn red after flowering, and then wither in early summer (November) and the plant lies dormant during the summer.
Crassula capensis is widespread and not in danger of extinction and, therefore, is assessed as Least Concern (LC) according SANBI’s Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
This crassula grows on sheltered damp slopes in the southwestern and southern Western Cape, from Clanwilliam to Riversdale, and is especially abundant after fire. It occurs on gravelly slopes, in moist, sheltered places and under overhanging rocks.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Crassula comes from the Latin crassus, meaning ‘thick’, referring to the fleshy leaves of most species in this genus. The species name capensis means ‘from the Cape’ and refers to the home range of the species. The common name skaamblommetjie, meaning ‘little shy flower’, refers to its small size and the nodding flowers.
There are about 200 species of Crassula found predominantly in the southern hemisphere and mainly in southern Africa.
Crassula capensis flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects. After a fire this crassula flowers more profusely. The tubers of this plant are not destroyed during a fire and the nutrients obtained from the ashes, and the early winter rain, all contribute to allow Crassula capensis to thrive along the damp mountain slopes.
Growing Crassula capensis
Crassula capensis is best grown in pots, because of its tiny, delicate appearance. It can be propagated from seeds, leaf cuttings, or offsets. Sow seeds in autumn, on well-drained, sandy soil. To propagate from cuttings, gently cut off a leaf, and plant it in a cuttings tray, in a well-drained rooting medium and keep moist. Lift a clump, and carefully remove any offsets that have developed, and replant.
It thrives in full sun to partial shade, in a well-ventilated area. Use a well-drained, sandy soil mix suitable for fynbos. Water in autumn and winter so that the soil is moist, but not wet, and keep dry in summer. Feed with well-rotted compost, or small doses of organic fertiliser, in autumn, as they start to grow.
- Bean, A. & Johns, A. 2005. Stellenbosch to Hermanus. South African Wild Flower Guide 5. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Manning, J. 2007. Field guide to Fynbos. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
- Succulents Network. Crassula capensis ‘Cape Snowdrop’. https://succulentsnetwork.com/crassula-capensis-cape-snowdrop-care-guide. Accessed 19 May 2021.
- Trinder-Smith, T., Maytham Kidd, M. & Anderson, F. 2006. Wild flowers of the Table Mountain National Park. South African Wild Flower Guide 12. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Van Der Colff, D. 2015. Crassula capensis (L.) Baill. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2021/05/19.
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Bulb
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Autumn, Winter
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Challenging