Crassula cultrata L.
Common names: bush plakkie, sharp-leaved crassula (Eng.); plakkiebos (Afr.)
A small, bushy succulent with attractive rounded leaves, often with reddish colouration, and yellowish flowers in midsummer; a low-maintenance plant that is perfect for dry, water-wise gardens.
Crassula cultrata is a somewhat branched shrub, 300–800 mm tall, with woody, usually erect branches, up to 10 mm in diameter towards the base.
Leaves sessile, succulent, in opposite pairs, oblanceolate to cultrate, apex obtuse or rounded; margins sharp and horny. The leaves are often yellowish green with reddish margins, becoming reddish brown.
Inflorescence is an elongated thyrse made up of one terminal and a number of smaller heads in side branches, of many, loosely clustered flowers atop a 150–300 mm long peduncle.
The individual flowers are tiny, 3.5–4.5 mm long. The calyx lobes are yellowish green, enclosing the corolla which is cream-coloured, tubular to almost cylindrical. Each corolla lobe has an ovoid appendage at the tip, visible as 5 tiny globes in a ring at the tip of the open flowers. Flowering is in midsummer (Dec. –Jan.).
Least Concern (LC), Crassula cultrata is widespread and not declining.
Distribution and habitat
Crassula cultrata occurs from near Swellendam in the Western Cape, through the Eastern Cape and into southern KwaZulu-Natal, in kloofs or river valleys, often among rock outcrops, in dry scrub in Fynbos, Albany Thicket, Grassland, Indian Ocean Coastal Belt, Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo Biomes.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Crassula is the diminutive of the Latin crassus, which means ‘thick’ or ‘fat’, referring to the fleshy nature of the genus as a whole. The species name cultrata, is Latin and means ‘shaped like a knife’.
This species was featured in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1817 under the name ‘Crassula cultrata, Sharp-leaved Crassula’, where it mentions that this species had been cultivated in Dr Sherard’s garden at Eltham in 1732, where it was kept in a dry greenhouse heated by a stove.
Crassulas are such efficient drought-busters thanks to their metabolism that allows them to photosynthesize normally without losing much water through their leaves, known as Crassulacean Acid Metabolism or CAM. It allows them to photosynthesize during the day without having to open their stomata to let air in and water out. Crassulas also have hydathodes on their leaves; these are specially adapted cells that allow them to take up liquid water from the leaves, such as from dew or mist. In this species, hydathodes are scattered over both leaf surfaces.
Crassula cultrata is not known to be used in traditional medicine, nor is it well known in horticulture.
Growing Crassula cultrata
Grow Crassula cultrata in a sunny or semi-shaded position, in well-drained soil. It is easy to grow, and is a low-maintenance, drought- and heat-tolerant plant, suitable for dry or water-wise fynbos gardens, karoo gardens, grassland gardens and rockeries. It also makes an attractive pot plant. It is a good groundcover or bedding plant when planted en masse, and looks good as a single plant or in small groups in a mixed bed or rockery. Plants in sunnier, open positions generally develop more red colour in their leaves, and a more rounded, bushier shape.
Propagate by cuttings taken at almost any time of the year. Place in sandy, well-drained soil in a cool position and keep moist – there is no need for misting or heated benches. Although seldom practiced because cuttings are so easy, this species can also be propagated by seeds. The seeds are very small, best collected in the mature seed capsules just before they open. Use a well-drained, sandy, sterile medium, mix the seeds with a handful of the dry medium and scatter lightly over the surface. Keep moist, well-ventilated and warm. Pot up the seedlings when they are large enough to handle.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2009. Crassula cultrata L. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2018/01/16.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2002. Cape plants: a conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria and Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis.
- Sims, John. 1817. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, plate 1940, volume 44, digitized by Google
- Toelken, H.R. 1985. Crassula. In Flora of southern Africa 14: 1–229.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub, Succulent
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Green, Cream
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy