Crassula sarmentosa var. sarmentosa
Crassula sarmentosa Harv. var. sarmentosa
Common names: trailing jade plant (Eng.)
A decorative ground cover with trailing stems and succulent leaves with serrated edges, that produces heads of white, star-shaped flowers in winter.
Crassula sarmentosa var. sarmentosa is a sparsely branched, mat-forming to scrambling perennial succulent with irregularly shaped tubers at its base and long trailing stems, that grow moderately, reaching 0.5 to 1 m long. Plants spread by sending out runners or stolons. The long stems distinguish it from other crassulas. The slender, cylindrical stems are sparsely branched at the base, with internodes at 10-25 mm intervals. The leaves are opposite, 20-55 x 10-35 mm, with a short (up to 3 mm long) petiole, elliptical at the base of the branches and ovate below the inflorescence (the upper leaves also often without a petiole) and the tip of the leaf ends in a sharp point (acute) or a long drawn out point (acuminate). The leaves are smooth, with a shiny surface and lightly serrated edges, dark green when grown in the shade, but turn bright, light green with shades of yellow and develop dark red margins when grown in full sun. A row of gland dots is positioned on the inside of the margin. The older leaves do not fall off.
Flowers are small, white or cream, sometimes tinged red, with a star-shaped corolla that consists of 4 petals (6-8 mm long), in dense, rounded or flat-topped, bunched heads, 50 x 50 mm, the flowers spreading at right angles to each other. Stamens with filaments that are between 1.25- 4.5 mm long with white anthers. Flowering season is in winter to early spring (June to August).
One variety is recognised, var. integrifolia, which has leaves with petioles 3-15 mm long and leaf blades that are elliptic on the whole plant, with an entire margin.
Crassula sarmentosa var. sarmentosa is not threatened and is assessed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red List of South African Plants. The variety integrifolia is also not threatened but is a Rare species because it is known from just a few subpopulations in southern KwaZulu-Natal.
Distribution and habitat
Predominantly found along the east coast of South Africa, stretching from Knysna in the Eastern Cape up to the central parts of KwaZulu-Natal. Crassula sarmentosa is more abundantly found in rocky areas and ravines or gorges, in the Savanna, Indian Ocean Coastal Belt and Fynbos Biomes, in full sun or semi- shade. They are usually clambering over adjacent bushes or hanging from cliffs and rock faces. Crassula sarmentosa has low water needs, is drought tolerant and semi-resistant to frost. It prefers sandy to loamy soil.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The Crassulaceae is a diverse family with 1 400 species and up to 35 genera, mostly perennials that are quite hardy, requiring minimal care, being well suited for xerophytic gardens. The family is distinctive in that the plants are either shrubs or herbs but seldom trees, with the outstanding characteristic being their simple, thick, succulent leaves. The family is named for its leaves, the name Crassula being derived from the Latin word crassus, which means ‘thick’. The species name sarmentosa refers to the thin, long, climbing stems that can root where they touch the ground.
Crassula sarmentosa flowers attract bees, butterflies and other insects to the garden. The leaves have the ability to photosynthesise by Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM), which allows them to continue photosynthesising without losing water and makes them exceptionally drought-tolerant.
Crassula sarmentosa plants are sold in nurseries as container plants that can also be grown indoors and as ground cover plants, ideal for water-wise gardens.
Growing Crassula sarmentosa var. sarmentosa
Crassula sarmentosa is propagated by leaf cuttings or by division. To propagate by leafe cuttings, carefully detach the whole leaf, with its base intact, from the mother plant. Place the single leaves of in shallow planting trays or small containers filled with potting mix for succulent plants (well-drained). Insert the base of the leaf at an acute angle, 2-3 mm below the soil surface, with the leaves curving upward, allowing for the baby plant to root on the side. The best potting mix would be coarse river sand (for drainage), mixed with organic elements comprising of bark and well-rotted compost to provide nutrients and perlite (for aeration). Ideally this should be in the ratio of 2 parts sand to 2 parts of potting soil to 1 part of perlite (2:2:1). Rooting occurs after 2-3 weeks and when the roots have reached 4-5 cm they can be planted out.
To propagate from stem cuttings, cut stem tips with a sterilized secateur. For a higher success rate cut a complete stem to obtain multiple cuttings. Keep 2 leaves at the top of 5-7 cm long cuttings and remove the rest of the leaves (M. Ntombela pers comm 2023). Use a rooting hormone powder with Indolebutyric acid (IBA) for the stem cuttings to absorb auxins and to accelerate root formation. Moisten the base of the cutting stems at the node and insert the stem cuttings so that the node is completely covered by the soil. Place several cuttings equally spaced in one shallow planting tray and place in a shade house, with s day time temperature of 23 -25 0C. Rooting from stem tips is usually faster than leaf cuttings. Water only when the roots have formed.
Grow Crassula sarmentosa in full sun, or semi-shade, or in indirect sunlight all day long or direct sun for up to 6 hours a day. Plants thrive in sandy well-drained soils among rocks when they are planted outdoors and in a well-drained potting soil medium for succulent plants when planting in containers. Infrequent watering is preferable, allowing for the soil to dry between each watering.
Like most succulents, Crassula sarmentosa needs well-drained soil, and a well-lit, well-ventilated position and does not like having wet roots. Since they are drought tolerant and frost tolerant, with a low water demand, Crassula sarmentosa are well suited to a xerophytic garden. A fertilizer applied occasionally in the growing season is sufficient . Prune the tips of the new growth stems, to encourage Crassula sarmentosa to develop a more dense and rounded shape.
Crassula sarmentosa is widely used as a groundcover or filler plant in landscape applications. Since it is dense and well-rounded when pruned, they are suitable for interplanting in rock gardens and amongst taller shrubs and they are well-suited as a short evergreen border plant and pathway edging plants. Crassula sarmentosa makes perfect hanging baskets in confined spaces as well as feature container plants on shady or sunny patios.
Perennial daisy bushes such as Dimorphotheca ecklonis, D. fruticosa and D. jucunda (all previously included in Osteospermum) and their many hybrids and cultivars still sold as Osteospermum or African Daisy are recommended companion plants, having similar water, sunlight and fertilizer requirements. These shrubby perennials provide a show of colourful petals against the backdrop of the dark green Crassula sarmentosa leaves. Adding white or coloured pebbles between individual Crassula sarmentosa plants in smaller garden beds or granite stones in larger landscape areas create contrasting colour and textural effects. Crassula sarmentosa is popular with water-wise gardeners along the east coast of southern Africa that wish to attract bees and butterflies to the garden.
Crassula sarmentosa is susceptible to mealy bugs and spider mites. Spray a non-chemical deterrent, such as neem oil, to keep these pests away. Fungi from the genus Rhizoctonia can cause leaf spots and root rot. Spray the soil around the plants, with chemicals containing copper compounds and mancozeb (triazole) to kill the fungus.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2009. Crassula sarmentosa Harv. var. sarmentosa. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2023/02/27.
- International Crassulaceae Network, Crassula sarmentosa var. sarmentosa. https://www.crassulaceae.ch/de/artikel?akID=31&aaID=2&aiID=S&aID=2634. Accessed 23/03/23.
- Khumbula Indigenous Garden, Crassula sarmentosa ssp. sarmentosa. https://kumbulanursery.co.za/plants/crassula-sarmentosa-ssp-sarmentosa Accessed on 27/02/2023.
- Life is a Garden, Trailing Jade (Crassula sarmentosa). https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/trailing-jade-crassula-sarmentosa/. Accessed on 27/02/2023.
- Planta. How to care for Crassula sarmentosa. https://getplanta.com/plant/cacti and succulents/tMb007ZuQLkI92fy1Bgj/Crassula-sarmentosa/. Accessed on 27/02/2023.
- Styles, D., Scott-Shaw, C.R. & Von Staden, L. 2007. Crassula sarmentosa Harv. var. integrifolia Toelken. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2023/03/23.
- Tölken, H.R. 1985. Crassulaceae. In: O.A. Leistner (ed). Flora of southern Africa 14(1):1-244. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
- WFO, The World Flora Online. Crassula sarmentosa Harv. Online. http://www.worldfloraonline.org/taxon/wfo-0000625441. Accessed on 27/02/2023.
- Wikipedia, Crassulaceae. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crassulaceae. Accessed on 27/02/2023.
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden (KZN NBG)
Acknowledgements: the author thanks Mr. Morris Ntombela (Nursey assistant, KZN NBG) for sharing his knowledge and technical assistance in propagating and growing Crassula sarmentosa, Ms. Philile Khuzwayo (Groen Sebenza horticulturist, KZN NBG), for the images of Crassula sarmentosa taken in the nursery, Alice Notten for the images of Crassula sarmentosa taken at Kirstenbosch NBG and Geoff Nichols for the images of the two varietes of Crassula sarmentosa in flower.
Plant Type: Scrambler, Succulent
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Pink, Cream
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy
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