Crassula spathulata Thunb.
Common names: spatula-leaf crassula (Eng.); uguwe (isiXhosa)
This bushy, sprawling succulent with pinkish white, star-shaped flowers is a very useful groundcover or can be used as an attractive hanging basket subject.
Crassula spathulata is a drought tolerant, semi-hardy evergreen groundcover, 200-400 mm tall. It is a low growing, creeping succulent, with branches up to 800 mm long, and can form a dense mat. In the garden, this growth habit is good for water retention and prevention of weeds.
The leaves are opposite, with a petiole 3–18 mm long, the leaf blade almost rounded (ovate), rarely elliptic, 20–25 × 15–20 mm, with a pointed (acute) or blunt (obtuse) tip, a heart-shaped (cordate) or truncated to wedge-shaped (cuneate) base, and margins with small blunt or rounded teeth (slightly crenate-dentate) and often with a reddish tinge on the margins. The stems are slender, prostrate and slightly 4-angled (quadrangular).
It has small pinkish white star shaped flowers with petals up to 4.5 mm in length. They are presented in a branched flowerhead, on a stalk 30–70 mm long, branching at right angles. Flowering time is mostly in late summer and autumn (March to May) but flowers have been observed on the plant throughout the year.
Crassula spathulata is not threatened in the wild, it is Red Listed as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Crassula spathulata usually occurs on rocky outcrops along forest margins. It grows in most soils especially soils allowing good drainage. They grow very well in semi-shaded areas but can also grow in full sun; the leaves turn slightly red when exposed to too much sunlight. Crassula spathulata has a widespread distribution from the Kysna area in the Western Cape throughout the Eastern Cape, particularly along the Knysna and former Transkei coastal area, and into southern KwaZulu-Natal.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Crassula is the Latin diminutive of crassus , meaning ‘thick’. This is in reference to the plump leaves of many members of the genus. The species name spathulata is derived from the Latin word spathulatus meaning ‘spatula-shaped’ and refers to the shape of the leaves. Crassula was first named in 1862 and the genus contains about 150-200 species, most of them occurring in South Africa. Most members are succulent perennials with only a few shrubby and tree-like species.
Crassula spathulata plants are fast growers and can form thick mats below trees. They root easily as they grow, which allows them to move quickly into suitable areas. Broken off stems that fall on suitable ground are able to root and develop into independent plants, allowing them to survive trampling and damage.
Crassula spathulata grows very well along pathways, on rocky embankments, hanging baskets, and they do well as perennial container plants. They make beautiful displays when planted in large groups in shaded or semi-shaded areas. Plants growing in sunnier positions tend to flower more than those in shade.
Growing Crassula spathulata
Crassula spathulata grows easily from either cuttings or seeds. Make stem cuttings from mature plants; these can be grown all year round. They root quickly in a well-drained medium, such as coarse river sand, even without the assistance of rooting hormones. The seeds are very fine and must be harvested as soon as the fruits ripen when the inflorescences turn brown. Sow seeds on a damp, sandy medium and keep them under shade until they are ready for transplanting into bigger containers.
- Court, D. 1981. Succulent flora of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
- Dold, A.P. & Cocks, M.L. 1999. Preliminary list of Xhosa plant names from the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Bothalia 29,2: 267–292.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2009. Crassula spathulata Thunb. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. Accessed on 2015/12/28
- Jacobsen, H. 1974 Lexicon of succulent plants . Blandford Press, London.
- Khumbula Indigenous Nursery. http://kumbulanursery.co.za/plants/crassula-spathulata. Accessed March 2014
- Toelken, H.R. 1985. Crassula. In Flora of southern Africa 14: 1–229.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Revised June 2022
Plant Type: Ground Cover, Perennial, Succulent
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer, Autumn
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Shade, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy