Kalanchoe lanceolata (Forssk.) Pers.
Common names: narrow-leaved kalanchoe (Eng.); moithimodiso (Setswana); intelezi (Ndebele)
Narrow-leaved kalanchoe is a strikingly beautiful, but deadly plant, thriving in rocky habitats in the northern parts of the country.
Kalanchoe lanceolata is a succulent, annual herb, growing up to 1.5 m high. A rosette of sessile, green or yellowish green leaves are borne on an erect, more or less, distinctly 4-angled, hairy stem, that develops from a fairly swollen rootstock. Leaves are lanceolate, 60–150(–180) × (10–)25–60(–100) mm, smooth or with grandular hairs; margins are usually entire on upper leaves and scalloped on lower leaves. Attractive, star-like, apricot-yellow flowers are borne in an elongate thyrse on the axil of upper leaves.
Kalanchoe lanceolata is Red Listed as LC (Least Concern).
Distribution and habitat
The narrow-leaved kalanchoe occurs from South Africa, northwards through Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Tropical Africa and India. In South Africa it is naturally found in: Limpopo, Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga Provinces. The plant grows well in Mixed Lowveld Bushveld, and well-drained savannas, in the shade of trees.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Kalanchoe is derived from the Chinese words Kalan Chauchy, which mean ‘that which falls, grows’. It describes the asexual reproduction in the genus, where plantlets are formed on leaf margins and fall onto the ground to produce new plants. The species name ‘lanceolata’ comes from Latin, describing the lance-shaped leaves of the plant.
The narrow-leaved kalanchoe is widespread in rocky woodlands and savannas, usually sheltered under trees and bushes to survive dry conditions. This eye-catching plant flowers from April to July, attracting goats, sheep and cows during drought periods, when grazing is scarce. The leaves and flowers of the plant contain a group of toxic glycosides known as bufadienolides, that cause acute cardiac toxicity when they are ingested in large quantities, resulting in the death of an animal. Although the plant causes death in livestock, it is a favourite for two Lepidoptera species: the failed black eye butterfly (Leptomyrina hirundo) and the common hairtail butterfly (Anthone definata definata).
Kalanchoe lanceolata is cultivated globally in the horticultural industry as a popular ornamental plant. It is also used in many rural communities as traditional medicine. Amongst the Ba tswana people, it is commonly known as ‘moithimodiso’. Moithimodiso means ‘something that makes you sneeze’. Roots of the plant are dried and pulverized into a powder, to treat headaches and neck pains. The powder is taken as a snuff. It is believed that when one sneezes after taking the powder, the pain goes away.
Tribal communities in India use the leaf juice of the plant to cure dysentery. Ethnic groups in Ethiopia use fresh leaves to heal wounds, by heating them moderately, and applying them to the affected area. In Namibia, the Kwanyama tribe boil the leaves of the plants to produce an infusion that is poured into a child’s ear, to reduce fever.
In Zimbabwe, the plant is commonly known amongst the Ndebele people as intelezi, which mean ‘juju’ in English. The name refers to any object that is used as part of witchcraft. The plant is also believed to get rid of evil spirits.
Growing Kalanchoe lanceolata
Kalanchoes usually produce tiny plantlets along leaf margins that can be removed and planted individually in pots, or they can also be propagated from stem cuttings. Ordinary potting soil is normally used for propagation. Sand, perlite or small rock can be added to the potting soil, to facilitate drainage. Plants should be placed in a sunny location and water once the soil is completely dry. In winter, the plants should be placed on a south-facing window sill, to access sunlight.
In the horticultural industry, plants with good traits are cloned in vitro through micropropagation. Apical buds are removed from the plant and they are cultured on a medium containing different growth hormones, to produce roots and shoots. The plants are then allowed to acclimatize, to different environmental conditions.
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Pretoria National Herbarium
Plant Type: Succulent
SA Distribution: Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Autumn, Winter
Flower colour: Yellow, Orange
Gardening skill: Average