Kalanchoe luciae Raym.-Hammet
Common names: northern white lady, flapjack plant, flipping pancakes (Eng.); geelplakkie, meelplakkie, plakkie, voëlbrandewyn (Afr.)
The Afrikaans name meelplakkie is most appropriate for this plant as it does indeed look as if the whole plant has been liberally dusted with flour (meel). Being a succulent perennial, it does not require much attention in sunny dry gardens. Plants take about 3-4 years to mature, but flowers may appear from the second year and remain for another year before seeds are dispersed. These plants are ideal for sunny areas and, being perennials, they can be used as semi-permanent features in beds of annuals or bedding plants.
Like most of the southern African species of Kalanchoe, K. luciae forms a basal rosette of large rounded, fleshy leaves, which are grayish cream with red margins. Plants reach about 0.8-1.3 m, and the erect, upward-facing, tightly arranged leaves are without petioles. The rosettes send up dense inflorescences 1-1.3 m tall, which are coated with a white powder. On the inflorescence, the lower leaves are rounded and become smaller as they ascend along the flowering stem.
The dense inflorescence has small tubular flowers approximately 15 mm long. The flowers are whitish with recurved lobes and usually appear at the end of the summer growing season to midwinter (from February to June). They are sweetly scented. The flowering may persist for a long time on the plant until the whole plant eventually dies. Before it dies, the mother plant usually produces many small plantlets, which can be removed and grown on to become new plants.
Kalanchoe luciae is often confused with K. thyrsiflora, which has yellow flowers and paddle-shaped leaves.
Least Concern (LC). Kalanchoe luciae is not endangered.
Distribution and habitat
Kalanchoe luciae is found from the north-central escarpment of Limpopo and Mpumalanga and north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa and Swaziland; in grassland and bushveld habitats, usually in rocky situations or exposed slopes and hilltops.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Adanson, who derived the genus name from the Chinese epithet for one of the species, described the genus Kalanchoe in 1763. The species name luciae honours Lucy Dufour, for whom this species was named by Raymond Hamet in 1908.
The genus Kalanchoe occurs most abundantly in Madagascar but also throughout Africa, Cyprus, Indochina and Malaysia. It is a very well-known group and has become famous for certain attractive genera, species and cultivars. Plants in the genus Kalanchoe are distinguished by the flowers, which have their parts in fours, the stamens being in 2 whorls of 4, while the ovary is comprised of four free pistils. Related genera native to South Africa include Cotyledon, Adromischus, Tylecodon and Crassula.
In their natural habitat, Kalanchoe luciae plants are sometimes exposed to harsh temperatures and over many years have adapted to survive. Besides being succulent, the erect leaves are pointed upwards towards the sun in order to minimise the surface area that is exposed to the sun, thus assisting the plant to conserve moisture. The pale colour of the leaves also helps to reduce the effect of heat. The white floury coating on the leaves and inflorescence helps to reflect the sun away, thus aiding in keeping the plant cool. It is a little like wearing a white T-shirt instead of black on a hot day. Other succulents such as Cotyledon orbiculata and Aloidendron dichotomum use the same technique.
Ants, bees and other flying insects which visit the flower in the middle of the day are responsible for pollinating Kalanchoe. The dried fertilised flowers may persist on the plants for a long time, and the very small, dust-like seeds are dispersed by the wind.
This plant is used in traditional medicine. The Sotho people use it as a charm to smooth away difficulties, and sometimes given, in medicine, to pregnant women who don't feel well. The Xhosa people use it to treat earache and colds. It is also used to make anthelmintic enemas. Please note that this plant is toxic to sheep and can have harmful effects on people, and should be used with caution.
Horticulturally the plants are very popular in rock gardens, on rocky embankments, and as container plants. They make beautiful displays when planted en masse, and their red leaf margins are particularly attractive. To bring out the best colour the plants should be exposed to full sun and drought as well as cool wintery nights. The plants can tolerate light to medium frost but severe frost will burn the leaves or leaf tips.
Growing Kalanchoe luciae
It is possible to grow these plants by vegetative means as well as sexually. The quickest way of making more plants is by removing the small plantlets thatd evelop around the base of the dying mother plant, after flowering, or by taking leaf cuttings. These plantlets and cuttings can be rooted in coarse river sand: place them in trays filled with the coarse river sand in an area with good air movement and shade of about 40%. Rooting normally occurs a few days after the cuttings are taken. The Plantlets and cuttings must be kept moist, especially after roots appear, until they are large enough to be planted out into the garden.
Sow the seeds, which are light brown and very fine, on a fine sandy medium and water from below by placing the trays in a drip tray to allow water to be soaked up by the soil, and then remove the tray and let it drain. The following medium usually works well with most succulents:
- 4 parts coarse river sand
- 4 parts fine river sand
- 1 part sieved well-rotted compost
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
Always treat seeds with a pre-emergence fungicide as seedlings often suffer from fungal diseases which causes them to die rapidly after germination.
Remember that these plants are from well-drained, rocky areas and prefer a similar garden habitat with free-draining soil and plenty of direct sunlight in order to thrive.
- Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds) 2003. Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A.B. 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.
- Kalanchoe thyrsiflora in Flowering Plants of South Africa. 1929. Vol.9: pl.341
- Oliver, I.B. 1993. Grow succulents. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Tolken, H.R. 1985. Crassulaceae. Flora of southern Africa 14. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
- San Marcos Growers, Kalanchoe luciae. Accessed 28 August 2019. https://www.smgrowers.com/info/kalanchoeluciae.asp
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
August 2005, updated October 2017
Revised by Andrew Hankey, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Succulent
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Late Summer, Autumn, Winter
Flower colour: Green, White
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy