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Kalanchoes

by Renee O'Connell
Originally published in Garden Compass magazine
March/April 2004
Used with permission.


Kalanchoe Garden Bowl
The genus Kalanchoe is comprised of many unusual and appealing plants, encompassing various leaf shapes, colors, and textures. The native habitat of the Kalanchoe extends from south of the Sahara desert in South Africa, and includes Madagascar. Kalanchoes are part of the large succulent family Crassulaceae, which also includes Echeverias, Aeoniums, and Sedums.

One group of Kalanchoes (also known as Bryophyllums) has a charming characteristic of producing baby "plantlets" along the edges of the leaves. In time, these plantlets fall from the "parent" plant, rooting in the soil to produce new plants. Included in this group are Kalanchoe tubiflora ("Chandelier Plant"}, with dark purplish speckled tubular leaves and fluted reddish flowers in January. Others of this group include Kalanchoe daigremontianum ("Mother of Thousands"), and Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi variegata, with beautiful bluish scalloped leaves that are variegated with white and pink.

Kalanchoe beharensis ("Felt Plant"), with large, lobed leaves covered with dense chestnut felt, is one of the "Fuzzies". This robust plant can grow to over 8' in height in time. "Fang" is a cultivar of Kalanchoe beharensis with many gnarly, fang-like protuberances on the undersides of the leaves. Kalanchoe beharensis minima is identified by its intricately lobed leaves with rich copper felty leaves in strong light. Other members of the "Fuzzies" include Kalanchoe tomentosa ("Panda Plant"), with silvery leaves tipped in nearly black felt. Other tomentosa forms include "Chocolate Soldier", with fuzzy cinnamon leaves, and and "Golden Girl", with golden fuzzy leaves tipped in black.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, with its shiny, green scalloped leaves and prolific flowers in rainbow colors. Perhaps less well known, but equally floriferous, is Kalanchoe pumila, or "Frosty Pink". Clouds of lilac pink flowers nearly obscure the beautiful silvery scalloped leaves of Kalanchoe pumila in springtime. Another Kalanchoe with an excellent display of flowers in late winter is Kalanchoe uniflora or "Winter Bells". Bright vermilion bell-shaped flowers decorate the gracefully pendant stems. Both Kalanchoe pumila and Kalanchoe "Winter Bells" are excellent as hanging basket subjects.

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (also known as "Flippin' Flapjacks") is probably the most elegant of the genus, with large rounded leaves "stacked" in a rosette. Usually a silvery pale green, these leaves blush beautiful rose in bright light or cool weather.

Kalanchoes are robust, drought-tolerant plants, and exceedingly easy to grow as long as planted in a porous soil. Most prefer bright light to full sun, although a few are somewhat epiphytic and prefer shadier areas. In general, Kalanchoes can tolerate close to freezing temperatures for brief periods, but must have protection from prolonged frosts. Kalanchoes perform very well in rock gardens, or on patios. With their unusual textures, colors and "plantlets", Kalanchoes are very intriguing, especially to children.


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