Thursday, 28 October 2010

More to the local than meets the eye

Crassula expansa

Now here is a fairly common, local and widespread plant, that on first glance looks like a roadside weed, something related to a  Portulaca or Purslane, maybe...?
Definitely not. It is one of the members of the Stonecrop family or on a scientific level, would reveal it to belong to the Crassulaceae family. There are worldwide about 200 species of Crassula and of that, about 140 species occur in the warmer, drier, interior parts of Southern Africa. Another major group of plants, which this country is blessed with in abundance. The plants in this family range from small annuals to large bushes - from aquatic vlei plants to succulent desert dwellers, pushed to the extreme and forced to survive the harshest of conditions.
The photographs were taken whilst enjoying bundu bashing, with some friends from De Rust and Oudsthoorn on privately owned land and was amongst the first of the indigenous succulent plants we encountered. It is well known that this region has the highest concentration of succulent plants in the  whole world. About 81 out of 100 succulent plants found here are endemic and found no where else in this country, let alone the whole world .... Astounding!
The crassula family is very intersting in that there are records in England, dating back some 300 years, stating that two other related members of the crassula family have been used in the florist industry for their remarkable flowers. These are still popular today, they are namely crassula coccinea (for its intense red colour) and crassula falcata for its contrast red flowers against the scissor like grey leaves.
So our crassula expansa which is to be found widespread and locally common in the De Rust, Oudtshoorn and Calitszdorp district is more than  just a common weedy looking plant. It also has enormous potential to be used as a wonderful groundcover. It clump forms but is easily grown from pieces and shoots. If it grows on the side of the road in harsh conditions, it would be a wise choice to acquire it for gardens and nurseries. I think it also would do well in hanging baskets or for companion planting in containers, as it fills quickly and also has a tendency to creep and hang off the edge well. It is best suited to the environment where it occurs naturally, therefore this makes it a sensible choice.
The plant is described at being a dwarf, tufted perennial with jointed stem portions and a narrow, pointed cylindrical type of succulent leaf often with a dark stripe cutting the leaf in two. The afrikaans name of ‘Strepies’ comes to mind, due to this dark stripe. Flowers are very small and white, found on the tips and usually have a small stalk attached and are on their own, not really clustered. Flowering takes place mostly throughout the summer months. It also more likely to occur in sandy soils. The best feature of the plant is when the leaves turn an autumn red colour in the winter as opposed to the greenish tint it gets when one gives it water in summer.
However odd it may seem, I hope the truth of this wonderful plant has now shocked you into believing that your local pavement special is actually a gem waiting to be discovered and transported from a sidewalk junkie straight into your very own garden.
Judd Kirkel

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