The Versatile Kalanchoe

The pretty Kalanchoe comes from tropical areas of Madagascar and Africa. A few species come from Asia. With around 125 species, it is to be expected that they range in height from small to tall. There are also types that sprawl over a wide area.

The Kalanchoe is a succulent that belongs to the Crassulaceae (stonecrop) family which in turn belongs to the Sedum genus. Technically they are perennials. The type most commonly seen is Kalanchoe blossfeldiana. The vibrant blooms appear in all shades of yellow through to red.

Kalanchoe EriophyllaCredit: Kalanchoe Eriophylla

Because of the range of sizes, colours and textures, kalanchoes are ideal as a focus for a collection. The leaves vary from a silvery-mauve to blue-grey, silver-grey or green-gold. One variety has leaves which are bronze on the upper surfaces and silver underneath. With some, the margins are edged with purple, red or dark brown. Textures vary from felt-like to glossy or powder-coated. Some have notched leaves. The leaves tend to be coarse and may be up to 30cm long.

Kalanchoe ThyrsifloraCredit: Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora

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The star-shaped flowers are small but vibrant. The flowering season varies from variety to variety. A particularly attractive variety is Kalanchoe blossfeldiana cv. 'Calandiva' which has exquisite double flowers. It will bloom right through winter. It prefers a shady position or it can be grown indoors.

If you like bright red blooms, Kalanchoe x hybrida 'Tessa' will delight with brilliant tubular bell flowers which dangle over the edge of a pot. It can be grown in full sun or light shade. It gives a stunning display if allowed to cascade from a hanging basket.

Kalanchoe ManginiiCredit: Kalanchoe Manginii

Two that grow as shrubs to 30cm high, and which have attractive foliage are Kalanchoe beharensis. Its common names are 'Maltese Cross', 'Felt Bush' or 'Elephant Ear'. The leaves have irregular lobes, are grey-green and covered in fine hair. The flowers are white.

 Fang is similar to 'Maltese Cross'. The irregularly shaped leaves have tooth-like projections and the under surfaces are silver-grey. The flowers are white.

The variety called 'Penwiper Plant' has large, scalloped leaves which are oval in shape. The leaves are a blue-green and have spectacular purple markings. Large clusters of white flowers are borne in winter.

Panda Plant or Pussy's Ears (Kalanchoe tomentosa) has silver-grey leaves covered with white 'felting'. The margins are toothed and very dark. The flowers are red.

Kalanchoe PumilaCredit: Kalanchoe Pumila

Kalanchoes don't like the frost. In warm, frost-free climates, they can be successfully grown outdoors in a sheltered sunny position. They like full sun or light shade. They are also perfectly happy in a greenhouse or brightening up an indoor area. They need to be well drained and prefer light, friable soil. Like all succulents, they should not be kept too wet. Let the soil dry out between waterings. If you pinch back the tips, the plants will stay a more compact shape. Otherwise they tend to grow long and spindly.

Kalanchoes will grace a rockery or container. With their attractive foliage and long-lasting starry flowers, they are ideal on a balcony or in an indoor area.

Propagation is by seed, or stem or leaf cuttings. Some plants produce 'babies' along the edges of the leaves. Careful removal of these tiny new plantlets will give you new plants to enjoy or share with your gardening friends.

Because of the immense variation of the Kalanchoe there is bound to be one that will suit you.