Crassula coccinea (red crassula)
Red crassula is a succulent plant with flat heads of striking, bright scarlet flowers.
About this species
There are around 200 species of Crassula, many of which are found in southern Africa. A number of these have been introduced to Europe and North America, primarily as plants for the conservatory or gardens in mild climates.
Crassula coccinea has been known in Britain since the early 18th century. The author (probably John Sims) of the text accompanying Sydenham Edwards’ plate of the plant in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine noted that ‘We have no doubt but that when this superb species of Crassula was first introduced from the Cape by Prof. Bradley, of Oxford, in 1714, it was regarded as a kind of Merveil [sic] de la Nature; even now that it is common, we scarcely know any succulent that is superior to it...’.
Bradley seems to have been a dubious character, and although there is no record that he visited the Cape, he is known to have visited botanists and gardeners in Holland in 1714. It is almost certain that the plant arrived in England via this route.
Geography & Distribution
Crassula coccinea is found in South Africa, in the Cape region from Paarl to Bredasdorp and on the Cape Peninsula, at elevations of 800 m or higher.
Crassula coccinea is a small succulent perennial, reaching up to 40 cm high. It has a few branching stems, along which overlapping pairs of flat, red-edged leaves are arranged. Older leaves turn brown and persist for a long time. From December–March, dense, flat-topped heads of red flowers are carried at the top of the stems. Each flower measures about 1 cm across. Pollination is by butterflies, particularly the mountain pride butterfly, Meneris tulbaghia, which is unusual among butterflies in pollinating bright red flowers.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Hand-coloured engraving of Crassula coccinea by Sydenham Edwards (1800) taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Image: RBG Kew)
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over two hundred years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
See the Wiley-Blackwell Subscription Information page for rates (for both print and online).
Red crassula is cultivated as an ornamental. It is still widely traded and grown under the synonym Rochea coccinea.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
The Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in Kew's seed bank vault at Wakehurst.
Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 0.03 g.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two.
Germination testing: 95% germination on a 1% agar medium at 15°C, 8 hours light/16 hours dark; 90% germination on 1% agar at 20°C, 8 hours light/16 hours dark.
Marianne North and the red crassula
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