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Crassula coccinea (red crassula)

Red crassula is a succulent plant with flat heads of striking, bright scarlet flowers.

red crassula flowers

Crassula coccinea on Table Mountain, Cape Town (Photo: Andrew Massyn)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Crassula coccinea L.

Common name: 

red crassula, klipblom

Conservation status: 

Least Concern (LC) according to the Red List of South African Plants 2009, following IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

In rock crevices near the coast.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Order unplaced
Order: 
Saxifragales
Family: 
Crassulaceae
Genus: Crassula

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.

Synonym: 

Rochea coccinea DC.

Genus: 
Crassula

Discover more

Geography and 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.

Hand-coloured engraving of Crassula coccinea by Sydenham Edwards (1800) taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.

Description

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

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 200 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.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Uses

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

The botanical artist Marianne North depicted Crassula coccinea in her painting 'Vegetation on the Hills near Grahamstown' that can be seen in the Marianne North Gallery.

References and credits

Egerton III, F.N. (1970). Richard Bradley’s illicit excursion into medical practice in 1714. Medical History 14: 53-62. (accessed 13 July 2011)

Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. (2000). Cape Plants. A Conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (1997). Conservatory and Indoor Plants. Vol. 1. Pan Books, London.

Raimondo, D. et al. (2009). Red List of South African Plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Sims, J. (1800). Crassula coccinea. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 14: t.495.

The Plant List (2010). Crassula coccinea. Available online (accessed 1 Aug 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Copyediting: Malin Rivers

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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