Crassulaceae is the fourth largest family of succulent (water-retaining) plants. Structurally, the family is the simplest among succulents, consisting of plants that, in general, vary quite little in quantity of sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels. Interestingly, Crassulaceae is, in spite of this structural simplicity, the most diverse succulent family in terms of habitat and climate tolerance, with the native conditions of different genera and species varying from arid deserts to moist marshes, and endurable climates ranging from searing heat to gelid sub-zero cold.
Kalanchoe, a genus of about 130 species, consists mainly of flowering shrubs and herbaceous perennials, though it boasts some annual and biennial species as well. The genus is native to Madagascar and to tropical regions of Africa and Asia.
Kalanchoe delagoensis is commonly known as 'mothers of thousands' and 'chandelier plant'. The species is native to Madagascar, though it is now naturalized in many tropical countries, where it is cultivated as an ornamental. Historically, K. delagoensis has also fulfilled the more practical role of a versatile medical treatment for infections, rheumatism, inflammation, and hypertension. That said, gardeners should note that this power to heal is matched by a power to harm: as many unfortunate grazing animals have experienced, the plant contains poisons (bufadienolide cardiac glycosides) that, if ingested without treatment, induce cardiac arrest.
The plant—which in today’s photo seems either painted in pastel or molded from dusty terracotta—generally grows to a height and spread of 1 metre. It thrives in sandy soil with abundant water, adorning itself in waxy green leaves and dangling cylindrical flowers of pinkish-brown. The plants are viviparous, meaning that small plantlets are produced on the vegetative tissues (in this case, on the margins of the leaves). These plantlets drop to the ground, spawning the prodigious amount of offspring that accounts for the first common name mentioned above.
Rowley, Gordon. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Succulents. New York: Crown Publishers, 1978.