Veld & Flora Feature



​Meet the kalanchoe people 

New South African kalanchoe hybrids have been named in honour of key figures in our botany and horticulture 


Kalanchoe hybrids


Above: Kalanchoe ×kewensis has quite large flowers with deep-pink lobes.


UNATTRACTIVE . . . NOT LIKELY TO PROVE of much horticultural value – that was the opinion in 1904 of one of the greatest of Victorian British botanists, Nicholas Edward Brown (1849-1934), when he wrote the formal description of the small-flowered Kalanchoe prasina, recently arrived at the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, from south-tropical Africa.

Brown mainly focused on plant taxonomy but was also expected to look out for new material with potential for Kew’s greenhouses and the garden plant collectors of the era. What he did not mention was that Kew’s garden specialists had already started work two years earlier on creating and finetuning Kalanchoe hybrids, improving their looks to make them objects of desire for wealthier middle and upper-class garden enthusiasts who had installed greenhouses or other climate- controlled cultivation facilities.


Above: One of the snow-white, double-flowered forms of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana.


British botanist and horticulturist William Watson (1858-1925) was Brown’s contemporary at Kew but worked in the gardens, rising from gardener in 1879 to curator in 1901. In 1902, he launched the comparatively large-flowered and decoratively leaved K. ×kewensis, a cross created between the Arabian and African K. bentii and African K. glaucescens.

After K. blossfeldiana from Madagascar was discovered in the 1920s, and eventually described as a species in 1934, the search for superior kalanchoe material for cultivation changed dramatically and permanently. For the past 90 years this species, commonly known as the florist’s kalanchoe or flaming katy, has been used to create scores of hybrids and cultivars.


Top left: Specialist horticulturist Andrew Hankey, after whom Kalanchoe ×hankeyi is named, in the nursery area of the Water Sisulu National Botanical Garden. Top right: The leaves of Kalanchoe ×hankeyi become flushed with red when it grows in exposed positions. Bottom: Flowers of Kalanchoe ×hankeyi are very similar to those of its parents, K. sexangularis and K. longiflora.



Named for Andrew Hankey, specialist horticulturalist at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. This is a hybrid that arose spontaneously in the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden where the two most popular kalanchoes grown as groundcovers, K. longiflora and K. sexangularis, are cultivated together.

As with the other hybrids (nothospecies) that have K. sexangularis as one parent, the leaves of K. ×hankeyi are strongly red-infused, especially when grown in full sun and with limited attention to watering as would be found in no-irrigation, waterwise gardens. Where plants grow in shade, the leaves are light green to turquoise green, as found in K. longiflora. The tall flower clusters of small, yellow flowers of the nothospecies are very similar to those of its two parents.

Left: All plant parts of Kalanchoe ×estrelae are infused with red to some extent. Right: Kalanchoe ×estrelae is named after Gqeberha botanist Prof Estrela Figueiredo.



Commemorates succulent expert Prof Estrela Figueiredo of Nelson Mandela University in the epithet estrelae and Mrs Vivien Schoeman (‘Vivien’).

This originated as a chance hybrid between the South African K. luciae and K. sexangularis that was first recorded as a cultivar, K. ‘Vivien’. This hybrid was originally found in a garden in Gqeberha (previously Port Elizabeth). Neither of these species is indigenous to the Eastern Cape but both species grow very well in cultivation. More recently, this hybrid has been seen elsewhere, including in Gauteng. It has now been described as a hybrid (nothospecies).

Kalanchoe ×estrelae combines the most desirable characteristics of its two parent species. The hybrid’s leaves are quite large and are sometimes the size of the round, soup plate-shaped leaves of K. luciae. The hybrid’s leaves are also a deep purplish wine red, a colour inherited from both K. luciae and K. sexangularis. The flower clusters and flowers look intermediate between those of its two parents but they lack the floury covering so prominent in K. luciae flowers.

Left: Kalanchoe ×gunniae has small yellow flowers in clusters that can reach as high as two metres. Right: Kalanchoe ×gunniae is named after Mary Gunn, the dedicated SANBI librarian and botanical historian, seen here c.1969. Copyright: SANBI. Reproduced with permission.



Commemorates Mary Gunn (1899-1989), for many years librarian at SANBI’s Pretoria library, where she played a significant role in developing it into a leading botanical information facility. The library was eventually named for her.

This is one of two recently described Kalanchoe hybrids that originated in the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s national botanical gardens. Kalanchoe sexangularis was introduced into the Pretoria National Botanical Garden in the 1970s from Limpopo by the celebrated horticulturist, Dave Hardy. Kalanchoe paniculata, which occurs naturally in the garden, hybridised with K. sexangularis and today the hybrid forms dense stands of robust plants that remarkably can reach up to two metres tall under optimal conditions.

Kalanchoe xgunniae plants have the size of K. paniculata but leaf margins adorned with coarse, harmless teeth like K. sexangularis instead of the smooth leaf margins of K. paniculata. Where this hybrid grows in the dappled shade of trees and shrubs, its leaves are mid to light green and curve backwards somewhat (recurved). When growing in exposed positions, the leaves are conspicuously red infused. The small, yellow flowers are arranged in diffuse clusters at the top of tall, branched stems.

Fascinating cultivars

Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’
Plants with variegated leaves fascinate many gardeners, adding to the attraction of Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’. It even has a striking, bright pink variegation in some forms. Where it receives full sun, the plant’s leaves turn bright purplish red. Plants of this cultivar often grow slightly smaller than typical K. luciae, probably because they have less chlorophyll in the leaves. The plants look uncannily like K. thyrsiflora until they bloom, when there is no doubt that they are K. luciae. The flowers are cigar shaped and white lobed rather than cylindrical and yellow lobed.

Kalanchoe luciae ‘Oricula’
Plants with atypical leaves that appear to be rolled up into small cylinders – like the money plant (Crassula ovata) – are quite well known among the crassula or plakkie family to which kalanchoes belong.
Kalanchoe luciae ‘Oricula’ is the first recorded kalanchoe with such leaves. The cultivar K. luciae ‘Oricula’ has near-tubular leaves that are typically red infused like K. luciae.

Above: In full sun, the leaves of Kalanchoe ×gunniae take on a deep red hue.


Lingo learner

What is a nothospecies?

Nothospecies is a technical term for hybrid species. The hybrid character is indicated by use of the multiplication sign ‘x’ or by addition of the prefix notho- to the term denoting the plant’s rank, for example, nothospecies.

Prof Gideon F. Smith is attached to the Department of Botany, Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha.

Left: When grown in full sun, the leaves of Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’ are a deep wine red to purple colour. Right: The leaves of Kalanchoe luciae ‘Oricula’ are tubular folded.


This article was first featured in Veld & Flora in the June 2021 edition. Veld & Flora is only available to BotSoc members.

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