Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) is a succulent that is native to Madagascar, an island southeast of Africa. Today, kalanchoe grows in many parts of the world including Africa, Asia, Australia, Saudi Arabia and tropical America. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana acquired the additional name of Christmas kalanchoe because of its colorful winter flowers, which include red, yellow, orange and pink blooms.
The genus, Kalanchoe derives from a Chinese plant name, while 'blossfeldiana' honors Robert Blossfeld, a German hybridizer who introduced the plant to Potsdam, Germany in 1932. It is a member of the Crassulaceae family that comprises over 130 species of succulents, shrubs, climbers and small trees.
The Perfect Gift
A major advantage of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is that growers can force flowering at any time of the year, which makes it an ideal holiday gift. Kalanchoe requires minimal attention and is easy to grow as a flowering pot plant. Keep the soil well drained and moist but not saturated for best results. Kalanchoe enjoys full sun and a post-flowering trim. It is an attractive addition to a kitchen window, a patio, or as a gift to someone who loves flowers and plants but does not have a lot of time to care for them.
An unusual variety of kalanchoe, named Kalanchoe tubiflora is more commonly called the chandelier plant. This is an accurate description of the tubular leaves that cascade from a central stem like chandelier crystals. The plant exhibits bell-shaped orange flowers in the spring.
European Cultivars, Double Flowers
Kalanchoe is popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. Several well-established cultivars propagated from seed in Switzerland include 'Tom Thumb,' 'Melody,' 'Exotica,' 'Vulcan,' and 'Yellow Darling.'
Calandiva Kalanchoes from the Netherlands exhibit double flowers. Calandiva Birken flowers in shades of hot pink while Calandiva Leonardo has rich purple blooms and Calandiva Tylo features bright red flowers.
Kalanchoe daigremontiana is a potentially toxic variety known commonly as the devil's backbone. The plant contains a cardiac glycoside that is harmful to children and to pets. This plant produces plantlets that fall off and become new plants, so take measures to ensure that they are out of reach of children and pets. In South Africa and Australia where the devil's backbone grows wild, it is poisonous to sheep and cattle.
In the Bahamas, Kalanchoe pinnata or life leaf is used to treat asthma or shortness of breath as well as heartburn and skin sores in an antibacterial form. The juice of the plant mixed with salt is a treatment for bronchitis or ulcers.