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Top 5 indigenous succulents to plant in a pot

Succulent plants are very forgiving and are waterwise. They thrive on neglect! When planting up a pot one needs to have these three elements, a "Thriller", some 'Fillers" and some "Spillers." I would choose a Kalanchoe sexangularis as the "thriller" as it has height and turns a beautiful burgundy in winter. The "fillers" would be Crassula capitella and Cotyledon orbiculata with it's lovely grey leaves. The "spillers" would be Portulacarya afra prostrata and Aptemia cordata as they will both spill over the edge of the pot. It's always a good idea to group pots with similar plants.

Kalanchoe sexangularis

This is a robust, erect succulent with attractive, broad green leaves that turn ruby- red in winter. The leaves are thick and heavy with irregularly lobed margins.Grown in a slightly shaded position, the leaves will be green with red edging. In full sun or cold weather the leaves turn an unusual dark wine red. Plant it in full sun and in well drained soil. It is suitable for a border in a coastal garden. It also attracts bees, butterflies and other insects which will attract the insect eating birds.

Crassula capitella


This Crassula is sometimes called Crassula erosa. It is found in Gauteng, Free State and the Eastern Cape. It is drought tolerant and will cope with a light frost. it spreads by making runners so is ideal for a hanging basket. The leaves are bright green with orange tips but in the cold weather or in the full sun the whole plant turns dark orange to red. If it is planted in the shade it stays lime green. It has tiny white flowers in summer. This is the larval host plant for the Tailed Black-eye butterfly.

Cotyledon orbiculata

(Pigs Ears)

Pig’s Ear. Named from the Greek 'kotyledon'=seed sheath and 'kotyl'= cup referring to the bowl or spoon shaped seed leaves. This fast growing succulent has thick leaves that are greyish green. The tall flower spikes produce bunches of pink tubular flowers in winter. These attract bees and nectar feeding birds like the sunbirds. The leaves are used medicinally for corns, boils and warts and the leaf juice is used to treat earache, toothache and epilepsy. Syphilis is treated with an enema made from the leaves. They are also dried and used as a protective charm for an orphan child. Carl Pappe, a physician came to the Cape in 1831 and he studied the medicinal benefits for epilepsy. He wrote Indigenous Plants Used as remedies by the Colonists of The Cape of Good Hope in 1847. It has escaped from gardens in Australia, New Zealand and California and become an invasive weed, probably because is requires very little water. It is the larval host for two moth species as well as Pale Hairtail, Burnished Opal, Natal Opal, Common Black-eye, Henning's Black-eye and the Cape Black-eye.

Aptenia cordifolia


This is an evergreen, fast growing succulent, which grows to 250 mm tall. The roots are fleshy and thick and the green leaves are also fleshy, flat and heart- to oval-shaped. Flowers are purple to red, shiny and small. The flowers are self-fertilized and open from spring to autumn. They open during the bright hours of the day (midday to early afternoon). It is an ideal plant for coastal gardens as it tolerates sea spray and grows in sandy soil. It can be used in rockeries, terraced slopes and along roadside or embankments to prevent soil erosion. It requires full sun or semi-shade so it can be planted under trees. It is a medicinal plant as the leaves and stems are burnt and applied as a poultice to painful joints and used as an anti-inflammatory. It is also used magically as a love charm and a charm against sorcery. It is given to babies as a mild enema and the leaves are used as a deodorant against perspiration. The name comes from the Greek 'apten' meaning wingless which refers to the wingless seed.

Portulacaria afra prostrata

(Elephants Foot)

Dwarf Elephants Foot is another very versatile plant that grows in full sun to deep shade. It produces lavender coloured flowers in summer. It is water wise and has arching, trailing branches with reddish brown stems. It would be ideal in a pot, to scamper over the edge, a hanging basket or even retaining walls. I saw it flourishing in the baking hot sun in the Kruger Park, in a retailing wall at one of the rest camps in very harsh conditions.

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