The Phyto-Philes: Sickle Tacky

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Sickle Tacky

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Sickle Tacky by Willem

The Sickle Tacky, Crassula perfoliata, is a relative of the Beestebal, Crassula arborescens. There are hundreds of different species of Crassula, most of them endemic to the drier parts of Southern Africa. This species is particularly widespread, occurring from the south to the far north of the country and also into tropical Africa. Over this range it is found in a few different forms, some low-growing and spreading, others with upright, woody stems. Its leaves vary in size and shape, not all forms having the sickle-shaped leaves for which it was named. There are some with attractively red-mottled, greyish leaves, others with uniform green leaves. The species name 'perfoliata' means 'through-the-leaves', referring to the leaf bases that clasp the stems in such a way that it looks like the stems are growing through the leaves. The flowers of this species are often bright orange-red, but can also be whitish, especially in the northern forms (subspecies heterotricha). This species grows from winter- to summer-rainfall regions. It is mostly found in rocky places such as hills or mountainsides, sometimes growing on sheer cliffs.

Sickle tackies are fairly easy to recognize, being intermediate in size between the larger and smaller Crassula species. The plants can achieve a height of about a meter/yard. They will branch from the bottom to form clumps, often as wide as they grow tall. The leaves are fairly large compared to other crassulas, and stiffly succulent. The older stems become woody, rather than the juicy, soft succulent stems of many other crassulas. The flowers are borne in fairly large, densely branched inflorescences at the tips of the stems. The flowers themselves are small but because they open in masses, they are very attractive. Flowering is in summer, timed to attract many species of butterflies as pollinators. After fertilisation, the flowers become brown, dry and papery, the fruit growing into similarly papery capsules releasing the very fine seeds into the wind.

Crassula perfoliata

This species is one of the most attractive small succulents of South Africa and has received much attention. One of our best and most famous artists, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, produced a fine watercolour painting of them. The species has also long been grown in gardens in and outside of South Africa. It is an easy species, that can be grown in outside garden beds in much of the country, but is also suited to containers indoors. It can tolerate droughts but prefers having some water throughout the year. It can handle only light frost. It can be grown from seeds but it is more convenient to grow it from cuttings. These can be made from the stem tips, or from leaves. Allow the leaf or stem cutting to dry out and form scar tissue at the cut – a period of a week should suffice. Plant the leaf or the cutting in sandy, well-draining soil, not too deep, and keep moist. Be patient as the cuttings might take a few months to strike. The plant itself is slow-growing and long-lived, but individual stems might die. It is a good idea at any rate to make and strike cuttings of your plants every two or three years.

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