Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Whenever drought reminds us that many Californians live in a Mediterranean climate, succulents rage in popularity with a wide array of availability from nurseries. Their unusual forms entice impulse buys and unique landscape designs alike. I gave in, where Crassula perfoliata var. falcata was one of those last minute purchases with its "propeller" or "airplane" leaves; there's always room for something a little funky in our garden.
Research for this plant is inconclusive, so I hope someone reading this may be an expert in the field of succulents. Firstly, there is the scientific name. I see variations: C. falcata was on the plant's label from the nursery; Sunset lists C. perfoliata falcata as a more updated classification; others might list something similar, C. perfoliata var. falcata, and still others list C. perfoliata var. minor. The species, C. perfoliata (sans falcata), looks similar but appears to have longer leaves, while our subject species has stunted leaves, but admittedly my view is limited. The shorter leaves lend credence to the use of "minor" in the name, but falcata is more succinct in describing the falcate, or sickle-like shaped leaves. Therefore, I am staying with C. perfoliata var. falcata until I learn otherwise.
Secondly, there's the common name, where I see both propeller plant and airplane plant used. Both are apropos, opposing leaves resembling a pair of propellers, and subsequent sets rotate ninety degrees from the previous giving an illusion to a propeller in motion. Airplane plant may be similarly alluding to the propeller appearance.
Thus far, few succinct facts are available at the time of posting, so I have listed what I found. Coupled with direct observations, I hope to attain a close capture of the significant elements. Again, I am open to corrections if necessary.
Not long after potting my coveted specimen did I encounter our first challenge, mealy bugs. They come and go seasonally, looking unsightly when they proliferate; they hide long enough for me to forget about them, then reemerge causing only frustration. I am not diligent enough with the insecticidal soap to eradicate the measly mealies, so it may be time to let it go. Especially since the infestation has migrated to our very old staghorn fern, reminding me that the infestation can spread. I guess this posting is a homage as I pay it last respects. Despite my decision, I enjoyed this succulent, and it deserves consideration in a succulent border or in containers. Maybe I will scrub a leaf clean and propagate a start.
It is early October and our ill fated propeller is in full bloom, enjoyed by bees. A dark orange cluster of countless blooms, a true specimen at this time of year. Most listings note summer blooming, and indeed it had bloomed earlier in the year. When I deadheaded the flowers, I removed a few rows of leaves. This second bloom may be response to pruning, but even Sunset notes a late summer bloom period.
At this moment, I recommend using this succulent in containers with contrasting succulents, mounding drought tolerant perennials, or simply on its own. In Northern California, we are still prone to freezes that can damage this and other succulents, so I am reluctant to suggest placing in the landscape unless well protected.
The following video includes great information about their care and some challenges in growing, which suggests this plant is best suited for container gardening rather than within landscape plantings. It would be informative to see if anyone has planted propeller plants within a landscape setting.
Botanical Name: Crassula perfoliata var. falcata
Crassula: Greek, krassus, for thick (leaves)
Perfoliata: Having leaves that surround the stems
Common Name: Propeller plant; airplane plant
Family Name: Crassulaceae
Origin: South Africa
Positioning: Foreground, featured
Garden Themes: Succulent, xeriscape, modern, rock, pollinator, hummingbird
Uses: Border, silhouette, container, specimen
Size: 3' tall by 2' wide
Outstanding Feature(s): Form, flower
Stem: Gray, fleshy, slightly woody at base
Color: Gray to gray-green
Surface: Thick, firm, fleshy, waxy
Flower: Summer to Fall. First bloom early summer, second bloom early fall. Cymes of dense orange-red blooms are long-lasting and dry to copper brown.
Fruit: Unknown at time of posting. Aerial seed dispersal in native habitat.
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 8, 9, 12-24; H1, H2
USDA Zones: 9-11
Light: Full sun
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low
Texture: Sand, rocky (succulent potting mix for containers)
Moisture Retention: Well-drained. Accepts extended periods of dryness.
pH: Slightly acidic to neutral
Tolerances: Drought, deer
Branch Strength: Strong
Insects: Mealy bug, spider mites, vine weevil, aphids
Disease: Rot, powdery mildew, leaf spot
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Plant Z Africa. "Crassula perfoliata var. minor." South African National Biodiversity Institute, Brummeria. Accessed on October 5, 2021, from http://pza.sanbi.org/crassula-perfoliata-var-minor.
San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. "Crassula perfoliata var. falcata." San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, San Luis Obispo. Accessed on October 5, 2021, from https://www.slobg.org/crassula-perfoliata-var-falcata.
Succulentopedia. "Crassula perfoliata var. minor (Propeller Plant)." World of Succulents, (Unknown location). Accessed on October 5, 2021, from https://worldofsucculents.com/crassula-perfoliata-var-minor-airplane-plant/.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on October 5, 2021, from https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Download_WUCOLS_IV_List/.