Crassula | Providing an unlikely meal for hungry pollinators 

Crassula | Providing an unlikely meal for hungry pollinators 

What do pollinators turn to in the chilly winter months? In renosterveld especially, finding food can prove challenging when there are so few plants that are flowering. 

Some of this food for pollinators comes from an unlikely source – from members of the Crassulaceae family. The Stonecrop or Plakkie family, as they are also known, are a family of herbaceous plants with succulent leaves. Because these thick, fleshy leaves are able to store water, and their tough skins help reduce evaporation, they are particularly well adapted to dry conditions. 

But while many plants enter a period of dormancy during the winter, certain members of the Crassulaceae family take advantage of the cooler, wetter conditions to flower. These species add vibrant colour to an otherwise muted winter renosterveld landscape – as well as much-needed food for renosterveld critters. 

Above: Rock Stonecrop (Crassula orbicularis). Photo by Grant Forbes

Taking advantage of the cooler climes

The Crassula genus – a prominent member of the Crassulaceae family – is especially important to hungry pollinators come winter. It comprises approximately 200 species, with plants that vary widely in form, from small ground-hugging species to larger shrubs. They are known for their patterned leaves and, in many cases, their striking flowers.

So on your next renosterveld hike in these cooler climes, look out for the likes of the Shy Flower (Crassula capensis), Watergras (Crassula natans) and the Sosatiebos (Crassula rupestris) – and see how they provide a meal to passing pollinators. 

Above: Cape Stonecrop (Crassula capensis). Photo by Grant Forbes

Crassula capensis – Flowers May to November

This small, bulbous plant will already be showing off its white, star-shaped flowers on stems up to 10 cm long. The petals vary in number, but there are usually between 6-8 petals that are pinkish in colour on the underside. 

You’ll find them on damp slopes from Clanwilliam to Riversdale. In the Overberg, they are most likely to occur on south-facing slopes. 

Above: Crassula natans. Photo by Grant Forbes

Crassula natans – Flowers May to October

These are floating annual aquatic plants with stems of between 2 – 25 cm. The pretty flowers are cup-shaped, with four petals up to 2mm long, which are white to pinkish in colour. 

Watergras occurs in moist depressions or pools, and is widespread throughout southern Africa. 

Above: Crassula nemorosa. Photo by Grant Forbes

Crassula nemorosa – Flowers June to August

These pretty plants are most easily identified by their heart-shaped leaves with their smooth margins. Their flowers are cup-shaped but tiny – only between 2 – 3.5 mm in size, with silvery pink petals. 

Crasssula nemorosa grows in rock crevices or on rocky slopes from southern Namibia to the Karoo and the Eastern Cape. 

Above: Crassula cf. orbicularis. Photo by Grant Forbes

Crassula cf. orbicularis – Flowers June to November

The flowers of this species often grow in spike-like clusters. They’re tubular in shape, and white to yellow, tinged pink to brown in colour. Their leaves are opposite, oblong to elliptic in shape, creating some of those notable patterns associated with the Crassula genus. 

This species occurs on rocky, sheltered slopes from Montagu and Potberg to KwaZulu-Natal. Interestingly, miniature plants that appear very similar to this species have been found in Rûens Silcrete Renosterveld along the lower Breede River. 

Above: Crassula rupestris. Photo by Grant Forbes

Crassula rupestris – Flowers June to October

The Concertina Plant or Sosatiebos lives up to its name, with tightly packed, opposite and thickened leaves, resembling a ‘sosatie’. The flowers are white to pink, in round clusters on the ends of the stems. 

They occur on dry, stony slopes, from Namaqualand to the Eastern Cape. 

The need to protect Crassulas

Many Crassula species only occur in South Africa and nowhere else on Earth. That means that they need to be protected against the many threats they face. These include habitat destruction, climate change and over-collection for the horticultural trade. Conservation efforts such as the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust’s conservation easement programme are therefore essential to protect these unique species and the ecosystems they support.

Find out more about Crassulas and other renosterveld species

The Field Guide to Renosterveld of the Overberg is packed with information regarding the Crassulaceae family, and thousands of other species that you’ll find in renosterveld – from flowers to animals. It’s the ideal way to come to know, and to come to enjoy, everything that renosterveld has to offer.