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Plant Highlight: Pachyphytum fittkaui

April 2015

Pachyphytum is a small genus of 20 species in the Crassula Family (Crassulaceae), all from Mexico. They are almost invariably found growing on cliffs, where their chubby leaves are safe from marauding animals. When detached, the leaves root easily.

One of the largest-growing species of Pachyphytum is Pachyphytum fittkaui, native to northern Guanajuato State and southern San Luis Potosí in east-central Mexico. It has a shrubby habit of growth, with smooth grayish-brown stems rising to a height of 20 inches (.5 m) if planted on flat ground, or hanging down for as much as 40 inches (1 m) in its native cliffs.

Pachyphytum fittkaui has blimp-shaped leaves up to 3½ inches long (9 cm), green in color except for the tips, which often are purplish or reddish-tinged. Plants come into flower in late winter (late Feb. to early Mar. at the Ruth Bancroft Garden), with a scorpoid inflorescence up to 8 inches long (20 cm). The term “scorpoid” refers to a flower stalk which rises up, then arches over and hangs down at the tip, like the tail of a scorpion. There are bract leaves along the flower stalk, and these are like miniature versions of the regular leaves lower down, becoming pale green like the sepals higher up on the stalk. The large fleshy sepals clasp the flowers, and are of different sizes. The longest 2 exceed the flowers in length, while the shorter 3 are about the length of the petals or a little less. The flowers themselves are short-tubular and a little over a half-inch long (14 to 16 mm). On the inside they are deep pink, often fading to almost white at the tips. The outside is paler, but little of the outside is visible due to the large clasping pale-green sepals. The flowers are very popular with hummingbirds, which seek them out for their nectar.