Crassula multicava flowers

Fairy crassula (Crassula multicava) is a great succulent ground cover for shade. I've grown it since the '90s under oaks on a steep slope. It has sentimental value: My dad gave me cuttings. But like its cousin jade (Crassula ovata), this simple green succulent gets no respect. What is it with us gardeners that we sneer at easy-care plants that work well where nothing else does? "Common" isn't a compliment!

Case in point: At Waterwise Botanicals nursery, I ran into an old friend who is a renowned succulent gardener. He was curious what I had in my cart. I showed him what I'd found that intrigued me. He barely glanced at it. "Oh that," he said dismissively. "I had to pull it out of my garden because it was taking over."

I stammered, "Yes, but this one has red on the underside of its leaves!" But he'd moved on. Maybe he already knew about Crassula multicava 'Red' and wasn't impressed. Yet I thought it gorgeous, and it's doing as well in my garden as dad's good ol' green one. As for the species taking over, certainly it spreads, but slowly. It's never been a problem. In fact, I like how it fills gaps.

Crassula multicava 'Red'

Crassula multicava 'Red' (red fairy crassula) has other cultivar names, including 'Purple Dragon' and 'Ngabara'.

In winter, typical of the genus, fairy crassula produces dainty star-shaped, pinkish-white flowers. By spring, masses of airy blooms on slender, branching stems dance above oval green leaves. That is, if frost doesn't get them...which is likely why mine is less vigorous. Nearly every winter, frost hits exposed garden areas, keeping tender plants in check. But fairy crassula is an understory plant regardless. In summer, if out in the open, it may sunburn (I'm inland CA, Zone 9b).

Crassula multicava plantlets

Crassula multicava plantlets

It's fascinating how fairy crassula spreads. As flower stalks elongate, they produce itty-bitty plantlets that become heavier and more pendant. When about dime-sized, they touch the ground and take root. This happens far enough from the mother ship that plantlets don't compete for light and nutrients.

As for Crassula multicava being invasive, If you happen to have ideal conditions for succulents---temps between 40 and 90, low humidity, good soil, and bright shade---it may be more vigorous than you prefer. In less-than-ideal gardens, you'll love it and it'll love you. In any case, as I show in my video, it's easily removed: a gentle yank uproots it.

Fairy crassula in a pot

Smaller, lighter green  leaves and red stems indicate that this potted Crassula multicava is getting more sun than normal. But that's fine near the coast.

15 reasons to grow fairy crassula (Crassula multicava)

  • It's a great beginners' succulent that starts readily from cuttings.
  • It tolerates difficult conditions: poor soil, deep shade, steep terrain.
  • It appreciates regular water but gets by without it.
  • Dark green mounds look good close up or far away.
  • It's free. Look for it at plant swaps and ask neighbors for cuttings.
  • Messy tree leaves fall into the plants and disappear. (To recall its name, I think "multiple caves.")
  • It causes tree leaves to decompose into rich, crumbly leaf mulch.
  • It keeps weed seeds from germinating by robbing them of sunlight.
  • It diffuses the impact of rain, reducing soil erosion.
  • Its shallow roots don't compete with those of trees or shrubs.
  • Dainty white flowers contrast beautifully with deep green leaves.
  • Flower stalks, bejeweled with starlike blooms, are lovely backlit.
  • It needs almost no care and is pest- and problem-free. Even snails don't bother it.
  • It's pretty in pots and as a filler in hanging baskets (prune to encourage fullness).
  • Like most succulents, you shouldn't walk on it, but it recovers if you do.

See Crassula multicava in my garden and watch me start cuttings of 'Red' in my new video: A Shade Succulent I Love and You Will Too (4:35).

On this site

Crassula (Jade Plant): Details, Photos and Varieties

Crassulas are among the easiest, most trouble-free succulents to grow, with one caveat: With few exceptions, they’re frost-tender (tend to be damaged when temperatures drop below 32 degrees F). Shrub varieties are very easy to start from cuttings, and stacked jades will send forth whiskery roots from between their tight leaves—simply snip off the stem and bury in potting soil so that roots are covered (it’s OK to bury a few leaves too). Crassulas, like aloes, also stress beautifully to shades of red, yellow and orange. Give variegated varieties adequate sun or they’ll revert to solid green.

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17 Comments

  1. Tina Cremer on July 7, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Debra,
    Love your Blog! My new favorite is Senecio ‘Everest’ (Monrovia) it is upright with rosemary-like blue gray leaves along its stems and gets about 3′ tall X 3′ wide.
    Tina Cremer

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 11, 2020 at 7:38 pm

      Wow, it’s gorgeous! That pale baby blue! Thanks, Tina!

  2. Marilyn Ellis on July 8, 2020 at 8:47 am

    Re: Fairy Crassula
    Thank you for the article. I believe I bought mine at Waterwise also. I think I now know why my is almost dead. Too much sun. It is so pretty, I will either transplant mine or if it is too far gone, I’ll get another. This time I will know where to plant it.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 8, 2020 at 9:25 am

      Hi Marilyn — The best way to grow something is to kill it first. Waterwise has plenty and lots of the red variety. I know it’ll do well for you, now that you know what not to do! ;+)

    • Bonnie Grogan on July 11, 2020 at 6:51 pm

      Having difficulty finding fairy crassula on line for delivery (Covid quarantine).

      • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 11, 2020 at 7:36 pm

        Hi Bonnie — Fairy crassula (Crassula multicava) is so common, most nurseries don’t bother with it. It’s a “pass-along plant” (neighbors pass it along). Mountain Crest Gardens sells it mail-order, but they’re out at the moment. Suggestions:
        Look for it in friends’ and neighbors’ yards. If they have it, they’ll happily share cuttings.
        Look for it at neighborhood or garden-club plant swaps.
        Post a photo of it on your community Next Door site, asking if anyone has it and if they’d share cuttings.
        If none of those work, then it probably doesn’t grow in your area. (Good to know.)
        P.S. Tom Jesch, general manager of Waterwise Botanicals nursery, says they’re gearing up to sell mail-order. Since they’re the only source of Crassula multicava ‘Red’ (the one with burgundy-red on the underside of the leaves) that’s very good news indeed. I’ll post an update when it’s available, hopefully soon!

  3. Nan Yarbrough on July 8, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    Just today I removed a whole bed of fairy that had grown up in a year. It’s all you have said about it and easy to remove. Even a black thumb could manage this one.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 11, 2020 at 7:37 pm

      Yay! Thanks for letting us know, Nan.

  4. Jeannie Echenique on July 9, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    I love fairy crassula and grow it in hanging pots which is how it first came to me. As an East Coast transplant to Santa Cruz I was cautious about succulents for years. When my elderly neighbor passed away his daughter let me select some leftover plants. I picked the hanging pot of Crassula muliticlava. I’ve had that same plant going on twenty years now and still love it, and utilize it as a mother plant for starts. I am no longer shy about succulents – I have hundreds in my barnyard nursery, including fairy crassulas.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 10, 2020 at 7:34 am

      That’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing, Jeannie.

  5. Sara Streicher on July 10, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Anxious for shade succulents video. I loved seeing you at SD home and garden. Thank you.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 10, 2020 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks for the boost, Sara! I’m working on it! It’s a slippery subject though. So many succulents can go either way…

  6. Liz Varghese on October 5, 2020 at 10:00 am

    I recently purchased the Crassula multicava ‘Red’ – I just loved the colors. I am debating whether to plant in the ground. Do these prefer shade as well? Unfortunately I was unable to open and view the video! Thank you!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on October 5, 2020 at 3:49 pm

      Where are you located?

      • Liz Varghese on October 6, 2020 at 8:39 am

        I am in Bay area, CA zone 9.

        • Debra Lee Baldwin on October 6, 2020 at 5:04 pm

          Yes, grow it in a bright shade location. This reminds me, mine got scorched during the recent heat waves. It was doing great until the neighbor trimmed the tree that was shading it. Poor thing looks awful. I should have covered it.

  7. Liz Varghese on October 7, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Thank you so much for your reply! I am sorry to hear about your plant, I lost a couple of my succulents too 🙁
    I will move my ‘red’ to a bright shady location. I am looking forward to see how it grows.. this plant has such a beautiful color!

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