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.
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).
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.
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
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.