January 23, 2012 @ 1:14 am
I confess a personal weakness. I cannot resist the wildlife of Madagascar. Lemurs, aloes, bryophyllums, kalanchoes… This may be exoticism, orientalism, or some other unhealthy fascination. Probably the only cure—as with the phobias—is to confront the object of my obsession and see Madagascar in person. Soon, baby, soon.
The genus Kalanchoe is found in almost all of Madagascar’s many regions and climates, except the central plains. Kalanchoe comprises about 100 species, of which 60 are endemic to Madagascar.
Many species of Kalanchoe have adapted a woolly or fuzzy tomentum: fibrous, protective leaf covering. Of these, Kalanchoe eriophylla (from Greek words for woolly and leaves) may be the woolliest of all. Its covering is even denser than that of the more common “Panda Plant” Kalanchoe tomentosa.
E.J. Lucas reports this wool is Kalanchoe eriophylla‘s adaptation to high montane Madagascar—moderate temperatures but punishing ultraviolet. Whatever the cause, Kalanchoe eriophylla is highly attractive and extremely pettable. In person, it’s almost irresistible. What’s more, it is adapted to a scrambling existence on mountainsides, so its stems can re-root along their length. This makes it fairly easy to propagate, though too much water or heat can kill it quickly.
Kalanchoe eriophylla was originally described (the word botanists prefer over discovered) in 1857 from a plant collected by Bojer on Mt Antogona, Imerina province. Reference specimens have been collected for herbariums from the central Madagascar Ankaratra massif, and the areas surrounding Tananarive, Imerina province. As recently as 1995, the species was reported “very abundant”. Pieces are sold in markets and worn by Malagasy people as a good-luck charm, particularly good luck in business or acquiring riches.
One of several common Malagasy names for Kalanchoe eriophylla is “Felatanantsifoana”, meaning “palm of the hand never empty”.