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Members of this moderately sized family of 35 genera and 1500 species are of cosmopolitan distribution, but are mostly found in southern Africa. Most species are perennials living in dry, especially rocky, places and are xerophytic.
A number of species are found in cultivation, often as rock-garden plants, but also as house, greenhouse, and border plants. Typically, they have fleshy leaves and stems. The principal genera found in cultivation are Cotyledon L., Crassula L., Kalanchoe Adans., Sedum L., and Sempervivum L.
The fleshy rootstock of rose root (Rhodiola rosea L., syn. Sedum rosea Scop.) emits a fragrance of attar-of-rose (Rosa damascena Mill., fam. Rosaceae) when bruised.
Irritant and possibly sensitising properties have been ascribed to a few species, but little or nothing is known about the nature of the irritants. The cobalt and nickel accumulating properties of certain Crassula L. species may be of local dermatological significance.
- Crassula alba Forsskal
- (syns Crassula abyssinica A.Rich., Crassula milleriana Burtt Davy, Crassula recurva N.E.Br., Crassula rubicunda E.Mey. ex Harv., Crassula stewartiae Burtt Davy)
This species have been found to accumulate cobalt when growing in soils rich in this element (Malaisse et al. 1979). An average content of about 1400 ppm was recorded from dried plant material. The sensitising properties of cobalt and its salts are well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980, Fowler 1990, Uter et al. 2016).
- Crassula globularioides Britten ssp argyrophylla Toelken
- (syns Crassula argyrophylla Diels ex Schönland & Baker f., Crassula swaziensis Schönland)
Wild (1975) found 3900 ppm nickel in the dried roots of Crassula argyrophylla growing on serpentine soil in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), showing it to be a hyperaccumulator of this element. The sensitising properties of nickel are well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980, Fowler 1990, Uter et al. 2016).
- Crassula ovata Druce
- (syns Cotyledon ovata Mill., Crassula argentea Thunb., Crassula articulata Zuccagni, Crassula nitida Schönland, Crassula portulacea Lam., Toelkenia ovata P.V.Heath)
- Chinese Rubber Plant, Dollar Plant, Jade Plant
Lynne-Davies & Mitchell (1974) applied portions of the fresh leaf of Crassula argentea to the backs of 2 males for 48 hours under occlusion. Neither irritant reactions nor delayed flares occurred.
- Crassula vaginata Eckl. & Zeyh.
- (syns Crassula crassiflora K.Schum., Crassula drakensbergensis Schönland, Crassula mannii Hook.f., Crassula spectabilis Schönland, Sedum crassiflorum Kuntze)
- Yellow Crassula
This species have been found to accumulate cobalt when growing in soils rich in this element (Malaisse et al. 1979). An average content of about 1400 ppm was recorded from dried plant material. The sensitising properties of cobalt and its salts are well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980).
- Kalanchoe Adans.
Some 200 species are to be found from tropical to southern Africa, to China and Java; one species is found in tropical South America.
Kuligowski et al. (1992) observed a weak positive patch test reaction to the leaf of an unidentified Kalanchoe species in a patient who presented with contact allergy to a hortensia (see Hydrangea macrophylla Ser., fam. Hydrangeaceae).
- Kalanchoe blossfeldiana Poelln.
- (syn. Kalanchoe globulifera H.Perrier var coccinea H.Perrier)
This species produced a positive patch test in one patient (Agrup et al. 1970).
- Kalanchoe integra Kuntze
- (syns Cotyledon integra Medik., Cotyledon spathulata Poir., Kalanchoe nudicaulis Buch.-Ham. ex C.B.Clarke, Kalanchoe spathulata DC., Kalanchoe yunnanensis Gagnep., etc.)
- Neverdie, Kalanchoé Spatulé
In Indian traditional medicine, the leaves of Kalanchoe spathulata are applied to wounds (Nadkarni 1976).
- Kalanchoe laciniata DC.
- (syns Cotyledon laciniata L., Kalanchoe gracilis Hance, Kalanchoe rosea C.B.Clarke, Kalanchoe schweinfurthii Penz.)
- Christmas-Tree Kalanchoe, Fig-Tree Kalanchoe
In Indian traditional medicine, the leaves, either freshly bruised or roasted over a fire, are applied as a poultice to bruises and contusions. They are also applied as a styptic to fresh cuts and abrasions; and over insect bites (Nadkarni 1976).
- Kalanchoe lanceolata Pers.
- (syns Cotyledon lanceolata Forssk., Kalanchoe diversa N.E.Br., Kalanchoe glandulosa Hochst. ex A.Rich., Kalanchoe goetzei Engl., Kalanchoe hirta auct., Kalanchoe platysepala Welw. ex Britten, etc.)
- Yellow Stonecrop
[Information available but not yet included in database]
- Kalanchoe pinnata Pers.
- (syns Bryophyllum calycinum Salisb., Bryophyllum pinnatum Oken, Cotyledon pinnata Lam., etc.)
- Air Plant, Curtain Plant, Floppers, Life Plant, Mexican Love-Plant, Miracle-Leaf
In a text on Indian materia medica, Nadkarni (1976) noted that the leaves of Kalanchoe pinnata are used in the same way as those of Kalanchoe laciniata DC. (see above). He noted also that the leaves of Bryophyllum calycinum are applied to wounds, boils, and the bites of insects. Bershtein (1972) reported on the use of the juice of Kalanchoe pinnata for the treatment of leg ulcers.
- Orostachys fimbriata A.Berger
- (syns Cotyledon fimbriata Turcz., Umbilicus fimbriatus Turcz.)
- Duncecap, Dunce's Caps
According to Stuart (1911) referring to Umbilicus fimbriatus in a text on Chinese materia medica, the sun-dried plant (which is known as Tso Yeh Ho Tsao) is used in an ointment for falling out of the eye-brows.
- Sedum L.
Some 600 species of these fleshy leaved xerophytes have been described from northern temperate regions. One species also occurs in Peru.
Nicotine and other piperidine alkaloids were reported by Gill et al. (1979) to occur in various Sedum species. These alkaloids resemble those found in pepper (Piper nigrum L., fam. Piperaceae). See also Nicotiana tabacum L., fam. Solanaceae.
- Sedum acre L.
- (syns Sedum drucei Graebn., Sedum neglectum Ten., Sedum procumbens Schrank)
- Mossy Stonecrop, Biting Stonecrop, Small Houseleek, Wallpepper, Gold Moss
In Western traditional medicine, the fresh herb and the expressed juice have been applied locally to old ulcers, warts, and other excrescences. When applied to the skin, the plant produces inflammation and vesication (Bulliard 1780, White 1887, Remington et al. 1918, Flück 1976, Stuart 1979).
- Sedum aizoon L.
- (syns Aizopsis aizoon Grulich, Phedimus aizoon 't Hart, Sedum ellacombeanum Praeger, Sedum kamtschaticum Fisch. & C.A.Mey. var ellacombeanum R.T.Clausen, Sedum yantaiense Debeaux)
- Aizoon Stonecrop, Orange Stonecrop, Orpin Aizoon
The dried whole plant, known as Jing Tin San Qi (景天三七), is used in Chinese traditional medicine as a haemostat (Huang 1993).
- Sedum erythrostictum Miq.
- (syns Hylotelephium erythrostictum H.Ohba, Sedum alboroseum Baker, Sedum okuyamae Ohwi)
- Garden Orpine, Garden Stonecrop
In Chinese traditional medicine, the juice of the leaves of this plant (which is known as Ching Tien or Ba Bao (八宝) is a common domestic remedy in eruptions as well as an application to burns (Stuart 1911).
- Sedum lineare Thunb.
- Carpet Sedum, Needle Stonecrop
In Chinese traditional medicine, the plant (which is known as Fo Chia Tsao) is used as a local application in the treatment of burns and scalds (Stuart 1911).
- Sedum praealtum A.DC.
- Green Cockscomb, Greater Mexican Stonecrop
[Information available but not yet included in database]
- Sedum spathulifolium Hook.
- (syns Echeveria spathulifolia De Smet ex É.Morren, Gormania anomala Britton, Sedum anomalum Britton, Sedum woodii Britton)
The Kuper Island Indians of the north-western coast of North America have used the sap from the leaves and stem as a styptic (Turner & Bell 1971).
- Sedum spectabile Boreau
- (syn. Hylotelephium spectabile H.Ohba)
- Autumn-Flowering Sedum, Butterfly Stonecrop, Ice Plant, Orpin d'Automne
Biberstein (1927) observed a delayed (48h) positive patch test reaction to this species in a 22 year old female who presented with recurrent dermatitis of the face and hands.
- Sedum telephium L.
- (syns Hylotelephium purpureum Holub, Hylotelephium telephium H.Ohba, Sedum purpureum Schult., etc.)
- Orpine, Live-Forever, Life Everlasting, Stonecrop
According to Remington et al. (1918), Sedum telephium was formerly used externally to cicatrize wounds. Flück (1976) also refers to this use, adding that the fresh or withered plants are slightly rubefacient.
- Sempervivum montanum L.
- (syns Sempervivum debile Schott, Sempervivum monticola Lamotte)
- Hen and Chickens, Mountain Houseleek
The plant has irritant properties (Pammel 1911); the leaves have been said to cause dermatitis (McCord 1962).
- Sempervivum tectorum L.
- (syns Sempervivum alpinum Griseb. & Schenk, Sempervivum andreanum Wale, Sempervivum glaucum Ten., etc.)
- Common Houseleek, St Patrick's Cabbage, Hen and Chickens, Grande Joubarbe, Dachhauswurz
This species is planted on cottage roofs to keep slates in position. The plant may hybridise with Sempervivum montanum L. (above).
According to Wren (1975), the bruised fresh leaves have been applied as a poultice in inflammatory conditions of the skin such as burns and stings. Wren (1975) also notes that the juice is said to cure warts and corns.
- Bershtein EI (1972) Primenenie soka kalankhoe pri lechenii bol'nykh s troficheskimi iazvami goleni. [Use of Kalanchoë pinnata Lam. juice in the treatment of patients with trophic crural ulcers]. Vestnik Khirurgii Imeni I. I. Grekova 107(3): 116-118
- Biberstein H (1927) Überempfindlichkeit gegen Pflanzen (Sedum, Tradeskantia, Campanula, Meerzwiebel, Myrthe, Alpenveilchen, Buntnessel). Zentralblatt für Haut- und Geschlechtskrankheiten 22(1/2): 19
- Bulliard P (1780) Histoire des Plantes Vénéneuses et Suspectes de la France. 2nd edn. Paris: AJ Dugour
- Cronin E (1980) Contact Dermatitis. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone [WorldCat]
- Flück H (1976) Medicinal Plants. London: Foulsham
- Fowler JF (1990) Allergic contact dermatitis to metals. American Journal of Contact Dermatitis 1(4): 212-223 [url]
- Huang KC (1993) The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press
- Kuligowski ME, Chang A, Leemreize JHM (1992) Allergic contact hand dermatitis from hydrangea: report of a 10th case. Contact Dermatitis 26(4): 269-270
- Lynne-Davies G, Mitchell JC (1974) Patch tests for irritancy – some common house plants. Contact Dermatitis Newsletter (16): 501-502
- Malaisse F, Grégoire J, Morrison RS, Brooks RR, Reeves RD (1979) Copper and cobalt in vegetation of Fungurume, Shaba Province, Zaïre. Oikos 33(3): 472-478 [doi] [url]
- Malten KE, Nater JP, van Ketel WG (1976) Patch Testing Guidelines. Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vegt [WorldCat]
- Nadkarni AK (1976) Dr. K. M. Nadkarni's Indian Materia Medica. With ayurvedic, unani-tibbi, siddha, allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic & home remedies, appendices & indexes, Revised enlarged and reprinted 3rd edn, Vols 1 & 2. Bombay: Popular Prakashan [WorldCat] [url]
- Remington JP, Wood HC, Sadtler SP, LaWall CH, Kraemer H, Anderson JF (Eds) (1918) The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edn. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
- Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press
- Stuart M (1979) Reference section. In: Stuart M (Ed.) The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. pp. 141-283. London: Orbis Publishing
- Uter W, Larese Filon F, Rui F, Balato A, Wilkinson M, Kręcisz B, Chomiczewska-Skora D, Kieć-Świerczyńska M, Schuttelaar M-LA, Frosch PJ, Bircher AJ (2016) ESSCA results with nickel, cobalt and chromium, 2009–2012. Contact Dermatitis 75(2): 117-121 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
- White JC (1887) Dermatitis Venenata: An account of the action of external irritants upon the skin. Boston: Cupples and Hurd
- Wild H (1975) The uptake of heavy metals by some succulent species of Rhodesian serpentines. Excelsa. Journal of the Aloe, Cactus and Succulent Society of Rhodesia (5): 17-21
- Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]