Devil’s Backbone

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A strange looking plant, sturdy and full of poison, it invades our space

This scary name belongs to a plant imported to Florida from Madagascar by the ornamental plant industry. This ornamental  plant, of course, escaped from cultivation becoming another invasive exotic plaguing Florida’s natural environment.  Devil’s Backbone, Kalanchoe daigremontiana, is a herbaceous, perennial succulent: a member of the Crassulacae ( Orpine)  family.

The plant is supported by a single erect purple colored stem.  Fleshy leaves grow in whorls of three along the stem. Each whorl spreads apart exposing the stem. Concave leaves are oblong-lanceolate in shape 4 to 6 inches in length. Leaves are thick and stiff and their color is green on top, yellow on the bottom with blotches of purple.  Along the leaf margins are tiny appendages that look like hooks. These appendages are actually plantlets (tiny plants) that eventually fall to the ground and continue to grow into a full 3 foot high plant. The plant can grow both from seeds and vegetative from the plantlets.

Clusters of bell shaped flowers are arranged in an umbrella shape at the tip of the stem. Flowers have four reddish petals that are partially fused together. The flowers dangle downward. Each flower has 8 male stems with black anthers.

Devil’s Backbone is found in disturbed sites. Be aware that all parts of the plant are poisonous. Ingestion by infants and small pets could be fatal. This is an ugly plant. The only thing good about it is that it can be easily pulled out of the ground.

Specimen in the picture was found in a site behind Chapel by the Sea.

Dorothy Rodwell