Crassula muscosa (syn. Crassula lycopodioides), also referred to as watch chain plant or rattail crassula, is a succulent characterized by its delicate, chain-like stems. Native to South Africa and Namibia, it typically grows on rocky outcrops and cliffs. It is suited to mixed container planting, hanging baskets, and rock gardens.
The small, bright green leaves grow densely on long, thin stems. Young plants grow upright, forming a compact, bush-like habit. As the plant matures, the longer stems fall and trail. Small, yellow-green flowers emerge from the stems in spring and summer.
|Scientific Name||Crassula muscosa (syn. Crassula lycopodioides)|
|Common Names||Watch chain, rattail crassula, zipper plant|
|Plant Type||Succulent, perennial|
|Origin||South Africa and Namibia|
|Size||Up to 8-12” tall|
|USDA Hardiness Zones||9-11|
|Propagation Methods||Stem cuttings, seed|
|Climate||Subtropical, semi-arid to arid|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, rocky|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
Watch Chain Plant Care
Crassula muscosa requires at least 6 hours of bright light a day. Exposure to sufficient light creates compact growth and vivid coloring. In low-light conditions, the stems become leggy and the plant will be weaker. Watch chain plant is happy in full sun, but may need protection during heatwaves in hot climates. Consider using a grow light to provide adequate lighting indoors.
The soil should be rocky or gritty and well-draining. For container plants, mix 50% succulent soil with 40% pumice or perlite and 10% crushed granite or coarse sand. Avoid planting in heavy clay which can cause waterlogged conditions – consider planting in raised beds or sloped ground to improve drainage.
Water once every 2 or 3 weeks during the warmer months and once a month during the winter. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Water well and allow excess to drain away. Outdoors, rattail crassula can tolerate some rainfall if planted in a well-draining substrate. It should not be exposed to excessive or consistent rainfall.
Crassula muscosa prefers dry, well-ventilated environments. It is tolerant of moderate humidity fluctuations, but will not do well in prolonged periods of humidity. Avoid excessive moisture, particularly during the colder months.
The watch chain plant is adapted to growing in nutrient-poor environments so does not require frequent fertilizing. Apply a diluted, balanced fertilizer, 2 to 3 times during the spring and early summer to support growth. Do not fertilize in the winter.
Tip: Water the plant a day before fertilizing to moisten the soil and protect the roots from fertilizer burn.
Periodic pruning can help to maintain a compact shape.
- Trim back leggy stems.
- Pinch off the tips of stems to encourage bushy growth and maintain a compact habit.
- Remove dead or damaged stems.
Note: Prune using a sharp knife or pair of scissors. Sterilize tools with rubbing alcohol before and after use.
Mature watch chain plants produce flowers in the spring. They are more likely to flower outdoors in warm climates but can also flower under the right conditions when cultivated as houseplants. This succulent is more commonly grown for its foliage rather than its flowers.
- Provide adequate sunlight.
- Water sufficiently and allow the soil to dry between waterings.
- Apply a diluted fertilizer 2 to 3 times in spring and summer.
- Provide a stable indoor temperature range of 65 °F to 75 °F during the day and slightly cooler at night.
There are numerous varieties of Crassula muscosa, with distinctions in leaf shape and color.
- Crassula muscosa var. variegata: Green leaves with variegation in creamy white, yellow, or pinkish tones.
- Crassula muscosa var. accuminata: Leaves with slightly pointed tips.
- Crassula muscosa var. rastafarii: Green to reddish-brown leaves.
- Crassula muscosa var. sinuata: Leaves are undulated, appearing curved or twisted.
Watch Chain Succulent Propagation
Crassula muscosa is an invasive species that will readily self-propagate and spread. The best method of propagating this succulent is by stem cuttings. It is possible to grow from seed but it is a slower process. Propagate in the early spring.
Stem cuttings are a good option for leggy or oversized plants.
- Select a mature, healthy stem.
- Using sharp, sterilized scissors, cut a 3 to 4-inch length just below a node.
- Let the cutting dry for a few days.
- Plant the cut end into a well-draining substrate. Water lightly.
- Place in bright indirect light.
- Roots should develop in several weeks.
Harvest seed from the previous season’s flowers.
- Prepare a tray with succulent seedling soil mixed with coarse sand. Lightly moisten.
- Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the surface and lightly press into the soil. Avoid burying them.
- Cover with a clear plastic lid.
- Place in bright indirect light and maintain a temperature range of 70 °F to 75 °F. Keep the soil lightly moist but not wet.
- Seeds may take several weeks to several months to germinate. Remove the plastic cover once the seedlings emerge.
- Transplant larger seedlings into pots.
Repot every 2 to 3 years in the spring. Rattail crassula likes to be slightly root-bound so choose a pot that is only one size up. Ensure the pot has adequate drainage. Take care not to damage the delicate stems whilst handling. Avoid watering for a few days afterward to allow the plant to settle.
Tip: Propagate any healthy, undamaged stems that break off whilst repotting.
In regions with distinct seasons, Crassula muscosa may enter a period of reduced growth in the winter. Water sparingly and avoid humid conditions during the colder months. It is possible to grow the watch chain plant outdoors all year round in USDA zones 9-11. In colder climates, bring containers indoors during the winter or cultivate as a houseplant.
Note: Crassula muscosa may also slow its growth in response to high temperatures above 85 °F to 90 °F. Provide dappled shade to reduce stress in extreme heat.
- Wilting stems and translucent leaves: Caused by overwatering. Let the soil dry completely. In severe cases, repot into a fresh, dry substrate.
- Wilting, shriveling, and deflating: Caused by underwatering. Stems may lose their turgidity and leaves may become wrinkled or curled. In intense sun, leaves may turn brown and crispy. Check soil moisture and water well. Take care not to overwater.
- White or brown patches: Symptom of sunburn. Provide shade during periods of extreme heat. Remove damaged leaves.
- Leggy stems: Caused by insufficient light. Provide at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Use a grow light for indoor plants. Cut back leggy stems to encourage compact growth. Consider propagating cut stems into new plants.
- Mealybugs: White, cotton-like appearance. Remove bugs carefully using a Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol. Spray with neem oil. Avoid creating humid conditions.
- Aphids: Cluster in between the leaves. Can cause stunted growth if left untreated. Spray with neem oil every 2 to 3 days until the infestation is removed.
- Vine weevils (outdoor plants): Cause stunted growth from root damage. Leaves may appear notched or eaten. For small infestations, hand-pick and remove pests. Avoid wet or waterlogged soil.
Crassula muscosa is sensitive to fungal problems, such as root rot, caused by overwatering and poor drainage. Plant in a well-draining substrate, allow the soil to dry in between watering, and avoid growing in humid environments.