Growing Sceletium / Kanna
SCELETIUM is a small genus of low growing succulent
shrubs in the ice plant family (Aizoaceae) endemic to the karroo
areas of Western, Eastern and Northern Cape Provinces in South Africa.
The succulent leaves grow in pairs and eventually die away leaving
persistent leaf vein skeletons clothing the lower stems, which protect
the plants from adverse environmental conditions. The small flowers
vary in color from white to yellow and occasionally pale orange
Most of the Sceletium species are mostly unknown
in cultivation and endangered in habitat. Plant gatherers in South
Africa have observed that wild populations of Sceletium tortuosum
are becoming increasingly scarce, possibly due to over collection.
Protection through cultivation is encouraged.
Sceletium is easily grown, and seeds are sprouted much the same
as any common cacti. Mature plants also root easily from cuttings.
Sceletium can become weedy if over-watered and overfed. Some species
are tolerant of mild frost, but it's best not to bring them outdoors
until the last frost has passed.
The soil should be allowed to dry out between watering if growing
in a pot. Obviously the size of the pot is a variable where this
is concerned but as long as the plant body remains firm looking
with no signs of wrinkling, then resist the temptation to over-water.
Make this judgment on cooler days; during very hot and sunny periods,
most plants will have a tendency to wrinkle especially if they are
in a greenhouse. If in doubt, don't water.
Watering Sceletium is something of a balancing
act... too little and the plants become stunted... too much and
they rot or, at best, they start making new bodies at the wrong
time of year (if this happens stop watering until the first body
has been consumed by the new). After a year or two you will get
to know how the plants behave in your particular situation.
So, water sparingly until shoot and root growth
is well established. Then increase watering and apply a well-balanced
liquid feed periodically. Good light is essential so that plants
produce strong, sturdy growth. Ideally maintain a minimum temperature
of 16ºC or 60ºC, although plants will tolerate cooler
conditions. Any general purpose compost with some added grit to
help drainage is suitable or any of the propriety cactus composts
is ideal. An occasional feed as for houseplants is permissible but
don't over do it, Sceletium plants require little in the way of
Planting out and aftercare
The planting site should be open and sunny and the soil can be enriched
with general cactus soil or compost as was used when they were in
a pot. Space the Sceletium plants some distance apart because they
creep along the ground, much like plants that propagate through
rhizomes, and they can take up a lot of ground space in a short
amount of time when cared for properly.
After the first frosts lift the rhizomes and move them to a frost-free
glasshouse or shed. Ensure plants are properly labeled. Pack the
roots in pots, covered with compost or bark, and keep them just
moist throughout the winter.
When you receive seedlings
Take great care with unwrapping the kanna - new shoots
at this stage are extremely fragile, and a shoot broken off represents
a lost flowering shoot. Sceletium has a lot of water content, and
in travelling, they can become dehydrated and less pliable.
The seedlings should be immediately potted up,
irrespective of the time of year. Use any general purpose cactus
soil, and place the pots in a light airy frost-free place. A cool
greenhouse with heat only when frost threatens is ideal. Keep the
compost slightly moist (not dry, not over-wet), until the growing
If immediate potting is impractical, the seedlings
should be covered in damp peat. Sceletium seedlings do not normally
enter a totally dormant stage, and if they are thoroughly dried
out, then some will be lost. (This is perhaps one reason why Kannas
are not often sold in garden centers - they do not appreciate being
kept for long periods in a handful of dry sawdust in pre-packs -
many are lost leading to complaints).
If the Sceletium plants are intended for indoor
cultivation, then they may be potted up immediately and grown on
As with many rhizomatous plants, such as kanna,
not every seedling will grow (Sceletium growers are happy with an
80% success rate), although some will throw up 2 or 3 shoots.
Pests and diseases
In the spring, newly emerging shoots should be sprayed
for aphids, though aphids are not often a problem with grown plants.
Young plants should be protected from slugs and
snails which ignore the open leaves but have a preference for the
newly unrolling leaves. A single nibble at this stage by a slug
will cause a disfiguring row of holes as the leaf unfurls that will
remain with the plant for several months. Older plants are not often
troubled by slugs and snails.
Red Spider Mite can occasionally infest indoor
Sceletium plants. The symptoms are dry-looking leaves which turn
uniformly brown. When examined closely on the underside, such leaves
show traces of a white powder (which is the dried egg-cases) particularly
near the central leaf rib, and myriads of extremely tiny creatures
all running around. You really need a magnifying glass to see them.
To answer a common query, Red Spider Mites are not often red in
color. Red Spider Mite is immune to most if not all proprietary
preparations available to the amateur. Soap-based insecticides combined
with a powerful spray can dislodge and/or suffocate them, and minimize
the problem to an acceptable level.
Sceletium plant virus disease is more widespread
than is commonly appreciated. It is initially recognized by pale
colored spots and streaks in leaves, and by distorted or crinkly
leaves. Later, badly affected plants show dead rust-colored streaks
in the leaves, throughout the plant, and the growth is badly stunted.
The plant may still flower, but the flowers may have a distorted
shape with white patches. Little is known about Sceletium plany
virus - some plants are badly affected and may die of their own
accord, or remain badly stunted, but other plants show only a mild
infection of one or two leaves and seem to be able to recover. There
is no known cure for virus diseased plants, and plants that are
obviously diseased should be dug up and destroyed.
Reliable sites for information
- A very good review of all the current scientific research on Sceletium.
- A solid overview of Sceletium information.
- Good botanical information on Kanna.
- A very detailed Kanna monograph.
- A great comprehensive article on traditional Kanna usage.
- The oldest supplier on the Web of Sceletium products and bulk
fermented and unfermented Kanna herb who represent a cooperative
of traditional Kanna growers in South Africa.