purple succulent

Callisia fragrans
infestation growing in a sunny location (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
infestation growing in a shady habitat (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
habit (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
habit during flowering (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
creeping stems (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
close-up of creeping stems (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
leaves (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
branched flower clusters (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
close-up of flowers (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
close-up of old flowers (Photo: Sheldon Navie)
Succulent
Whorled
Simple
White
Green
Purple
Discoloured

A creeping herbaceous plant with clusters of large, green or purplish, fleshy leaves. Its fleshy spreading stems produce roots and give rise to new plants. Its flowers are borne in clusters at the top of long upright stalks. Its small flowers are almost stalkless and have white petals.

Common names 
Also known as: purple succulent, basket plant, fragrant inch plant,
Family 
Commelinaceae
Deciduous 
No
Flowering time 
Winter - Spring
Native/Exotic 
Exotic
Origin 
Native to Mexico.
Notifiable 
No
Council declaration 
Class R – Reduce populations
Known distribution 

Naturalised in the coastal districts of eastern Australia (i.e. in southern and central Queensland and northern and central New South Wales). Also naturalised on Lord Howe Island. Naturalised overseas in south-eastern USA (i.e. Florida and Louisiana) and Hawaii.

Habitat 

A garden escape that has become common in waste ground and disturbed sites around urban areas, along roadsides and waterways, and in bushland areas adjoining settlements.

Habit 

A long-lived (i.e. perennial) creeping herbaceous plant with leaves crowded into rosette-like clusters and spreading laterally via long runners (i.e. stolons).

Impact and control methods 

This garden escape is well established in south-eastern Queensland, where it is regarded as a significant environmental weed and appears on several local council weed lists (e.g. it is regarded as one of the 12 most concerning environmental weeds in the Hervey Bay local authority area) as well as in the list of the top 200 invasive species for this region. It has more recently become naturalised in New South Wales, and hence is not currently regarded as a major problem there.Purple succulent (Callisia fragrans) forms a dense spreading ground-cover that can rapidly overtake bushland areas. It therefore has the potential to crowd out native species and prevent their regeneration.

Stem and leaves 

The thick stems are rather fleshy and develop into long runners (i.e. stolons). These runners can be branched and readily give rise to new plants, allowing a population to spread quite quickly. The flowering stems are more upright (i.e. erect or ascending) and reach up to 1.5 m tall. The large clustered leaves (5-40 cm long and 2.5-10 cm wide) are spirally arranged and either green, purplish-green or purplish in colour (they tend to be greener in shady habitats and have more purplish coloration in sunny habitats). These leaves are oblong or elongated (i.e. lanceolate) in shape, hairless (i.e. glabrous), and have pointed tips (i.e acute or acuminate apices). The base of the leaf is narrowed to an inconspicuous sheath, which is more clearly seen on the much smaller leaves found along the stolons.

Flowers and fruits 

The flowers are fragrant and clustered towards the tips of long flowering stems (i.e. they are arranged in terminal panicle-like clusters). These branched clusters (up to 50 cm or more long) contain large numbers of flowers and are arranged into smaller dense clusters, each subtended by a papery bract (10-15 mm long). Individual flowers are almost stalkless (i.e. sub-sessile) with three elongated (i.e. lanceolate), short-lived, white petals (about 6 mm long) that wilt at noon. They also have three whitish-transparent, membranous (i.e. scarious) sepals (5-6 mm long) that are elongated in shape (i.e. lanceolate). Each flower also has six large white stamens, that can sometimes be mistaken for petals (i.e. the connectives between the anthers on each stamen are broad and flaglike), and an ovary topped with an elongated (i.e. penicillate) stigma. Flowering occurs mostly during late winter and spring. The fruit are small, three-celled, capsules.

Reproduction and dispersal 

This species is known to reproduce by seed, but naturalised populations in Australia generally reproduce via the creeping (i.e. stoloniferous) stems.Populations can spread laterally via the elongated stems and can cover very large areas in a relatively short period of time. Plants and stem segments are mainly dispersed to new areas in dumped garden waste.

Similar species 

Purple succulent (Callisia fragrans) is relatively similar to creeping inch plant (Callisia repens) and Striped inch plant (Callisia elegans). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:

striped inch plant (Callisia elegans) has small green leaves (3.5-10 cm long) with white stripes and purplish undersides. Its white flowers have three rounded petals.

creeping inch plant (Callisia repens) has small purple-spotted green leaves (1-4 cm long) with purplish undersides. Its white flowers have three rounded petals.

purple succulent (Callisia fragrans) has large green, purplish-green or purple leaves (5-40 cm long) with green or purplish undersides that are arranged in clusters. Its white flowers have three rounded petals.