"Tell us about your very favorite plant, and why it is so special to you. I know, we are not supposed to 'play favorites', but it does happen. Did this come from a friend? Is it a memory of gardens long ago? Send the story to..."The phrasing tilts answers toward the sentimental and that makes it easy for me: Cotyledon orbiculata v. longifolium. I took cuttings of it from my grandfather's garden just before he moved in to an assisted living facility and I've been propagating it ever since. Cuttings root easily and a plant so propagated develops interesting and appealing structure within a year or two.
This is a gray-to-light-green South African crassula with thick, 5-inch-long, finger-like succulent leaves that point upward in clusters at the ends of creeping stems. Left on, old leaves dry into curly crisps. Hummingbirds visit the inflorescence: an umbel of 8-16 pendant campanular flowers with lightly reflexed pale orange petals. Flowers are bisexual and the anthers are dusted with bright yellow pollen. The inflorescence dries to a stiff twisty brown thing that rattles lightly in the breeze and produces enormous amounts of tiny seeds that do not self-sow in typical Californian situations.
Like most succulents, the plant looks good with cacti, perennial bunchgrasses, medium-sized rocks, and California poppies. Trailing branches will cascade nicely over the sides of a container. I advocate pruning to thin all species of Cotyledon to show off the the branching structure. Happy even in heavy soils, I rooted my first cuttings in the unamended clay I dug straight up from granddad's garden and put in a terracotta pot. (By the end of the summer I had a rock solid brick, with a plant growing out of it--this was before I called myself any kind of a gardener.)
My grandfather grew this plant here and there along the driveway in his lightly watered Portola Valley garden where deer and gophers were constant companions. As a child, I paid more attention to the poppies and other wildflowers that grew everywhere on his property, but this plant became special to me as I got older and grew to appreciate the variety of plants granddad found to grow in his mostly unmanaged garden. Granddad died last October but I have this living thing imbued with my memories of him.
I thought I had more pictures of it readily available, but here are a few.