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Plant of the Month

February 2015

Ceraria pygmaea

Ceraria pygmaea is a wonderful plant that will grace any collection and add year-round interest for the enthusiast.

It is a plant that originates from the arid areas of South Africa through to southern Namibia. When growing in its native environment this plant would only have its stems and leaves visible above ground, while protecting the swollen caudex below soil level. In cultivation the subterranean caudex can be raised above the soil level when grown in pots or containers. This serves two purposes in that the caudex can be protected from excessive moisture and the aesthetic appeal of the plant can be enhanced.

This plant really does try and confuse the horticulturist in that it is difficult to determine its true growing period. For many years I watered and fed the plant in the summer and it rewarded me with new growth and flowers, albeit very slowly. Being an experimenter at heart, I decided to try watering the plant in the winter and treating it as a Conophytum. It responded to this treatment and grew stronger and flowered (if you ever notice the small white flowers) better. I did notice though that if it was kept dry in the summer many of the lower leaves would show signs of stress and would dry up and fall off the plant. My current regime is to grow the plant in an inert potting mix (seramis, grit, perlite, pumice) and water it throughout the year, offering a weak feed with most waterings. In the winter it gets a good watering every 2–3 weeks and probably a light watering every other week in the summer. This regime ensures that the growth is strong and a minimum of leaves drop off the plant throughout the year.

As your plant grows it can be pruned and shaped to please its owner. Any stem cuttings can be rooted to form new plants but, unfortunately, these progenies will not develop the usual single caudex that is seen in wild-collected or seed-grown plants. They are however very interesting from a horticultural perspective and many bonsai growers have produced some stunning miniature trees from a small stem cutting.

I hope you enjoy growing this succulent treasure.

Ian Thwaites

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