Habitat: Karoo desert in South Africa.
Cultivation: Easy: a semi-shaded position, scarce watering and warm temperatures will do well.
Curiosity: The name Astroloba, which comes from the greek words “Astros”, meaning “star”, and lobos, lobe, refers actually to the star-shaped lobes of its flowers.
Astroloba is a genus of succulent plants in the family Asphodelaceae, native to South Africa, in particular, to Cape Province. They are slow growing, multi-stemmed, and their longer stems tend to lie down and spread in their rocky natural habitat.
Their natural habitat is the Karoo region: a semi-desert area with a remarkable succulent biodiversity, which host plenty of succulent species. Astroloba, in particular, thrive in rocky, sandy soils below other bigger shrubs, or either they grow on rocky cliffs. In general, they preder semi-shaded positions, well-drained soils in winter rainfall areas.
The classification of Astroloba species can be compicated due to the attitude of these plants to form hybrids in their natural habitat. Also in nursery or at home, all the twelve species can be crossed with each other. In addiction, Astrolobas can form hybrids also with other plants such as Aloe, Gasteria and Tulista.
Astroloba are small, succulent plants, which usually form clusters of short, pentangular, elongated stems, completely hidden by the abundant leaves. Some species of Astroloba are more shrub-like and show a cespitose habit, while others have more of a ground covering attitude and tend to form little mats.
Astrolobas are growing popular among succulent lovers, especially due to their pretty, pointed leaves arrangements. In some species, they in fact forms pretty structures such as spirals and, in addiction to that, also the leaves themself may show prominent tuberles, spots, and patterns of lines.
The leaves of Astroloba are can range from bright to pale green, to brownish-reddish. They are usually triangular, more or less gut-shaped, and always pointed and pretty rigid, to discourage herbivores. Also, they are arranged in a pentangular pattern around the stems, so that the latter, seen from above, are star-shaped and show a radial symmetry.
Nevertheless, the name Astroloba, which comes from the greek words “Astros”, meaning “star”, and lobos, lobe, refers actually to the star-shaped lobes of its flowers. Why “lobes” and not “petals”? Because, in Astroloba, as in many other plants, the “petals” are fused together in a tube-like, elongated corolla. In botany, when a petal can not be detached from the flower without destroying it because it’s not a distinct unit but it’s fused together with all the other ones, it’s called “lobe” instead of petal.
Each of the 12 species of Astroloba show a different blooming period in their natural habitat. The inflorescence, in botany, is called a “raceme”: it is actually an elongated stem which bears many solitary, equipped with a peduncle, flowers. Flowers are around 1-2 centimeters long, 5-lobed, red, pinkish or whitish, with a central, darker line on each lobe. In their natural habitat, they are pollinated by insects or sunbirds and they form little, ovoid capsules as fruits, which contain small, black to brown seeds.
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here below are the accepted 12 species, updated to June 2021, according to the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families:
- A. bullulata
- A. pentagona
- A. congesta
- A. corrugata
- A. cremnophila
- A. foliolosa
- A. herrei
- A. robusta
- A. rubriflora
- A. spiralis
- A. spirella
- A. tenax
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TIPS FOR GROWING
Astroloba are easy plants to grow. With a little attention, they will thrive and reward you with their naturally decorative attitude. Here are our cultivation tips:
- They like semi-sunny or semi-shaded areas, avoiding direct sun rays during the hottest hours.
- Coming from arid areas, Astrolobas loves high temperatures, especially if sheltered from the direct sun. It is advisable to shelter them or putting them indoors during the winter months.
- It needs water only when the soil is completely dry. In winter it is advisable to completely suspend the irrigation.
- A well-draining substrate is an optimal solution. The ideal soil is a mix of lapilli and pumice, combined with peat which facilitates growth.
- They do not need frequent fertilizations, it is enough to dilute some fertilizer with watering once a year.
Astrolobas can be propagated through seeds, cuttings or by dividing the clumps. Remember to let the cuttings dry for a week in a shaded, cool environment before planting them in a well-drained, sandy substrate.