Cyphostemma

Family: Cyphostemma
Habitat: Madagascar and other areas in southern Africa.
Cultivation: Cyphostemmas requires a full sun exposure but shows a good resistance to temperature sudden changes. It requires sandy soil and watering every 3-4 days only during the growing season.
Curiosity: Its name comes from the Greek words kyphos, which means hump, and “stemma”, which means crown. The attribute “hump” refers to its caudex, which is particularly enlarged and lumpy. “Crown”, on the other hand, are the leaves that grow on its apex in a crown-like arrangement.

KEY FEATURES

Cyphostemmas are mainly shrubby plants, native to Madagascar and other areas of southern Africa, characterised by the presence of a very prominent caudex.

The caudex is an evolutionary device typical of plants native to semi-dry areas, with an alternance of dry and humid periods. It is a usually woody enlargement of the trunk or stem, which has the function to store water and nutrients.

In Cyphostemma, the caudex is lumpy and woody, very prominent and fleshy: in C. juttae, the most popular species of this genus in the world of succulents gardening, is white and divided into many lumpy columns, so that, in its natural habitat, it looks like a group of stalagmitic outgrowths of limestone.

The top of the caudex is adorned with a dense crown of generally elongated (oval or lanceolate) leaves, sometimes thick and leathery, which sprout in spring and fall with the arrival of autumn, leaving the caudex bare.

In their natural environment, some Cyphostemmas can reach 2 to 3 metres in height and one metre in stem diameter! Obviously, when grown in pots, they are much smaller.
The flowers are small, yellow or green in colour and not very attractive. Some species, however, show rather more fleshy fruits: small, but scarlet red little berries.

Usually, in fact, the reason why these plant are so sought after is their lumpy, big caudex.

VARIETY AND TYPES

Plants of the genus Cyphostemma belong to the Vitaceae family together with the genera Cissus (which includes other succulent plants) and Vitis (which also includes non-succulent plants such as the common vine).

Until a few years ago, they were included in the genus Cissus; today, however, the genus Cissus mainly includes plants without a caudex, while those with a caudex have been reclassified in this new genus.
These are the main commercially available species:

  • C. Cirrhosum
  • C. Uter v.Macrocarpus
  • C. Adenocaule
  • C. Bainesii
  • C. Betiforme – native to Somalia
  • C. Currorii
  • C. Elephantopus
  • C. Humile – its peculiarity is that its stem is completely buried; the caudex, therefore, is not visible.
  • C. Juttae – the most cultivated; in some areas of southern Italy it can survive even if planted outdoors.
  • C. Laza – native to Madagascar
  • C. Betiforme

TIPS FOR GROWING

These are the main tips for growing succulents of the genus Cyphostemma:

  • The best exposure is in full sun, but it’s necessary to shelter the plant during the hottest hours of the summer season. The alternative is to place it in a very bright environment, but not in direct sunlight.
  • Cyphostemmas are quite resistant to temperature fluctuations and, if the soil is kept dry, adults can withstand short periods with temperatures just above or below 0°C. Young plants, on the other hand, must stay above 10-15 °C.
  • In spring and summer, the waterings should be regular, every 3-4 days, always allowing the soil to dry up well between each irrigation. In winter, watering should be suspended if the plants are grown indoors or moved to a cold greenhouse.
  • Fertilisation can be carried out once every 20 days or so during the growing season, by diluting a specific product for succulents in water when watering.
  • The ideal substrate is sandy, well-draining but not so rich.
  • They are slow-growing plants so it is not important to repot every year: once every 2-3 years is sufficient.

To propagate these plants you can either use seeds or a branch cutting. Both the seeds and the cuttings should be placed in sandy soil, which should be kept slightly moist and in a position protected from direct sunlight. If you decide to sow seeds, be aware that germination times are very long. Sowing time occurs in June, then you’ll have to wait several months before you get your seedling.
For cuttings, on the other hand, the main thing to remember is to let the wound dry out very well before planting (the cutting may take a few days to dry out).

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