Piaranthus

Family: Apocynaceae
Habitat: Arid deserts of south-west Africa.
Cultivation: Piaranthus are easy to grow and, in particular, it’s easy to make them bloom. Water them abundantly in summer and make sure that they never stay at a temperature below 5°C. They prefer a half-sun exposure.
Curiosity: The name Piaranthus comes from the Greek “piar”, meaning fat, and “anthos”, meaning flower and refers to the shape of the flower, which has five long fleshy petals.

KEY FEATURES

The genus Piaranthus includes about fifteen species of Apocynaceae from the arid deserts of south-west Africa.

From the point of view of Taxonomy, Piaranthus is a complex genus: even botanists are sometimes confused about the name of some species.

Piaranthus are tiny, odd plants which don’t become more than a few centimeters tall and form succulent maps that grow at ground level. As in many other plants native to arid environments, their small dimensions and the absence of the leaves are evolutionary expedients to minimize the water losses due to transpiration and therefore survive the severe droughts of their habitat.

These plants are really sought after by succulent lovers and collectors, for their bizarre aspect and their remarkable, odd flowers.

One of the odd features of these plants is that they form rosettes-like structures, but without leaves!
They have instead fleshy, compact stems, with a lumpy surface, more or less flattened, which can actually remind kind of some strange leaves.
They are the stems themselves that give this impression of a fake rosette. Depending on the species, they can be more or less lumpy, quadrangular, and are usually green, with possble reddish-yellowish tinges and, sometimes, more or less pointed or nipple-shapes, buds all-along their surface.

As the leaves are missing and replaced by the tubercles, it is the entire surface of the stems to accomplish the photosynthesis.

The star-shaped flowers sprout from the top of the stem. They are solitary, each borne on its own stem, and developed from pointed, pretty green buds.
In shape and colour, they look like the ones of Stapeliae. They have five fleshy, elongated petals that can come in different colours depending on the species.
In some cases they do not have a uniform tint, but a colorful pattern made of spots or dots. In P. geminatus for example, the five pointed petals show a fashinating tigred weave of purple and white. The central part of the flowers is always bright yellow.

Piaranthus flowers often smell bad, especially the dark red or brownish ones. Like many smelly flowers, they are pollinated by flies.

Individual seedlings grow close together, forming small bushes.

VARIETY AND TYPES

Here are the main species of Piaranthus, excluding variants and hybrids.
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  • P. atrosanguineus
  • P. comptus
  • P. cornutus
  • P. decipiens
  • P. decorus
  • P. disparilis
  • P. fasciculatus
  • P. foetidus
  • P. framesii Pillans
  • P. geminatus
  • P. globosus
  • P. mennellii
  • P. pallidus
  • P. parvulus
  • P. pillansii
  • P. pullus
  • P. punctatus
  • P. ruschii

TIPS FOR GROWING

Piaranthus are easy to grow. Here are our cultivation tips:

  • Piaranthus grow well in semi-shade: in general, away from direct sunlight.
  • The minimum tolerated temperature is 5°C in a dry soil. It is therefore advisable to shelter it or putting it indoors in winter.
  • Water regularly every 2-3 days during the growing season, and even more generously during the warmer months. In winter, reduce watering and be careful to let the soil dry out between one watering and the next.
  • Choose a well-draining and light soil, such as a standard cactus compost.
  • Fertilize regularly every 15-20 days during the vegetative period, using a standard product for cacti.
  • The roots remain rather shallow, so you’ll need wide pots for repotting. It’s advisable to repot it every two years.

Piaranthus can be propagated successfully by taking off a part of the stem and using it as a cutting. Be careful to allow the wound to dry properly before planting your cutting and to just lay it down on the ground instead of burying it to encourage root development. Reprodoction through seeds is also possible: sowing should be carried out during the spring and the seeds should be laid down in a moist, sandy substrate.

  • The ideal temperature is between 20 ° C and 30 ° C. For short periods it can also resist at temperatures of several degrees below zero (some varieties, such as the Atrovirens, even down to -8 ° C) but the soil has to be dried.
  • Watering scarce but regular, approximately every 15 days and in any case only when the soil is completely dry.
  • The agave fears the stagnant water more than other succulents, and for this reason we always recommend draining soils, such as those specific for cacti. If the plant is grown in pots, use only clay pots to let the soil breath.
  • Agave can grow up to two meters in height and, when planted in pots, they will need frequent repotting to grow well.

The Agave Multiplication is usually by suckers, or shoots. The suckers born near the base of the mother plant can be allowed to grow until they reach a size of about 10 cm. At that point they can be cut; it is important to dry the wound for a few days and then you repot in a soil which has to be the same of the one used for the adult plant.

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