Habitat: South Africa, Cape Province.
Cultivation: Choose a position in full sun for your Pleiospilos, but make sure it doesn’t get direct sun during the hottest hours of the day. Water and fertilize sparingly.
Curiosity: The name Pleiospilos comes from the Greek pléios (many) and spìlos (spot) and refers to the spotted appearance of the leaves, which resemble granite pebbles.
The genus Pleiospilos includes a few dwarf succulent species in the Azoiaceae family, which don’t overcome a few centimeters of height. These plants are really popular among succulent lovers, who often seek the tiniest, mimic plants. Not to fall in love with Pleiospilos is in fact really difficult, either for its tiny, beak-shaped pairs of leaves, and for its gorgeous, fleshy flower.
There are currently only four species in this genus. Previously 38 species were recorded but, with the revision of the genus, three species were moved to a new genus, Tanquana, and the rest were considered different forms and subspecies of the widespread and variable Pleiospilos compactus. The best known species in this genus is Pleiospilos simulans which is better known as the liver plant.
Pleiospilos are widespread in the Karoo, which is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa, well-known for its succulents biodiversity. Low rainfall, extremely low humidity and cloudless skies are the main features of this environment, which is the native area of a great part of most of the known succulent plants. Most of the scarce rainfall of this area occur in Summer. In this extremely dry and sunny environment, the small dimensions of Pleiospilos species are a fundamental evolutionary expedient to survive. Growing at ground level, in fact, minimize the water losses due to evapotranspiration, as these tiny plants, in their natural environment, are often hidden among the rocks, in a fashinating mimicry mechanism.
Their stem is very short, so that it barely pops out of the ground.
The most remarkable feature of this genus, however, are the leaves: usually there are one or two pairs of fleshy, opposite leaves, ranging in colour from pale green to grey, covered in purple blotches (those referred to in the genus name). Each year, the outermost pair of leaves withers and is replaced by a new, innermost pair that gradually occupies the position of the older one. The couples of leaves can remind a parrot’s beak, for their arrangement in opposite pairs, with a central, very pronounced, slit and their rounded tips. At their base, sometimes, the surface of the stem takes a beautiful, yellowish tinge. Depending on the species, these leaves can be more or less rounded such as in P. nelii, “beak-shaped” like in P. simulatus, lumpy, or elongated, such as in P. compactus subsp. canus, where they look like tongues. The colour of the leaves chan
The shape and colour of the leaves look like granite pebbles: Pleiospilos are in fact one of the so-called “living stones” (they look like Lithops).
The flowers are brightly coloured, mainly yellow or orange, pollinated by insects. They are made up of numerous thin petals and are carried by a stem that develop from the cleft between the central pair of leaves. They are bigger than the whole plant and reach diameters of up to 6 cm, hiding the small plant underneath.
Fruits are hygrochastic woody capsules. “Hygrochastic” simply means “that open when wet”. The rare rainfall in the Karoo region are in fact very intense and make the seeds splash out of their capsule. This is another mechanism to survive to drought: the seeds are in fact released only when it’s humid enough for them to germinate (this occurs rarely).
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here below are a few species of Pleiospilos. Check out our online shop to find some of them!
- P. nelii rubra
- P. compactus
- P. compactus subsp. canus
- P. compactus subsp. fergusoniae
- P. compactus subsp. minor
- P. compactus subsp. sororius
- P. nelii
- P. nelii subsp. rubra
- P. pedunculata
- P. simulans
- P. simulans subsp. pearston
TIPS FOR GROWING
Here are our tips for growing plants of the genus Pleiospilos:
- Choose a position in full sun, making sure only that it doesn’t receive direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day.
- The lowest tolerable temperature for these plant is around 5-7 °C. In general it is at ease with high average temperatures.
- Pay particular attention to the risk of rotting, especially when the outer leaves begin to dry out. In general, water every 4-5 days in Spring and Summer, decreasing gradually when the outer leaves begin to dry out. From September to March, watering should be suspended.
- Choose a mixture of peat and very coarse sand to promote drainage.
- Use fertilizer with a low nitrogen content, diluted in the irrigation water every month during spring and summer.
- Repotting will rarely be necessary due to the small size of the plant. Anyway, when you repot, use deep pots to contain the delicate roots and be careful not to damage them.
Reproduction is mainly by seeds: these should be laid on a bed of moist. An alternative is the division of the heads, including the roots. Cuttings, instead, rarely manage to root.