Trichocaulon cactiforme


Larryleachia cactiformis
Hoodia cactiformis
Lavrania cactiformis
Leachia cactiformis
Leachiella cactiformis
Stapelia cactiformis
Trichocaulon cactiforme
Trichocaulon cactiformis


Trichocaulon cactiforme is native to South Africa and is found growing in rocky outcrops, on granite or sandstone soils. The plant is adapted to growing in very dry conditions and can survive long periods of drought. Its altitude range of occurrance is between 800 and 1600 meters above the sea level, and its growing substrate are usually quartz flats, hills and slopes to gneiss domes in the winter rainfall region in Fymbos, Succulent Karoo. The pollination behaviour of this species is quite interesting: it depends of flies, which are deceived from the colourful pattern of the flowers, partially trapped inside them until they get completely soiled in pollen and are so used as collectors that transport it to another flower on another plant as soon as they can free themselves from the trap.


Trichocaulon cactiforme has a cactus-like appearance with a thick, cylindrical stem that can reach up to 10 cm tall. Trichocaulon cactiforme is a typical example of convergent evolution: its shape makes it mistakable for a cacti (that’s the reason for the species name “cactiforme”, but it actually belongs to a completely different family, “Asclepiadaceae”, which is also phylogenetically far from the family of cacti, “Cactaceae”. The convergent evolution is when two species are morphologically quite similar because they develop similar adaptation strategies to cope with similar environmental conditions, which in this case are arid, rocky environments with poor rainfall.
Trichocaulon cactiforme is a small, perennial stem succulent. It has a globular body that is covered in rough, pentagonal, flat or depressed tubercles. The species is quite variable, particularly in the color of its flowers. The plant is typically unbranched or has only a few branches. The stem is green in color and can be smooth or slightly ribbed. It branches out into multiple offsets, which can be removed and propagated. The plant has no leaves, but instead has small, inconspicuous scale-like, poligonal tubercles, regularly arranged like the skin of a tortoise on the stem surface. The stem is globular to short-cylindrical, and can be green, light green, or blue-green. It is typically 5-15 cm (rarely 30 cm) tall and 20-60 mm wide, and the latex is colorless. The stem has 12-16 indistinct ribs and is closely covered in rough, pentagonal, flat or depressed tubercles. Roots are fibrous. The stem has small, light green-whitish areoles that produce small, white, star-shaped flowers in the spring. The flowers sprout from the top of the stem in groups of 10-20, but don’t all open at the same time. Succulent collectors are fond of them because of their colourful pattern, made of a pale yellowish- white background, adorned with a leopard-print-like purple pattern, common in the succulent species of the family Asclepiadaceae. The shape of the flowers is tubular and the tube is flat or deeply cup-shaped. Their blooming season occurs in Summer. The fruit is a small capsule 2-3 cm long, diverging at an angle of 180°, that contains seeds.


Trichocaulon cactiforme is a hardy plant that can be grown in a rock garden, a pot, or a hanging pot. It prefers full sun to partial shade and can tolerate temperatures as low as -5°C (23°F). We suggest though, to stay safer, to place it indoors in Winter. It should be watered sparingly, only when the soil is completely dry. The watering frequency should be reduced to completely stopped as the plant enters dormancy. A well-drained cactus mix or a mix of coarse sand and compost is recommended for cultivation. The growth rate is slow and does not require frequent repotting. Also fertilization is not indispensable: you can fertilize once a year with a specific product for succulent but, if you forget to do it, the plant will survive anyway.


Trichocaulon cactiforme can be propagated by seed or by removing offsets from the base of the stem and planting them in a well-drained cactus mix.


 The genus name Trichocaulon means “hairy stem” in Greek, referring to the small, white scales on the stem.
The species name cactiforme means “cactus-like” in Latin, referring to the plant’s cactus-like appearance. The genus Larryleachia (which should be the actual genus of Trichocaulon cactiforme) was named in honor of Leslie Leach, an English-born electrical engineer and self-taught botanist who specialized in Asclepiads and Euphorbias. The plant, which is known for its smooth stem, was previously classified as a member of the genus Trichocaulon, but was later reclassified as its own genus due to its distinct characteristics. The original name chosen for the genus, Leachia, was found to be invalid as it had already been used for a different type of plant. The name Leachiella was then chosen, but it was later discovered that it too had been previously used. In 1997, the plant was officially designated as Larryleachia picta, and this is now the accepted name among botanists.

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