April plant of the Month (2006) Pleiospilos nelii

A more in-depth look at individual succulent species, a new one is added each week.
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April plant of the Month (2006) Pleiospilos nelii

Post by templegatejohn »

Pleiospilos nelii var. rubra Schwant.


Growth Habits: The body of the plant consists of a pair of leaves, fused at the base, usually grey green to brownish in colour, (but in the case of the above variety an attractive wine colour) with darker markings scattered over the whole of the leaves. The plant produces a new body from within the old one each year, much the same as Lithops and Conophytums do.

Scientific name: Pleiospilos nelii

Common names: Split rock, Liver plant, Stone plant

Synonym: Pleiospilos pedunculata, Pleiospilos tricolor

Etymology: The genus name is derived from the Greek words pleios, meaning full and spilos, which refers to the dotted markings on the leaves of the plant.

Origin: the plants are indigenous to South Africa and are found mainly in the Little Karoo on the border of the Eastern and Western Cape, distribution extends to the southern-parts of the Great Karoo in the Northern Cape.

Light: The plants are from South Africa where the light is usually bright and unpolluted.

Compost: Use a very open compost for these plants. They are among the most succulent plants in the world and can (if they have to) last many months without water. It is essential to have a compost mix that drains quickly, as they cannot stand to have wet roots for any length of time.

Water: All plants need water in varying degrees or they will ultimately die, even the most succulent ones, but great care should be taken when watering these plants and it is essential that they are watered at the correct time of year. An old friend of mine, Frank Horwood, who was a well respected plant collector and after whom Euphorbia horwoodii is named, used to say, just show it the watering can now and again John. Frank made many field trips particularly to Somalia, to add to his collection of what he himself often called the weirdoes of the plant world and he was a fount of knowledge on all things succulent. Alas Frank is no longer with us.

Flower: Flowers appear in autumn or winter. The large fragrant flowers have a distinct smell of coconut and open in mid-afternoon and close just after sunset. They are extremely large, considering the size of the plant. The flowers are borne on short pedicels and are yellow to coppery-orange, seldom white or pinkish, in colour, flowers are solitary or appear in clusters. Five to six sepals usually surround numerous petals (up to eight sepals can be present). Nine to fifteen stigmas are present, they are surrounded by ring-shaped nectar glands.

Fruit: The seeds pods are 9 - 15 locular [small cavities or compartments], closing mechanisms and covering membranes are present. Seeds are egg-shaped and dark brown in colour. As can be seen from the above photographs the seed pod is quite large in relation to the size of the plant.

Min. temp: I have never personally kept mine at less than 45-50°f (10°c).

Cultivation: I would suggest that they should be grown ‘hard’. By this I mean do not over water and do not over fertilise. If either of these are done to excess, apart from risking the plant dying, it will start to [stack]. This is the term that is used when there are more than 2 pairs of leaves showing at a time. If the plants are grown correctly, ideally there should only ever be 2 pairs of leaves. The lower ones are the previous years, and the top ones, the current years These top leaves are using the lower ones as a food source. The lower leaves will be drained of all their goodness and end up as a parchment like skin, which when totally dry can be carefully removed. As you can see my own plant has ‘stacked’ a little. The remains of the body from two years ago is still slightly in evidence.

Habitat: Plants occur in shale or sandstone areas. The annual rainfall for the distribution area for these plants is between 150mm and 300mm. Which suggests that the plants do get some water in their native habitat, but it should be remembered that the soil is extremely free draining.

Comments: Not everybody’s cup of tea, but an unusual plant for all that and a talking point. I find that they have a charm of their own and although not one of my top ten all time favourites, I always have one or two in the greenhouse.