The plants on the following four pages are all members of the mesembryanthemum family which is one of the largest families of succulents in cultivation and whose Latin name is Aizoaceae. They vary enormously from the well known living stones or lithops to succulent shrubs such as Apienia cordi-folia which is best known in its variegated form. A detailed treatment of the group is well beyond the scope of the present volume. This section is restricted to the former type of stone plant amongst which the variation in colour and texture is only matched by the differences in cultural conditions. The rosette-forming mesembryanthemums such as Faucaria are dealt with in the following section, which although botanically inexact makes it easier for the amateur.
The species in this section are all extremely succulent and mostly stemless and the plant bodies have been developed from a single pair of leaves. Propagation is usually by means of seed, but where offsets are freely produced these may also be rooted as cutting material.
They are generally natives of South Africa where they inhabit the very dry Karoo and normally produce only a thick succulent turnip-like tap root. When water is applied in the wild, small fibrous hair roots are produced round this which rapidly die off when the rain passes. The best soil mixture to use is a conventional cactus compost with the addition of crushed brick or coarse gravel to help drainage. The seeds remain viable for many years, instances have been recorded of seeds from herbarium specimens germinating after decades.
sof these stone flowers to be offered growing together in a bowl, but it is not wise to buy such collections unless you intend to divide up the bowl or unless you are buying from a specialist, as even within a genus such as Conophytum many plants have different growing cycles and consequently different cultural requirements.
Conophytum albescens is one of the easiest of all the stone-type flowers on which to obtain blooms. It belongs to a group of conophytums which have cylindrical or heart-shaped and distinctly elongated plant bodies with two quite distinct lobes as opposed to the more spherical types discussed later. It is a native of Cape Province and the bodies are flattened sideways, appearing slightly two dimensional rather than being evenly round. The tips of the lobes are rounded and there is a clear fissure in the centre just over an eighth of an inch (3 mm) in length from which the flowers are produced. The specific name is derived from the very fine white hairs which densely cover the light grey-green plant bodies. The flowers which are produced between May and October are yellow. With this variety the resting period occurs during March and April and as soon as flowering has finished in October growth starts and this growing period during which water may be given lasts through until February.
Conophytum bilobum is another species in this group of twin-lobed conophytums and has similar cultural requirements to those of C. albescens. In the wild this grows in the same places as the previous species but unlike it older plants will form branches and thus a large mat of growth. The bodies are similarly compressed to those of C. albescens. The plant bodies are greyish green in colour, but lack the fine white hairs of the preceding species although they do have some white meal on them. The edges of the plants are slightly reddish.
Because of its eventual size it makes a good plant for the amateur and shows up well when it produces the daisy-like yellow flowers. If a collection is required to be put
C.cauliferum which has almost orange flowers, and C.frutescens which has deep orange-yellow flowers as suitable companions since they all come from the same part of the world and have similar habits and growing requirements.
The species illustrated on this page should not under any circumstances share a pot with those on the opposite page as their growing conditions are quite distinct. Comb phytum minutum, for example, requires watering during March especially when there is an early spring. At this point water should be given generously since the new plant bodies are being formed. Between "April and May watering should come to a complete standstill even if the plants shrivel a little as this is the normal resting period for these species. New growth begins to show through in June when more water may be given and the flowers of this group start to appear from July through to November. From December through until February water may also be given and the temperature should not be allowed to drop below 10°C (50°F).
Conophytum minuium forms a roundish mat and has pear-shaped bodies with none of the lateral flattening that characterizes the species on the opposite page, also the upper surface is somewhat flatter and the presence of the twin lobes is not so obvious. As might be inferred from its name it is a very small species seldom exceeding half an inch (1 cm) in height and the central fissure is also very small. The flowers, which are produced freely and regularly even on the small plants, are up to half an inch (1 cm) in diameter and are pale lilac in colour.
A good species to grow with this variety if a mixed collection is desired is C.pear-sonii, which is a rather larger plant forming cushions with age and having much darker pink flowers nearly 1 in (2-5 cm) in diameter.
Conophytum gratum, which has red flowers, taller pear-shaped bodies and a dense covering of small grey dots, can also be grown with the previous two species.
Conophytum ohcordellum forms a densely tufted and matted plant with the separate plant bodies seldom exceeding half an inch (1 cm) in diameter, but occasionally reaching an inch (2-5 cm). They are severely flattened at the lop and when seen from above are kidney shaped or elliptical in section. The sides of the plant bodies are a pinkish-red colour but the upper surfaces are normally bluish green, although, as this is a plant which mimics its wild surroundings. these colours may vary a great deal in the wild. The spots on the upper surfaces of the plant bodies are arranged as a series of branched lines and this distinguishes this species from the similarly named C.obco-nellum which has confluent lines of dots on [he top. The latter species, which has white, or slightly yellow, scented flowers, can be grown alongside the illustrated species if required since they will both benefit from a certain amount of shade during our British summers when they should not be left on the upper sheir in a greenhouse.
Conophytum parviflorum in spite of its name makes an attractive companion to
The dotted tops are slightly raised where the blackish dots occur and on some forms the spots grow so close together as to appear to form almost continuous semi-transparent lines on the top of the plants.
Conophytum velutinum is one of the species in which the old leaf sheaths persist and remain round the developing new plant bodies. It branches freely and generally two plant bodies are produced on a single stem. They are only slightly compressed on top but are very much flattened sideways. The plant bodies have a soft velvety feel and this is given by the minute hairs which grow on the sides and help to trap the dew in their native Cape Province. The flowers are extremely spectacular, purple and nearly an inch (2-5 cm) in diameter.
Other good species to grow with this which also have a velvety covering to the plant bodies are C.puberulum, which ultimately forms a low shrub producing up to twenty plant bodies and has yellow flowers, and C.papillatum, which also has yellow flowers but whose plant bodies are densely covered in soft meal and even support a few longer hairs near the top of the fissure.
Lithops are the true living stones whose name is derived from the Greek word for stone. The name is often used to signify the plural but Lithops is in fact the generic
They make excellent house plants and are especially popular in the Far East where they seem to be admirable companions to the art of the miniature so carefully practised with Bonsai trees. The stem is below ground and forms a long thick fleshy lap root. Frequently in periods of drought this can contract and shrivel drawing the plant bodies even deeper into the surrounding soil until they are practically invisible. The dead remains of the old leaf bodies should be left on, especially if the plants are to be grown in a sunny position in the greenhouse or on a shelf as they help to protect the new leaves which rise up from within the central fissure. The flowers, when they are produced, are frequently larger than the plants and mark the finish of the year's growth.
Even in Britain lithops do well when surrounded with stones which help to give shade to the plant bodies. The only parts of the plant which actually receive any light for any purpose are the extreme tips, and some species have small windows in the tips to enable the light to reach through. This is, however, most marked on another genus called Ophthalmophyllum.
Watering should stop in September after the flowers have died down and any seeds have been set and harvested: watering can be started again in April although if the winter has been mild it may be better to 172 leave it until the end of April if flowers arc required. Once watering commences the old bodies die off exposing the new ones in the centre so do not be alarmed if it appears at first as though the plant is dying. The emerging plant bodies start to grow and keep on growing until flowering begins, generally in August.
Although their watering requirements are similar to those of cacti they need a higher temperature in winter, ideally around I0°C (50°F), and during this period they will want full sunlight. If only one greenhouse is available it is a good idea to bring the plants indoors and grow them on a south-facing windowsill, although care should be taken not to leave them on the windowsill at night when the curtains are drawn but to bring them into the room: otherwise there is a real danger that they can become too cold.
Do not bury the plants loo deeply in the soil. If they want to get down further into the soil they can do so of their own accord, but it is not likely in this country. Also il is a good idea to try to find some of the long extremely conical clay pots, which used to be available, to grow the plants in as this helps in the formation of a good lap root when the plant is still quite small.
Plants are best raised from seed, which germinates readily, and many varieties can be induced to flower in their second year, but where offsets are produced these may also be struck as cuttings. No attempt has been made to differentiate between species for which the reader is urged to consult specialist works.
Dinteranthus puberulus is recorded as growing amongst quartz stones so an authentic surrounding for it may be hard to come by. It is unusual amongst this group of suc-
of plant bodies, one on top of the other. The upper surface of the spreading leaves is quite flat but the lower surface is sharply keeled and bent round towards the apex giving it the appearance of a piece cut from a globular cheese. Although the Latin name suggests the presence of hair on the plant bodies these are so insignificant as to be only really visible with the help of a magnifying glass but the velvety feel is there. The flowers are produced in October and are a beautiful golden-yellow. The resting period lasts from November right round until
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