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Origin and Habitat: Brand-se-Baai to Nuwerus, the western Knersvlakte and Lutzville in the south-western Cape (Namaqualand). South-Africa. (Area of occurrence less than 20 km²)
Habitat and ecology: Diplosoma luckhoffii grows in a rare, localized habitat together with Lithops turbiniformis and other mesembs in the Succulent Karoo. The soil is saline with such a high clay content that when dry, it feels like talc. However, there is sand and quartz gravel that give the soil porosity. The quartz moderates the temperature at ground level, and makes it possible for stubby little plants to survive the summer without cooking. Plants are very cryptic, and easily overlooked. They occur in localized subpopulations in isolated quartz patches, where they can be locally abundant within a limited area. The species is potentially threatened by mining, livestock trampling and harvesting for the specialist succulent horticultural trade.
Description: Diplosoma luckhoffii is an extremely dwarf winter-growing Mesemb, fascinating aesthetically and biologically with the leaves drying up completely for the summer dormant period. Not only do the plants go intransigently dormant, they retreat to an underground organ like a hard-shelled pea, protected by a layer of dried up leaf tissue. When rain and heavy dew wet the soil in the cooler autumnal months, Diplosoma cracks out of its shell and sends up a pair (or several pairs) of flat plump leaf-pairs. The white to slightly pink flowers should appear in mid to late winter and immediately the plants became dormant when faced with the summer days. The whole plant, with the flower, measures less than 30 mm in height. The specific name which means 'double body' refers to the annual pair of pulpy, blistered leaves produced by the plant which is solitary or clump-forming.
Leaves: Mushy green, covered with sparkling, bubbly water-storage cells ("bladder cells").
Flowers: About 1 cm wide, white to pink, pedicellate (D. luckhoffii, has distinct forms with short or long pedicels). The flowers often don't open very well, at least in cultivation, but set seed easily, and even self-pollinate sometimes.
Blooming season: The flowers appear in spring, opening in the afternoon. Sown in summer, D. luckhoffii can flower six months later.
Fruits (capsule): 5-6 loculed, the expanding keels are dark brown, with broad wings, covering membranes almost transparent. The ripening capsule is red and very papillose.
Similar species: Diplosoma luckhoffii is distinguished from Diplosoma retroversum by being suberect, the leaves are symmetrically joined and the flowers are pedicellate.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Heidrun E.K. Hartmann “Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Aizoaceae F-Z” Springer Science & Business Media, 2002
2) Hermann Jacobsen “A handbook of succulent plants: descriptions, synonyms, and cultural details for succulents other than Cactaceae” Blandford Press, 1960
3) Doreen Court “Succulent Flora of Southern Africa” CRC Press, 01/Jun/2000
4) Ed Storms “Growing the Mesembs” Tarrant Printing, 1976
5) Klak, C., Raimondo, D. & von Staden, L. 2012. Diplosoma luckhoffii (L.Bolus) Schwantes ex Ihlenf. National Assessment: “Red List of South African Plants version” 2014.1. Accessed on 2014/07/11
Cultivation and Propagation: The cultivation of Diplosoma luckhoffii is fairly difficult. The plants are short lived, not usually surviving for more than three or four (rarely up to 10 years) years even under ideal conditions (no matter what you do), and as a consequence are never available except as seed, older plants go dormant in the normal manner but the next fall, no-one is at home. Seedlings and mature plants alike demand brilliant sunshine, cool night temperatures and careful watering when active.
Soil: They grow best in a mineral, sandy-gritty soil and last longer if grown in a heavy clay mix (with the addition of about 20% pure kaolin) and requires good drainage as they are prone to root rot. They can also be cultivated in cool, airy and brightly-lit alpine house, in poor, drained soil.
Repotting: They do not need repotting, they could stay in the same pot for many years.
Watering The basic cultivation routine is: Stop watering after flowering in spring. Start watering after the long summer dormancy (usually late late summer to autumn). When in active growth from late autumn to early spring, the plants can take strong light and unbelievable quantities of water, soak the compost fully but allow it to dry out between waterings at the surface, but remain slightly moist below ground at all times. The epidermis should be maintained at a high gloss. Loss of turgor is quickly made evident by a kind of spongy dullness, but the plants easily recover from slight losses. They are very readily bruised, so handle them gently. In the summer season the plant doesn’t need watering, the plant in this time uses the water stored the succulent leaves, allowing them to shrivel away, relocating water to the rest of the plant and to the new leaves that form during this period. During the warm-weather dormancy, pots of Diplosoma can be left dry, aside from an occasional misting on sunny days. If grown in a container, bottom watering by immersing the container is recommended. No water when cold. Nearly all problems occur as a result of overwatering and poor ventilation, especially when weather conditions are dull and cool or very humid. They must have very dry atmosphere.
Fertilization: Feed them once during the growing season with a fertilizer specifically formulated for cactus and succulents (high potash fertilizer with a dilute low nitrogen), including all micro nutrients and trace elements diluted to ½ the strength recommended on the label. They thrive in poor soils and need a limited supplies of fertilizer to avoid the plants developing excess vegetation, which is easily attacked by fungal diseases. Some growers fertilize frequently, some hardly ever. However fertilization is not really necessary.
Light: They prefer a very bright situation and in winter they need the maximum amount of light you are able to give them, but keep more cool and partially shaded in summer.
Hardiness: They require a minimum temperature 5°C (But will take a light frost for short periods if they are in dry soil).
Pests and diseases: They are vulnerable to mealybugs and rarely scale.
Remarks: After flowering in the spring and extending through the summer season the plant doesn’t need watering, but they will still be growing, the new bodies will be increasing in size extracting water from the outer succulent leaves, allowing them to shrivel away. In fact the plant in this time extracts water and nutrient stored in the outer succulent leaves, allowing them to dehydrate relocating the water to the rest of the plant and to the new leaves that form during this period until the old leaves are reduced to nothing more than "hard shells".
Propagation: Seeds. Diplosoma seed is almost as fine as dust, and should be sown in autumn when temperatures are warm on the surface of a mineral soil (sandy loam leavened with perlite, vermiculite and course sand) in the pot where they will stay permanently. Cover the seeds with a very fine layer of grit and water from below with a fungicide to prevent damping off. For the first 3-4 days cover the pots with a sheet of glass/clear perspex to keep the humidity levels high. Remove the glass and replace it with light shadecloth and mist once or twice a day for the next two weeks after which most seeds should have germinated. From then on mistings can be reduced to every second and then every third day as the little plants grow. When happy, Diplosoma sometimes flowers at the end of its first season, though more often the plants rot or terminally desiccate while still pinhead-size.
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