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Accepted Scientific Name: Stapeliopsis pillansii (N.E.Br.) Bruyns
Cact. Succ. J. Gr. Brit. 43: 61-83 (1981)
JJS120, Zeekoe Gat, Beaufort West.
Origin and Habitat: Republic of South Africa. Stapeliopsis pillansii is an uncommon species which occurs in the Pearston to Somerset East area and southwards towards lansenville in the Eastern Cape.
Altitude range: 500 - 950 metres.
Habitat and ecology: This species grows flat on the ground under the dry leaves of shrubs and aloes.
Description: Stapeliopsis pillansii (formerly Pectinaria pillansii) is a low growing perennial-succulent, only very rarely forming colonies. This is one of the rare Stapeliad that flowers under ground. It holds the flower oriented parallel to the ground or weakly bent downwards and very often buries the mouth of the corolla in the loose debris on the surface of the soil. This may be an adaptation to pollination by a small terrestrial insect, as it is also in two other stapeliads in southern Africa with partially or completely subterranean flowers: Echidnopsis ballyi (Marn.-Lap.) P.R.O. Bally and Stapeliopsis exasperata (Bruyns) Bruyns. This orientation causes the corolla-tube to be pressed among small stones and sticks, frequently leading to its being rather misshapen and asymmetric.
Stems: Similar to those of Stapeliopsis saxatilis, up to 15 cm or more long, 12-20 mm across, decumbent or procumbent and partly underground, acutely 4-angled, with flat or slightly concave sides and acute deltoid-conical, curved downwards tubercles 3-4 mm long, glabrous, dull green, more or less mottled or suffused with purple where exposed to the sun, with a slight glaucous bloom on the young parts, the teeth being at first of a paler green than the rest, becoming hardened and pale brown, having a bud in every axil.
Leaves: Rudimentary 3-4 mm long.
Flowers: The flowers in clusters of three or more at the middle of the sides from the lateral furrows, distinguish the species, they are oriented parallel to the ground or weakly bent downwards often - but not necessarily - developed underground (young flower-buds which are formed above ground sometime fail to developed). Pedicels 2-3 mm long, glabrous. Sepals about 2 mm long, ovate, acuminate, glabrous. Corolla 7 mm in diameter, broadly depressed pear-shaped, light purple, with a frosted appearance all over the inside, from being thinly covered with watery or air-containing papillae, hairs sometimes apically thickened, spine-tips globose. Outside almost smooth and glabrous. Tube very short about 3 mm long, cup-shaped with thick, fleshy walls more than 1 mm thick. Lobes also thickened and rigidly fleshy, 4-5 mm long, 4-5 mm broad at the base, like an equilateral triangle in outline, acute, inflexed and joined apically and flowers then pear-shaped forming a short broad dome-like top to the flower or occasionally free at the tips, their margins not recurved but separated so as to form very narrow fissures between them. As in Stapeliopsis saxatilis, the outer corona is reduced and the inner corona conspicuous and arching over the style apex. Outer corona of 5 minute lobes about 0.5 mm long, broadly ovate, obtuse, spreading, apparently whitish. Inner corona-lobes to 2.5 mm long, laterally much flattened, subfalcate, with a large rounded acute-edged hump on the back above the middle and there 2 mm broad from front to back, erect, with the tips connivent high above the style-apex, dark purple. Poll 0.26 x 0.16 mm, bean-shaped.
Fruit (follicles): The fruit are paired spindle-shaped capsules with the tightly packed seeds inside. At maturity they split open to release numerous small seeds crowned with long white hairs.
Bibliography: Major refrerences and further lectures
1) N. E. BROWN. “Flora Capensis” Vol 4, 1909
2) Cact. Succ. J. Gr. Brit. 43: 81 (1981).
3) Doreen Court “Succulent Flora of Southern Africa” CRC Press, 01 June 2000
4) Victor, J.E. 2005. "Stapeliopsis pillansii (N.E.Br.) Bruyns." National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2014.1. Accessed on 2015/03/11
5) Focke Albers, Ulrich Meve “Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Asclepiadaceae: Asclepiadaceae” Volume 4 Springer Science & Business Media, 2002
6) P. V. Bruyns “A revision of the genus Echidnopsis Hook.f. (Asclepiadaceae)” Bradleya 6 pages 1-48, 1988
Cultivation and Propagation: Stapeliopsis pillansii is an easy obliging blooming plant , that it is happy in any average succulent house. If grown in pots then the underground stems tend to form a tight tangled growth below ground and are then apt to rot. For best results these plants should be grown in shallow pans when they will grow and flower profusely.
Spring: When winter ends and they begin to grow again, they will require much water and soaking the pots will no longer put the plants at risk for rot. In the spring they will grow well in partial shade and leaving them out in the rain may provide them with the water they need.
Summer: In the summer months they will tolerate heavy rain, but will be just as happy if the season is dry. It's best to sort out the stems while the plants are resting in the summer before they begin their autumnal growth cycle. They will tolerate very hot weather outdoors as long as they are kept in filtered light and this will encourage them to flower in the Autumn. They also enjoy some fertiliser. Moving the plants as they are developing buds may cause them to spontaneously abort the flowers all together.
Autumn: In the fall keep them outdoors until the night time temperatures drop below the 10°C.
Winter: Winter care presents no problems at 10° C with plenty of light. As soon as they are flowered be sure to take extra precautions to keep them dry, because damp cool conditions when the plants are resting is an invitation to fungal infections, but - according to temperatures –some occasional lit watering may be useful.
Potting medium: Since roots are quite shallow, use a cactus mix or add extra perlite or pumice to regular soil potting soil. A gritty, very free-draining compost is suitable, and clay pots help the plants to dry out between watering. Re-pot every 2 years.
Pest and diseases: Stapeliopsis are generally fairly easy to grow, especially if kept pest-free. They are very susceptible to stem and root mealy bugs, and damage from these may well initiate fungal attack. Any time when there is a dead or dying stem in the pot it is important to remove it immediately and completely before other healthy stems can become ill too, isolate the healthy parts, dry them off, and re-root them in new compost.
Propagation: Easiest with stem cuttings. Allow cuttings to dry a day before planting. Stems must be laid (Not buried) on gritty compost and will then root from the underside of the stems. It can also be increased from seeds sowing in spring in moist, sandy peat moss. Barely cover seeds. Seeds germinate quickly. In any season it's best to lay the stems out for several days before replanting them and then pot them only in dry soil and withhold any water until they begin to shrivel or start growing again.
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