Astroloba foliolosa

When comparing this species to other Astrolobas, it is handy to known that foliolosus means “with many small leaves”.  Normally the leaves are spreading almost horizontally, which is uncommon in the genus.
The species occupies a wide distribution area from Laingsburg in the west to Graaff-Reinet and Cradock in the east. It also occurs in the Little Karoo. Usually the plants are up to 20 cm tall, but they may reach 30 cm.

The pictures will hopefully give you a good idea of how different the plants look like in different situations.

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Astroloba (Poellnitzia) rubriflora

A while ago I published some pictures of Poellnitzia rubriflora’s beautiful flowers. They were taken in my garden, because it was only last August that I saw this species in the wild for the first time.
The plants occur in a small area between Robertson and Bonnievale (not far from where I live nowadays) on dry stony flats and low hills, usually under bushes. They form low clusters with stems up to 25 cm long.

DNA research seems to indicate that the genus Poellnitzia with its one species belongs in Astroloba, in spite of the rather different flowers.

The accompanying photo were taken 10 August 2014 in the Vrolykheid Nature Reserve near McGregor.

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Astroloba bullulata

Most of the time this beautiful and distinctive species is not easy to find, not only because it is rather uncommon, but also because it prefers to grow in the shelter of shrubs. It branches only reluctantly and may reach a height of 30 cm.
The attractive flowers appear from November to June.
The main distribution area is from Sutherland to Ceres and Laingsburg.  A locality near Bonnievale and one near Prince Albert are also mentioned in literature.

The last picture shows a plant in cultivation.

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Astroloba corrugata

Unless they grow in deep shade (they are often found under shrubs), these plants commonly have a sickly orange-brown colour. One regularly sees the same phenomenon in some other species of Astroloba and Haworthia (see H. viscosa). The plants occur from Worcester to Ladismith and can be locally abundant. They are up to 20 cm tall. Doreen Court in her “Succulent flora of southern Africa” mentions a height of 30-80 cm, but this is probably a mistake. The flowers are produced in late spring and summer (Oct.-Feb.).
The picture of the flowers was taken in cultivation (scan from slide).

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Coming to terms

When looking up descriptions of plants, one often comes across pieces of botanical jargon, terms that are either used only in botany or have a specific meaning there. Of course there are books and internet sites where one can find the meaning of these terms, but the explanations are often in arcane language and usually there are no illustrations.  (“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). In 1993 the British Cactus and Succulent Society published a booklet called “Glossary of botanical terms with special reference to Succulent Plants”, compiled by Urs Eggli. This useful publication is now out of print, but second hand copies can be found on the internet.  Unfortunately -like in other publications of this kind-  the explanations are accompanied  by a line drawing at best, so that it is not always easy to relate the information to a real plant. When thinking about this, I wondered if it might not be a good idea to publish a post occasionally explaining some botanical term and using photos to show what is meant.

To kick off, let’s start with a type of inflorescence that is very common in the Aloaceae family (Aloe, Astroloba, Gasteria, Haworthia, Poellnitzia). It is called a raceme,  in which inflorescence the main axis does not end in a flower at the top and the flowers start to open from the bottom upwards. Below left you see a drawing of this. On the right you see a spike, which is a raceme in which the separate flowers have no stalks.

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The 3 pictures below show racemes of (from top to bottom) Aloe ferox, Astroloba bullulata and Ornithogalum juncifolium.

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Some Poellnitzia pictures

It keeps amazing me how sometimes you decide to do something and you end up with a totally different thing from what you had in mind. This post is a case in point.
I thought it would be a good idea to write a post on a certain aspect of plant photography that is often neglected (paralleling the subject) and went out into the garden to take some pictures to illustrate the principle. As it happened, there was a nice specimen of Poellnitzia in flower that seemed to fit the bill. Because the inflorescence in these plants is rather long and thin, even the gentle breeze that was blowing made it almost impossible to make a sharp picture. Quite a while ago I bought a gadget especially for occasions like this, where you have to stabilise something that is moving in the wind. It is called a Plamp (plant clamp) and  has a couple of other uses as well.  Although I rarely (have to) use it, it may make the difference between a good picture and a bad one (or none at all).  Have a look at for more info.
Even after the inflorescence as such had now been stabilised, the individual flowers were slightly moving in the wind. This defeated the object of showing the differences in depth of field as a result of different camera angles. After the rigmarole of setting up camera, tripod and Plamp, combined with the fact that a flowering plant of this species is not a common sight, I was rather reluctant to just pack up and leave. So I decided to have another look at what was there. As usual, I started with a couple of what my friend Neil Curry, a retired filmmaker, uses to call establishing shots, showing the subject in its environment.

The background was nice and dark but because I did not compensate for its darkness this is how the picture turned out.

This is what it looked like after taking a second picture with one stop underexposure and some fiddling in post production. You will notice that I also removed some of the nasty light blotches in the background.

After this, I went somewhat closer up and photographed only the middle part of the inflorescence.

Because the tips of the flowers have a unique shape I decided to make a picture of those at natural size. The flowers are so special in fact, that a whole genus (Poellnitzia) was established to accommodate just one species (rubriflora).

The plant itself is similar in shape to species in related genera (Aloe, Astroloba, Haworthia) but the colour is rather special.


Warts and all

In a recent post (Cover up, 14th Jan.) I discussed how spines, hairs etc. help succulents conserve water. In some families we also come across plants where the leaves are (partly) covered in warts, papillae or tubercles. Although these are often highly decorative, it seemed likely to me that they would first and foremost serve a useful purpose. After doing a bit of research I came up with some interesting information.
It appears that the presence of these projections on stems or leaves has an advantage for the plants in that the breathing pores are hidden in the lower areas between them. This diminishes transpiration and protects the plants from dehydration.
In the case of warts, there is an additional advantage:  their epidermis is rich in crystals and lies over cells that store up tannin. This combination makes the plant rather unattractive to herbivores.

Crassula tecta is named after the warts on the leaves (tecta =covered or protected)

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 Crassula corallina v. macrorrhiza (corallina = coral-like)

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In Rhinephyllum graniforme the genus name means file leaf 

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Haworthia scabra is aptly named too (scabra = rough)

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This Astroloba used to be called A. aspera (=rough). The current name A. corrugata has a similar meaning (wrinkled or furrowed)

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Ruschia muricata is rough to the touch and that is exactly what muricata means

In the following two species the names make no reference to things like warts or tubercles, but it is clear that this is not because of lack of these.

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Aloinopsis spathulata

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Stomatium suaveolens