One cannot help but wonder how these little beauties survive the cruel conditions in their homeland, a small area on both sides of the Orange river, some 10-60 km from the sea, where they grow on rocky ridges and in stabilised sandy places amid large sand dunes.
From November to May the plants are dormant and leafless and in this period they are often sand blasted by very strong winds and sometimes buried in sand drifts for weeks or even months.
Winter is the growing period, with most activity going one from June to September.
The plants have a deep, swollen root system and are up to 4 cm tall with one or a few horizontal branches; these are whitish to blackish-brown and 1-2 cm thick. The branches are spineless or have blunt remains of leaf stalks up to 0.6 cm long. Flowering may occur in most months (except Jan.- Febr. and May-June). The flowers are 2.5-3 cm across and white, pale pink or magenta with a dark red throat; rarely they are completely white.
As the name carnosum (fleshy) suggests, this is one of the more succulent Pelargoniums.
Old plants can be quite impressive, with a height of up to about 1 m. But with lots of old leaves and flower stalks, big plants may also look rather untidy compared to young specimens with their nice smooth stems.
The stems are sparsely branched, with very variable, deeply incised and often somewhat fleshy leaves up to 20 cm long.
In Sept.-April the flowers appear in up to 50 compact clusters; they are 1-1.5 cm in diameter, white, pinkish or greenish yellow, with reddish markings on the upper petals.
The plants are found on dry flats and rocky slopes from Namibia to the Little Karoo and the Eastern Cape Province.
The specific name echinatus means prickly or armed with spines or prickles and is derived from the word echinus (hedgehog).
When you look at the recurved thorny stipules on the stems, it is easy to see where the name comes from.
The plants may be up to 60 cm tall, but are usually much smaller; they have few to many branches, with leaves 2-3 cm long and 3-4 cm broad on relatively long stalks.
The flowers are about 3 cm in diameter and appear from July to November in groups of 3-8. They vary in colour from white and pink to brilliant purple, with darker blotches.
This beautiful and interesting species occurs from the Richtersveld to Clanwilliam,
usually on dry granite or sandstone slopes and protected by bushes or overhanging rocks.
In her book “Namaqualand in flower” (1972), Sima Eliovson referred to this species as follows:
“Quite the most outstanding Pelargonium in Namaqualand, this has thick clusters of brilliant cerise-purple flowers that grow beside the brightest annuals and can be spotted from afar. They generally lie scattered in little clearings among orange daisies in the fields around Springbok amd Kamieskroon, where they are plentiful.”
Charles Craib in his beautiful and interesting book “Geophytic Pelargoniums” (2001), calls the species “one of South Africa’s most spectacular flowering plants.”
The plants are tuberous geophytes occurring in a narrow strip along South Africa’s west coast, from near the northern part of the Richtersveld to the Nardouw flats in the south.
Although the summers are very hot here, in winter it may be freezing cold.
The rainfall varies between 150 and 300 mm per year, mainly in winter.
When in flower, the plants are 20 to 30 cm tall. The flowers appear from August to October, usually with 20-40 (sometimes as many as 60) together in a large cluster on a single stalk. They show a wide range of colours, from red and pinkish purple to mauve, pale lilac and even nearly white.
With its thick, often nearly golden yellow stems, heavy armature and beautiful flowers, this species stands out even within a group of plants as special as the Sarcocaulons.
The plants occur in the coastal desert from Luederitz in southern Namibia to the Holgat River in South Africa and also in the area between Bethanie and Klein Karas in Namibia. In some regions of stabilised coarse sand they are very common with sometimes few or no other plants around. In some areas they are also found in rock crevices.
Their habit is creeping to more or less upright, up to 50 cm tall. Although they are potentially very spiny plants, the spines are often continually abrased by wind-blown sand.
When flowering (mainly May-September) the plants are even more attractive than usual, with their pink, magenta or purple flowers of about 3 cm in diameter.
About 70 species of Pelargonium belong to the section Hoarea: deciduous geophytes with turnip-shaped or elongated tubers. Several of these plants have similar leaves, so one needs flowers to positively identify them.
P. luteolum possesses a large tuberous rootstock and a number of smaller tubers and
leaves 4-7 cm long and 3-12 cm wide which are dry at flowering.
The inflorescence has 2-3 branches and is up to 20-30 cm tall.
Each of the branches bears to 16 flowers, which are about 1.5 cm in diameter and pale yellow, sometimes pink, with dark red-purple lines on the two upper petals. They usually appear from November-March, but sometimes as late as May.
The plants are widespread in various -usually rocky- habitats from southern Namaqualand to Steytlerville and Mossel Bay. This is mainly a winter rainfall area, with about 100-300 mm rain per year. They seem to be especially plentiful in the Worcester-Montagu area.
The three overlapping lower petals -hiding the style and stamens-are characteristic for this species. The literature tells us that they are arranged in such a way that the lateral ones partly overlap the central one. When you look closely at the last picture, you will see that the arrangement is sometimes the other way round: here the central one of the three lower petals lies on top of the two lateral ones.
The first picture was taken 27 June 2010, the next three 22 Jan. 2016 and the last one 21 Febr. 2009.