Because they may form large clumps to over a meter in diameter, plants of this species are often quite conspicuous in the field. They occur widespread in the Great Karoo and from Calitzdorp to the Eastern Cape and into the Free State, usually among bushes on lower stony slopes or under trees on flats.
The stems are up to 30 cm long. As the name implies, the flowers are often quite big too (mostly 8-15 cm, but sometimes up to 22 cm in diameter); they are usually silky hairy and appear mainly from March through May. The buds are rounded, which is typical for this variety (see last picture, showing a plant in cultivation).
The first 3 pictures were made near the Calitzdorp Dam, 6 April 2010.
With its almost furry stems this species is easy to identify, even without flowers.
Only Stapelianthus pilosus from Madagascar is somewhat similar.
The stems are normally 1.5-6 cm long, but may reach as much as 18 cm; they usually have 10-16 spiral or vertical series of tubercles ending in long hairs. These hairs shade the stems and thereby reduce water loss.
The flowers have an unusual appearance too and appear in spring and summer (Dec.-May).
The plants are found sporadically on stony slopes and clayey flats from Montagu eastwards to Steytlerville in the Eastern Cape and in the Great Karoo from Matjiesfontein to Beaufort West. They occur mostly in the shade of low bushes.
Clumps of this species may become more than a meter in diameter. It is widespread on flats in dry scrub from Worcester to the Free State, but it is never common.
The beautiful and distinctive flowers are 4.5-10 cm across and appear from March to May. Usually they are deep brown to purple black with yellowish mottling, but sometimes the yellow spots are so dense that the colour pattern is almost reversed.
I find it quite difficult to make a good picture of the flowers of this species. They are so dark that they seem to absorb all the available light and turn black in the picture. Under an overcast sky, with enough light but no sun, one can see that the flowers in fact are a beautiful very dark purple. The flowers appear in autumn and winter (March-June).
The species has the widest distribution of the whole genus -from Namibia to the Little Karoo. The plants are few and far in between, growing on stony flats and slopes; they may become up to 60 cm tall.
More pictures to follow
According to the literature, this species occurs from just west of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape to the Kei River in the Eastern Cape.
The pictures shown here however, were taken not fear east of Ladismith, extending the known distribution area 70-80 km westwards. The plants grow here in one of their typical habitats: on dry stony slopes among small bushes.
When you have a close look at the first two pictures, you will see that they are almost identical – but one is taken with ambient light and the other with flash. Can you see which is which and do you have a preference?
Flowering plants photographed 24 March 2011; plant in fruit: 1 November 2012