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  Xerophyta retinervis CACTUS ART

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Xerophyta retinervis (Monkey tail)
This is an unusual (and very tough) plant. In winter it resemble knee-high dead stumps. It can survive long periods without water, and then, when the rains come, "resurrect itself", it is virtually unknown in cultivation.

Description: Perennial shrub, usually about 0,6 m tall, tipped with elongated strap shaped leaves, but can grow up to 1,8m high in favourable conditions.
Stem: Dark, upright, grey to black tufted, very robust, solitary or (usually) irregularly branched; its dark stumpy appearance is a conspicuous feature.
Roots: Fibrous.
Leaves: Long light green, narrow, lanceolate in clusters spread over the dark stem.
Flowers: The deep mauve or pale blue flowers are borne on long thin stalks, they are sweetly scented large and very attractive. Perianth segments usually more than 4 cm long.
Blooming seson: Plants tend to flower irregularly at the beginning of the summer season, just as the new rains start.
Fruit: The fruits are capsules the seed is set quickly and ripens in about 6 weeks.



What is so unique about Xerophyta among the higher plants, is that it is able to survive long periods without water with extremes of temperature and high winds. When it rains again, the plants rehydrate completely and remarkably resume their full metabolic functions within 24 to72 hours. And also it survives fires through a protective coat of fibrous leaf bases which persist on the stem.


Dehydration: One of the major consequences of drought stress is the loss of water from the plant cells. This leads to the concentration of ions in the cell protoplasm. Many of these ions are toxic to plants at high concentrations. In this condition, whatever liquid is left in the cell has a high viscosity, increasing the chances of molecular interactions that can cause proteins to denature, and membranes to fuse . This causes problems for the plant, because if a broad band of proteins have been denatured, they can't continue with their normal metabolic cycles.  All plants display some ability to tolerate environmental stress to varying degrees.  However, the resurrection plants like Xerophyta, take this a step further. This is not entirely unusual. An array of metabolic pathways have been found to be activated under conditions of water deficit in other plants. What is important is that Xerophyta uses its metabolic strategies more efficiently and that allow the plant to tolerate extreme environments.

Propagation: Usually propagated by seed, sow the seed on a seedling mix that is able to hold water, as you would for cacti. (E.g. cover the seed tray with a plastic baggie and set it in bright shade ) They sprout quickly. But keep the water level in the container high. Watering the seedlings (Preferably) from below, or leaving the tray sitting in a bath of water. Seed germinates in about 24 weeks. Leave the seedlings in the trays for a season to get root-bound. Divide them just before the second growing season starts. The seedling grows fairly slowly (only a few mm per year) but when acclimatized they can grow faster.



Photo gallery: Alphabetical listing of Cactus and Succulent pictures published in this site.

Photo gallery XEROPHYTA



Family: Velloziacee

Scientific name:  Xerophyta clavata Baker

Origin:  Eastern South Africa (widespread, but not abundant in Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces and in Swaziland)

Habitat: Occupies a very specialized ecological niche in seasonally high rainfall regions, growing in in grasslands on rocky outcrops and cliffs with shallow soil. On such rocks, weathering leads to cracks and ridges where organic matter like leaves, and dust, fill in the irregularities, forming mats about a centimeter thick. Mosses form on these mats, and various plants sprout in these organic mats, sending their roots quite some distance horizontally, but never more than a centimeter or two deep. The mats enlarge over time. In the summer rainy season, the mats are probably always moist to wet. Once the leaves of the X. retinervis are air-dry, they can remain viable for prolonged periods. The dry 'winter' season lasts 5 to 6 months.

Common Names include: Monkeys Tail, Baboon tail, Resurrection plant, black stick lily, wonder bush

  • Vellozia retinervis Baker
    In: W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, Fl. cap. 6:244. 1896
  • Barbacenia retinervis (Baker) Pax ex Burtt Davy
  • Vellozia clavata (Baker) Baker
  • Hypoxis vellosioides Harv

The photos below show this plant in habitat.
(Source & copyright 
Swaziland's Flora Database )
Photograph  Source: K Bran

Xerophyta retinervis is a most interesting plant. It relies on wild fires to trigger into life. Usually it is just a dry black stick in the ground.

In spring it is transformed and is crowned with bouquets of lilac, lily-like blooms.

Photograph  Source: K Braun
This peculiar plant somewhat resembles a miniature yucca or palm tree.


Photograph  Source: K Braun

Cultivation: General succulent culture is needed. The water available heavily influences their growth. Plants have developed astonishing strategies to survive lengthy periods of drought unharmed, they dry out,  and in a desiccated state can withstand drought, often for months. When watered, even after a long period of drought, the plants can quickly regain an active state. With several plants of this kind, the dried-out leaves turn green after just a few hours. Xerophyta retinervis can grow in the same pot for many years, never needing to re-pot it. It is very cold hardy to at least -12 C.

This plant has many medicinal applications, it is known in Zulu as 'isiphemba' or 'isiqumama' The roots are smoked to relieve asthma and smoke from the whole plant is used to stop nosebleeds. Stem bark preparations are reported to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The active ingredient, called amentoflavone, is also found in gingko extract.

Home | E-mail | Plant files | Mail Sale Catalogue | Links | Information | Search

All the information and photos in cactus art files are now available also in the new the Encyclopaedia of Succulents. We hope you find this new site informative and useful.