Thursday, October 14, 2010

The hardy Othonna...

Some days are emblazoned in one's heart and mind forever. The first time I crossed Joubert's Pass over the Witteberg in the East Cape (in January 1994) has to be emblazoned forever in my mind: I'd already spent a few weeks sampling the glories of the Drakensberg mountains proper, and then suddenly I found a whole new suite of plants, many of them xerophytes, on this spur of those great mountains and I realized how much remained to be learned. There was a most swale filled with Kniphofia uvaria at the base of the pass far from its more Westerly distribution, and spectacular Gladiolus saundersii in the foothills, joined soon by the equally dazzling orange form of Gladiolus dalenii. Gigantic angel rods (Dierama robustum) where dangling and swinging like censers everywhere in the meadows. On the rocky summit I was stunned to find Anacampseros rufescens, Pelargonium sidoides and other shrubby pelargoniums and especially this treasure of a succulent composite, Othonna capensis.

On subsequent trips I found this on many other mountains further westward in the East Cape, all looking very similar to my first find. I suspect anything in cultivation with this name stems from one of the collections I made in 1994 or on another unforgettable trip I took with the late and much lamented Jim Archibald in March of 1997. Although several nurseries offer this, no one seems to think the plant is very hardy. I suppose because it is a succulent it is relegated to very hot dry exposures, which is not really to the taste of this bona fide alpine. Here it has thrived for years for me in my rock garden at home, on a south facing slope to be sure, but shaded much of the day by giant Scots pines, and with a drenching every few days during the hotter months.

It generally produces its first flowers in April and there is a sprinkling of bloom all the way to late autumn: this picture was taken in October, but I'll bet there will be some bloom in a few weeks in November even after some pretty hard frosts...eight months of winsome bloom, and a beautiful succulent mat the rest of the year. Not bad for this little waif from the White Mountains of the east Cape!


  1. Is this plant a member of Aizoaceae or Asteraceae as the internet indicates? Should we expect a hardy Pelargonium soon?

  2. Asteraceae, for sure! Although one is hard put to believe it...I have had Pelargonium sidoides make it through several winters (not that vigorous spreader in the trade under that name, which is a hybrid between sidoides and reniforme). And we have had P. alchemilloides make it through. There ought to be lots more. Don't forget Pelarnium endlicherianum and P. quercetorum from Turkey! They are very cold hardy...

  3. Family: somebody should tell Paghat

  4. Nice post, I've always been intrigued by this Othonna. It doesn't like our wet winters, and also detests hot humid weather, tending to look best in spring and fall. Are the plants in the trade mostly seed grown, or started from cuttings. I ask because this is another Asteraceae that apparently is self sterile, and seed seems hard to find.
    I'm also wondering what "shrubby" pelargoniums were growing along with P. sidoides. If you get P. sidoides thru Denver winters, I imagine P. luridum should do well too.

  5. Hey there Ernie! As I typed this post I thought of you...and suspected it would make you rise to the surface! I suspect every Othonna capensis in the trade is propagated by cuttings (I root them spring and fall like sedums in situ). As a consequence there is a strong likelihood that one clone has probably proliferated...As for the shrubby pellies I found: I shall have to go look in my slide files and get back to you on those...sorry!


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