Thursday, November 3, 2011

Twenty years ago this year...

Delosperma sphalmanthoides

Twenty years ago this past year John Trager, curator of the desert conservatory at Huntington Botanical Garden, was visiting me at Denver Botanic Gardens. He was intrigued when I showed him a small, tufted mesemb I'd received the year before from John Lavranos: John had sent me some plants he'd collected on the summit of Komsberg Pass. He was amazed that I had succeeded with South African succulents outdoors in Colorado, and hoped he might add some plants to our palette....boy! DID he!

"Sphalmanthus resurgens" or Phyllobolus pearsonii?

One of he plants he sent looked a great deal like a white flowered mesemb I'd grown from Mesa Gardens years earlier called (at the's changed name since) Sphalmanthus resurgens: that's it above: they do look rather similar don't they? Do you blame me for thinking they were in the same genus?

John rooted the cuttings at Huntington, and when they bloomed, showed them to Steve Hammer, who immediately realized they were unrelated, and that Lavranos had discovered yet another new species (he is blessed that way!). He published the name of the plant in the Cactus and Succulent Society of America journal in 1993, immortalizing my mistake!

This is the first of a half dozen species new to science I've had a hand bringing to light. I believe it is the first new species of plant described from specimens cultivated first at Denver Botanic Gardens. And it has set a very high standard indeed!

As I type this, I suspect that this is blooming on the rocky half acre or so (where Lavranos first collected it). I found the same spot in 1994...a year after the type description: there were a few dozen plants, perhaps, on the rocky pasture and that was about it. As far as I know it has not been found elsewhere. When I went back three years ago, a very high fence had been erected along the entire road in this vicinity: the Komsberg is now a game farm and henceforward it will be very hard indeed to check up on this Delosperma in habitat without connections!

Hopefully, it is still there. One thing is for certain: it is firmly established in horticulture: I know several nurseries that grow large numbers of it. I cannot say it is an easy or permanent garden plant. This last shot shows the sort of show it can make in April for a year or two. Inevitably it seems to fade away. The Gardens at Kendrick Lake have probably planted out more specimens of this last year than may exist in all the wild. That seems to be the one place where this is happy and seems to persist (so there is hope for the rest of us mere mortals!).

Perhaps some day I will be lucky enough to get permission to seek it out on its rocky home on that lofty and wonderful pass. I recall one visit finding incredible bulbs in seed everywhere(Moraea, Ornithogalum, Lachenalia, Laperousia, Romulea, Babiana, Geissorhiza, Tritonia, Ferraria, Hesperantha, Gladiolus and Ixia), simply countless species. On my last trip there, at the height of spring I saw practically none! Go figure!?

Like the American West and all steppe climates, the Karoo is infinitely rich unpredictable and mysterious. I feel like a lucky mortal indeed to have visited on six occasions at six different times of year...and to have these karroid mementos studding my life life and garden like glittering, magical, prismatic gems. None more evocative than this tiniest of Delosperma!


  1. Ok I'm confused- what Genus and species are we talking about here and if it is more than one what exactly is the difference ??

  2. The pink flowered plant is "Delosperma sphalmanthoides"...the picture of a white flowered plant is "Sphalmanthus resurgens" (which has now been re-classified as Phyllobolus pearsonii and I think it's been changed yet again.

    Although the Sphalmanthus looks superficially very much like the Delosperma (and vice versa!), they are not closely related. Their seed capsules and flower morphology are distinct, something Steve Hammer noticed but I did not. He acknowledged my calling the pink one a Sphalmanthus by naming it "sphalmanthoides"...make sense?

  3. Yes thanks for that clarification!


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