Saturday, November 25, 2023

The blob that has haunted me

"Sphalmanthus resurgens"

I photographed this amazing caudiciform in the greenhouses of Peter Liekkio north of Seattle. It is a plant that has haunted me for over 40 years as you will see!

Honestly, it's basically a blob with some delicate green leaves--why should it taunt me so!?

Phyllobolus (a.k.a. Sphalmanthus) photographed at the cemetery in Matjiesfontein

Here is one of dozens of photographs I took all over South Africa of plants closely related (if not identical) to Peter's blob: these have been known as "Sphalmanthus", and then "Phyllobolus" although lately they've been subsumed into the vastness of the genus "Mesembryanthemum" which is so polymorphic that it boggles the mind--let's stick to "Phyllobolus" if not "Sphalmanthus" for the nonce...

Phyllobolus (a.k.a. Sphalmanthus) photographed at the cemetery in Matjiesfontein

I am quite sure these little tufts of leaves sit atop a large bulb-like caudex, much like Peter's plant!

Phyllobolus (a.k.a. Sphalmanthus) photographed at the cemetery in Matjiesfontein

Taken a year later--another clump: how I would have loved to dig it up! I have a hunch the caudex would be the size of a soccer ball!

Phyllobolus (a.k.a. Sphalmanthus) photographed on the road towards Merwe from Sutherland

I think this may be very close to the plant I grew over 40 years ago which I picture last on this blog post.

Phyllobolus (a.k.a. Sphalmanthus) photographed in Namaqualand National Park 

Phyllobolus photographed near Nieuwoldtville ("bulb capital of the world" the sign says outside town)

A slightly different manifestation--no doubt with a big bulbous root as well..

"Sphalmanthus resurgens"

This was scanned from a slide I took about 40 years ago on a row of test beds at Denver Botanic Gardens filled with a random sampling of South African succulents I was testing for hardiness: there were several hundred taxa--only a handful of which survived the winter: this was one--which I photographed and left to perish its second year. How I wish I'd propagated it!

And thereby hangs a tale--one worth your pursuing: I wrote about it in a blog post in 2011: I think you will enjoy following this thread: Click here to do that if you wish. What you will discover is that the very first species new to science that came through my hands was MISS-named because of this plant. Namely Delosperma sphalmanthoides: I assumed the little pink Delosperma sent to me by John Lavranos was another Sphalmanthus--and I shared it with John Trager of the Huntington under the wrong generic name--which was immortalized in the specific epithet.

And Steve Hammer tells me that Delosperma sphalmanthoides may not even be a Delosperma! But then, Sphalmanthus may not even be Phyllobolus! Who knows? Maybe the whole family will all just be subsumed by the genus Mesembryanthemum one day anyway if a super lumper has his/her way...

You can see, perhaps, why I am haunted?


  1. "A rose by any other name" Putting this in Mesembryanthmum seems too big a lump.

  2. A nice neat little groundcover in it's native habitat. A bit on the ugly side in a pot. However, so ugly as to be incredibly cool. With all the reshuffling of genera these days it's almost impossible to keep track of anything. Do they have to choose such difficult names to pronounce too?


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