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When I first went to South Africa in 1995 I contacted my friend Derek Tribble to ask him if he would provide me and my travelling companions with information on what we needed in the way of maps, etc and where we would have to go to find certain plants. This he did, and indicated where to look for plants and what we might find in certain places. As my chief interest was in the Mesembryanthemaceae, one of the plants I wanted to see was Cheiridopsis peculiaris and we were duly told that it grew on the western side of Steinkopf in the Southern Richtersveld.

When we arrived in the vicinity of Steinkopf in late August, we looked for it in vain and, on coming back to England, again contacted Derek to gain more specific instructions. We were told that we needed to follow a track which ran parallel to the main road and look for certain rock debris. We tried again in August 1998 and ended up in somebody's back garden, so we were wrong again. However, the next time, in August 2001, we went in the company of Derek and had no trouble finding the habitat and seeing the plants.

12 17C peculiarisCheiridopsis peculiaris flowering in habitat

On my sixth and last trip to South Africa in 2008, I went in the company of David Kirkbright and Rodney Sims. Rodney and I had compiled an itinery of places we had previously visited, as David had not been on a plant hunting trip to South Africa. The first time we visited this site none of the C. peculiaris plants were in flower, although they were displaying prominent buds so we went back again a few days later. This time we were lucky and all the plants were in full flower and very photogenic (see illustration). On this particular occasion we were worried to see that the rocks in which they grew were being gathered up for road rebuilding and piled in heaps where some of the plants were growing. We mentioned this to Ernst Van Jaarsveld when we got back to Cape Town and visited Kirstenbosch where he was working and he did say he would keep an eye on this. Fortunately C. peculiaris does grow in other places nearby, so it is not quite the problem we thought it might be.

It is an interesting plant in that the pair of large leaves are closed up in the resting period to protect the growing point then, once in growth, they spread open flat to the ground. The flower then appears on a stalk some 75mm long.

I grow the plants I have of this in a 75mm pot and treat them as winter growers. I commence watering in late autumn, around October, and continue the watering until late March. It never seems to outgrow this size of pot, although the plants I had seen in habitat were clumps of some 150mm in diameter.

Eddy Harris

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