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I first came across this plant on my second trip to South Africa in 1998. On my first trip, three years previously, we had arranged to stay for one night in a place on the top of the Matsikamma just south of Van Rhynsdorp, but did not arrive there until it was fairly late and getting dark. We never found the place we had booked to stay at, and ended up staying the night in Van Rhynsdorp at the base of the mountain.

On my second trip we arrived on the flat top of the mountain around midday, to look for the plants that grew there, and to see if we could find the place we had failed to find on that previous occasion. There were lots of clumps of Conophytum minisculum and various other succulent plants and we were then very pleased to see a whole area, some 100 metres square, full of small yellow flowers.

Closer inspection revealed the flowers to be originating from small caudices some 20mm in diameter, and inspection of the flowers revealed the plants to be an Othonna species. There were literally hundreds of the plants in that small area, most of them in flower. Further research in my reference books showed them to be Othonna cacalioides.

0117 Fig1 O cacalioides

Othonna cacalioides in habitat (Photo: David Neville)

I managed to get a plant of this species from a South African nursery before I came home and, once home, it was potted up and that winter produced a series of leaves but no flowers. However, the following year it did flower and did so for many years thereafter, until one year it failed to leaf up and eventually dried up totally and had to be thrown away.

It is a winter growing plant, as are most of the othonnas, and needs a dry summer's rest. Mine only produced a single caudex but I have seen pictures of plants with multiple caudices, but after how long I do not know. These days it is impossible to obtain this plant, despite enquiring at various nurseries, and I now understand that it is highly threatened, so I despair of obtaining a replacement. But at least I owned and flowered it, albeit for only a few years.

Eddy Harris

Home page photo John Ede

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