Sunday, August 22, 2010

List: Houseplants Native to Southern Africa

Houseplants tend to be from the same few places over and over again: Southeast Asia is popular, as are Central America and Brazil. But one of the richest sources of houseplants, particularly succulent houseplants, is the southernmost segment of Africa. South Africa lucks out because it has the Karoo, a very dry inland section of the southern end of the continent. The westernmost section of the Karoo (which is actually called the Succulent Karoo) is very dry, hot, and windy, and the plants living there have gone to fairly extreme lengths to survive, dispensing with stems entirely (Lithops spp.), or living buried in the soil with only the translucent leaf "windows" exposed to the sun (Lithops again, but also some Haworthias, Senecios, and Peperomias).

Most of us don't actually keep the inside of our homes broiling hot and windy, but the low humidity and sometimes-neglectful watering of some homes are compatible with these plants' needs as long as enough light is provided. Other South African houseplant species come from the moister areas to the south and east of the Succulent Karoo, but these also tend to be more tolerant of dry soil and air than your average tropical rainforest plant. (There are less drought-tolerant exceptions, like Saintpaulia and Streptocarpus.)

Map of the southern tip of Africa. The Karoo, Succulent and non-, is outlined in yellow; the Succulent Karoo is to the west of the green line. Image is public domain, from Wikipedia.

It's difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of houseplants from this region, because it's impossible to be precise about "houseplant" and "this region." Some of the plants on the list are only found in a single fairly tiny location, say around a specific town. Others have ranges stretching up through East and Central Africa, or even east to Madagascar and around the Indian Ocean. But these, at least, can naturally be found at some spot or another within the southernish part of Africa, wherever else they might or might not exist.

Aloe harlana.

Asparagus plumosus.

Chlorophytum comosum.

Euphorbia flanaganii.

Euphorbia pseudocactus.

Gasteria NOID. Gasterias in general, though.

Saintpaulia ionantha cv.

Sansevieria trifasciata 'Hahnii Pearl Young.'

Senecio rowleyanus.

Strelitzia nicolai.

For the recommends, I'll go with Aloe harlana, Strelitzia nicolai, and Euphorbia pseudocactus. All three are pretty easy-going most of the time -- I've literally never had a problem with my Aloe harlana, and only the most minor problems with Euphorbia pseudocactus, which were entirely my fault anyway. Strelitzia nicolai and I have had our ups and downs, but I'm still fond of it, so much so that I'm apparently willing to delude myself into thinking it's an entirely different plant so I can justify purchasing it over and over.

For the anti-recommend, I don't know. I've had minor problems with all seven of the remaining plants from the list, ranging from generalized failure to thrive (Chlorophytum, Senecio) to various speeds and flavors of decline and rot (Gasteria, Sansevieria, Saintpaulia), to extreme demands for light and the heartbreak of etiolation that causes (Euphorbia), to underwatering followed by hardcore needle drop (Asparagus).

I think Sansevieria is the one I'm least likely to buy in the future, as the Sansevieria problems have been a lot more permanent, and seem to happen to every specimen I buy sooner or later. Most people will think this is ridiculous, because everybody but me finds Sansevierias easy to grow. But that's the one I want for the anti-recommend anyway.


Not pictured:

Adromischus cristatus
Albuca bracteata
Aloe aristata
Aloe brevifolia
Aloe ciliaris
Aloe ferox
Aloe greatheadii
Aloe maculata
Aloe polyphylla
Aloe striata
Aloe variegata
Anacampseros rufescens
Argyroderma delaetii
Asparagus densiflorus
Bowiea volubilis
Ceropegia woodii
Cissus quadrangularis
Clivia miniata
Cotyledon orbiculata
Crassula arborescens
Crassula coccinea
Crassula muscosa
Crassula ovata
Crassula rupestris
Crassula tetragona
Didymochlaena truncatula
Ensete ventricosum
Euphorbia anoplia
Euphorbia caput-medusae
Euphorbia cooperi
Euphorbia enopla
Euphorbia grandicornis
Euphorbia horrida
Euphorbia ingens
Euphorbia obesa
Euphorbia susannae
Euphorbia tirucalli
Faucaria tigrina
Fenestraria rhopalophylla
Gerbera jamesonii
Gloriosa superba
Hoodia gordonii
Kalanchoe beharensis
Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri
Kalanchoe luciae
Kalanchoe thyrsiflora
Kalanchoe tomentosa
Ledebouria socialis
Ornithogalum spp. (aka Albuca)
Pachypodium geayi, lamerei, other Pachypodium spp.
Pelargonium spp. (some)
Plectranthus amboinicus
Plectranthus ciliatus
Plectranthus oertendahlii
Pteris cretica
Rhipsalis baccifera
Sansevieria cylindrica
Selaginella kraussiana
Senecio macroglossus
Senecio radicans
Stapelia flavopurpurea
Stapelia gigantea
spp. (most spp.)
Strelitzia reginae
Zamioculcas zamiifolia


Han said...

Sansevieria needs warm feet. I've a shelf over the heater in my living room. This is the place I put all my sansevierias. They don't mind to have constantly hot air from the heater at the bottom, although there're not much light in winter.

Initially I put some other succulents (Agave, Euphorbia & etc) on that shelf too, but all of them died, probably because it's too hot and lack of light there. Sansevieria is the only species that not only survived, but also grow quite well in such condition.

Anonymous said...

correction - everyone but you and me finds sansveria easy to grow. Haven't been able to keep one yet...

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ said...

Thanks for this post and the list in it, Mr. S. Living in Phoenix, I have lots of these plants. The climate here is almost perfect for many of them.

Unknown said...

I love South Africa, it's a place I'd really like to visit. Some cross country seed collecting trip would be in order. Then I'd stuff them into plush toys and fly them on back. I googled lithop/haworthia slices and I almost want to cut mine in half. But that would be murder.

Steve Asbell said...

I'll have to add some of yours to my list too, since I forgot some. :) I NEVER have any luck with sanseveria, even though its supposed to be such an easy plant. It always rots indoors, though they do well outdoors around here, even with the hard freezes.