Ceraria fruticulosa is a slow growing succulent shrub that with age forms a lovely bonsai plant. It comes from the border between Namibia and South Africa and although in wild it can reach up to 1 metre high, it has taken me over 25 years to grow this plant to a modest 30cm (Fig. 1).
It never develops the showy swollen trunk of the shorter growing Ceraria pygmaea but wins hands down when it comes to flowers. Individual flowers of both species are miniscule but while in Ceraria pygmaea they are a muddy-white held in tiny clusters that are easily missed, Ceraria fruticulosa sends out 4cm long spikes of pink flowers that really grab the attention (Fig. 2). Sadly, the show is short lived, only lasting a fortnight, but it does happen twice a year, first when the plant comes into growth in April and then again in August.
It is happy in a gritty soil-based compost and judging by the speed with which the pot dries out in its growing season, it is quite a thirsty plant when in full growth. Like most South African succulents, if kept dry, it is perfectly happy if the winter temperature dips down towards freezing and it sits at the end of the greenhouse that gets full sun for most of the day in summer. Left to its own devices, it tends to sprawl but is easy to persuade into a better shape with some light pruning. Cuttings are easy to root but are often overlooked on the sales bench, so next time you see some unprepossessing succulent sticks for sale (Fig. 3), check out the label, which might also use its new generic name of Portulacaria, as you could just be missing out on the opportunity to grow your very own Ceraria fruticulosa.
Text and photos by Gillian Evison
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