Dorstenia are a genus in the family Moraceae, named after the German physicist and botanist Theodor Dorsten and comprises between 100 and 150 species.
They can be root succulents (caudiciforms), stem succulents and even non succulent, and come mainly from North Africa, Arabia and Kenya although some species from South America are mainly non succulent. The plant featured here, Dorstenia ellenbeckiana comes primarily from Somalia. Dorstenias do not have flowers as such but have a hypanthodium which is a collection of small flowers, they can be either self-fertile or dioecious, in other words, they require a male and a female to produce seeds. If pollination is successful the seeds will appear on the hypanthodium and in time will be distributed explosively by means of a gas beneath the seed.
Now to deal with the plant in the photographs. I have had this plant for about twenty years and in that time has only been re-potted once so this particular plant is not too particular about growing conditions. The greenhouse is kept at a minimum of 10°C but it also has some additional bottom heat, and gets fed with weak fertilizer (Chempak No.8 at ever watering). One peculiarity that it shares with a few other Dorstenia is that it has two growing periods, it comes into growth about the end of March to the beginning of April when it begins to grow leaves. It drops these at the beginning of June and then almost immediately starts to grow again, this time producing ‘flowers’ as well as leaves. As to whether this particular trait is peculiar to this particular specimen, I am unsure. I am also unsure as to whether it is self-fertile but if not and as it comes from Somalia it is not likely to be very common, at least as long as things in that part of the world remain as they are. One downside, there has to be one, is that it is a bit of a magnet for mealy bugs but as it loses its leaves twice a year it is relatively easy to eradicate. One observation is that when a leaf or stem is broken it emits a rather pungent smell, and whether this attracts the mealies I am not sure but another plant in my possession, an Uncarina emits a similar smell and also attracts the dreaded bugs.
Text and photos: John Frew
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