Fenestraria rhopalophylla

This is a plant that I first grew when I decided to expand my Mesemb. collection from just Lithops and Conophytum to include as many of the remaining genera as I could find, subject to room availability, for the family is one of the larger ones in the plant kingdom.

On looking up the plant, I found it came from the Orange River area of South Africa and that there are two forms of it; the more commonly grown ‘aurantiaca’ which has a yellow flower and grows on the south side of the river and a white flowered form called ‘rhopaphylla’ which grows on the other side of the river in Namibia.

I also discovered that it was a windowed succulent that grew in habitat with just the tips of the cylindrical leaves showing above ground. However, I found that growing it this way was a recipe for disaster as the plant did not grow well and was very prone to rot. The recommended way to grow it in this country was to do so with just the root ball in the soil. It then grew well and before long had filled a 14cm pot and had produced its yellow flowers around September time. I then decided to obtain and grow the white flowered form as well and, using the same technique, have had no problem with this one either. However I do find that it is much slower growing and does not produce as many flowers each year.

1013 Fenestraria

I have now grown on the ‘aurantiaca’ form to fill a 30cm square clay pan and it regularly gets shown both in our branch show and some of the larger ones further afield. The potting mix I use is my normal one, which is a 50/50 mix of John Innes No. 3 and small sharp grit to which I add a couple of handfuls of bonemeal when mixing up a batch.

In 1995 I made my first trip to South Africa to see and photograph the plants that I grow in my greenhouse in their natural habitats. I did eventually get to the Orange River area and started to look for Fenestraria,but it was so cryptic that I actually walked all over it before I saw the first plant. I have read in one account that the best way to find Fenestraria is to wait for them to flower because the flowers will then indicate where they are. On subsequent trips I have seen the ‘aurantiaca’ form at Mcdougals Bay near Port Nolloth some 50km to the south and at Kleinsee even further south.

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