It is nearly six years since the genus Gasteria featured in ‘Plant of the Month’ so it is rightly time for it to be featured again – and this time you get three plants instead of one!
Gasteria batesiana was named by Gordon Rowley in 1955 to commemorate John Thomas Bates, a trolley bus conductor in London and a keen collector of South African succulents in the first half of the 20th century. It is thought that this species was first collected by Frank Frith from the SA National Railways in 1924 and had reached Europe some years later but had remained unnamed. It is plant material derived from the very specimen which Rowley used (ex-Bates Collection; sometimes labelled as ‘Clonotype ex-Reading University’) which we often see in collections today in the UK (Fig. 1).
The habitat location of G. batesiana remained unknown until 1958 when Theo Sprengel took live specimens to Harry Hall at Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town. In the last fifty years G. batesiana has been found in many locations in northern KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga but also in Limpopo and Swaziland and has resulted in the introduction of a wider variety of clones into cultivation.
The most northerly clone, previously known in the UK as ‘G. batesiana 4 miles from Penge’, was designated as a variety by Ernst van Jaarsveld in 1999, becoming G. batesiana var. dolomitica, so named because it grows on dolomite cliffs in the Olifants River valley. This variety is less common in collections, but makes a very distinctive but slow-growing plant, having longish narrow leaves with an almost circular cross-section (Fig. 2).
Another form of G. batesiana, which is much sought after by collectors, originates from Barberton in Mpumalanga. Despite much searching, it has not yet been re-discovered in habitat, but it lives on in cultivation. It is most attractive (Fig. 3) and, depending upon the levels of light, its triangular-lanceolate leaves can range in colour from green to red, purple to almost black.
Plants from other locations, such as the Klipwal Mine, Paris Dam (now called Bivane Dam), Sifula, Pongola and Umbeluzi Poort (Swaziland), can occasionally be seen and they are all worth growing in their own right to demonstrate the variability and diversity of this species.
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