Huernia hystrix (Hook.f.) N.E.Br. subsp. hystrix

This little plant flowered a little over seven months after the seed germinated. Now it is producing new buds constantly but has only opened one at a time. The flower is a shade over 5cm (2 inch) across and the flower-stalk is about 7½ cm (3 inch). The curious little projections on the flower are called “papillae” by botanists. Many stapeliads have a nasty odour to attract flies but this one does not have any smell that I could detect.

I can’t give any advice on growing Huernia hystrix. The plant is said to be very easy to grow, so my conditions are probably rather over the top. Many people grow them on a windowsill or in a frost-free greenhouse.

I grow it in a small controlled environment cabinet with a constant 14 hours of light and 8 hours of dark. Temperature between 20°C and 40°C. Ventilated by a pair of 4″ computer fans, one only dragging air in while the lights are on and one moving the air inside the cabinet all the time. Huernia does not really need so much light (8 x 13W LED light bulbs for 0.8 square metres). You can see the stem has blushed a reddish-orange colour, protecting itself from excess light.

It is planted in pumice with nothing else but a few pebbles at the bottom of the pot. I use a very, very diluted low nitrogen, high phosphorus and high potassium fertiliser every watering.  

Huernia hystrix had been named Stapelia hystrix by Joseph Dalton Hooker when first described in 1869. This subspecies is now known to occur in north-eastern South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Hooker gave the English name “Bristly-flowered Stapelia” though in Latin hystrix means “porcupine”. 

The species was renamed in 1876 when NE Brown recognised that it was definitely not a Stapelia but closer to the genus Huernia. The genus Huernia had been named after Justus Heurnius (or van Heurne), a Dutch missionary who visited Cape Town in southern Africa in 1624. He is the first known European to draw a stapeliad, the one now called Orbea variegata. I would be surprised if anyone knows how to pronounce it. I say Hw-earn-yuh.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1869) 95: Plate 5751                                  

 Photos and text by Pattock

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