With nearly 50 species, Tylecodon is a diverse and interesting genus in the succulent Crassulaceae family, related to Adromischus, Cotyledon and Kalanchoe. Water is stored in thickened stems, although the annual green leaves are succulent as well. They are adapted for the winter-rainfall areas of south-western Africa with a summer dormant life-style. Among growth forms ranging from shrubs and scramblers to lithophytes and geophytes, T. schaeferianus is one of the smallest and nicest in cultivation.
In habitat, T. schaeferianus grows in one of the most arid environments. It can be found in the southern Namib Desert, from Luderitz in Namibia to Alexander Bay in RSA. It is difficult to see because plants are often buried in wind-blown sand among stabilising rocks, such that only the ovoid leaves at the stem tips make a mosaic on the surface. Further inland, it appears to inter-grade with T. bleckiae and to the south, T. decipiens is similar.
In pot cultivation, T. schaeferianus appears very different. It grows into a small shrub shape, branching sideways. It will take many years to fill a 3½” pot and a happy specimen could eventually fill a 7″ pan after several decades. Despite its arid habitat, clay pots are not needed. It is easy to maintain in a frost-free greenhouse. Maximum light should be provided. Occasional pruning is required to keep a pleasing compact shape, perhaps removing over-long stems. Cut surfaces heal well and become invisible after a few years. Propagation is usually achieved via cuttings – I have never seen seed available.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the UK is to keep it dry enough for long enough in summer, to dry up the old leaves, before the new stem growth starts in autumn. Do not worry though if a few old leaves persist in autumn – they can be pulled off safely by hand. Water should be provided regularly throughout the autumn, winter and spring months, but let it dry out in between. Watering should stop in late spring, when inflorescences grow from the plant’s reserves to provide flowers in mid-summer.
A wide range of flower colours have been found: most in cultivation are pink, but white, purple and almost red forms are known. Pink flowering plants were distributed in 1962 by the International Succulent Institute as Cotyledon sinus-alexandri (ISI 7 collected by Harry Hall at the Buchu Twins, Alexander Bay, RSA). It was distributed again in 1979 as Cotyledon schaeferana (ISI 1136 from Luderitz, Namibia).
Being long-lived, Tylecodons do relatively well on the show-bench displaying their architectural, pachycaul stems. However, entries must demonstrate signs of growth via either leaves or flowers.
Reference: van Jaarsveld, E. & Koutnik, D. ‘Cotyledon and Tylecodon’ book, Umdaus Press (2004).
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