Succulent Gardening: The Art of Nature

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Dermatobotrys saundersii

Dermatobotrys saundersii (Tree Jockey) An unusual epiphytic semi-deciduous subshrub with a heavy woody rhizome from which emerge upright stems to 2 to 3 feet tall bearing at their tips the attractive rubbery 3 inch long shallowly-toothed deep green leaves that are entirely flushed with purplish-red when first emerging. These leaves, which have a pungent though not entirely pleasant smell when rubbed, are subtended by clusters encircling the stems of arching coral-red trumpet-shaped flowers from early winter to late spring and sometimes into summer. The flowers are followed by smooth oval dark green fruit that ripen to brown that are filled with small seeds in a sweet pulp. The fruit is considered edible and compared to a fig. Plant in cool full to part sun or bright shade in a well-drained humus rich soil and irrigate regularly spring through fall. Makes a great container or hanging basket plant or can be used epiphytically by planting in the crotch of a tree. It is noted that plants can live for many years in large pots without the need of repotting. Our stock plant has remained outdoors and is briefly deciduous in cold winters but plants remain evergreen in warm years or when grown indoors. It comes from winter dry coastal forests in eastern South Africa from southern Zululand south to Transkei where it can be found growing up in the branch fork of living or dead trees and sometimes on the forest floor - because of its limited habitat this plant is considered at risk of extinction. The name Dermatobotrys comes from the Greek words 'derma' meaning "skin" and 'botrys' which means a "cluster of grapes" and the specific epithet honors Sir Charles James Renault Saunders (1857-1935), the Chief Magistrate in Kwa-Zulu Natal who was credited with first collecting Dermatobotrys saundersii, though after the name was applied by Harry Bolus, an earlier collection by W.T.Gerrard was discovered. Sir Charles's mother, Lady Katharine Saunders (1824–1901), a well-known plant collector was also honored by the naming of Ornithogalum saundersiae. Seeds of Dermatobotrys were sent to Kew in the 1890's and this plant has been in cultivation there since this time.

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