Thursday 30 October 2014

My crocodile plant!

Three ceropegias

Apologies to google searchers. The crocodile plant is my own private name. Try aloe! 

 Ceropegia stapeliformis 

The correct common names of Ceropegia stapeliformis are ‘Serpent ceropegia’ and ‘Snake vine’.
Ceropegias are natives of Southern Africa and can grow as a prostrate plant, or hang, creep, climb, or twine.

Not twining together but hanging

Mad gardeners like me are fascinated by plants to which others won’t give house room. I only preserve my three different ceropegias by keeping them out of Brenda’s way.

Ceropegia woodii, the Rosary vine or String of hearts

I remember this hanging from a basket at the top of Askham Bryan College tropical house. It has rather nice markings, extreme pendulous habit together with curious hanging bead like tubers. At that time I never noticed its amazing tiny flowers.

Like many plants misdiagnosed as tropical, it is relatively hardy and all three of my different ceropegias have almost experienced frost for short periods when they have been dumped in disgrace in my unheated greenhouse. I now do find them somewhere above 5 centigrade to overwinter.

A none gardening friend asked me to recommend a house plant to hang in his kitchen window in an extremely confined space. In due course it hung like a curtain for many years thriving in the same three inch diameter pot.
When growth achieves excessive lengths of perhaps four of five feet it can be cut back to as far as you want to take it. You can easily rejuvenate a plant by cutting it right back and hurrying things along by inserting several un-rooted cuttings a few inches deep in the pot. It is extremely easy to propagate and grow!
Most trailing plants and other ceropegias will also clamber upwards and scramble if given the opportunity. Not this one, Ceropegia woodii does not know how! 

Ceropegia sandersonii, the Parachute Plant

I love its funny face flowers.

Like most ceropegias it is a succulent plant which can be left dry for long periods but most of the year this is not recommended when it should be watered as a normal house plant. Mine is flowering now and making new growth and like a Christmas cactus will be watered and fed at least up to the turn of the year.

Now in October and frosts threaten I have promised the lifeline of a place on a high shelf in our warm conservatory - Brenda insists I change the pot!

Ceropegia stapeliformis, my crocodile

My crocodile pretends to be a gnome 

It has escaped into the garden 

The plant featured today has had a checkered history. Purchased as a two inch unrooted piece from a cactus supplier, it was soon given thumbs down and banished from our warm conservatory. It sulked in our shady double glazed unheated enclosed porch and over the first winter barely survived. It did show signs of life the next summer and it started to scramble amongst my cacti on my greenhouse bench. It was returned for the winter to the dingy porch which by now had been fitted with a cheap thermostatically controlled electric heater, the kind used by householders to stop pipes freezing.

My ambition was to eventually see what I knew to be its magnificent flowers. This year revived broken off large pieces have thrived in my cold greenhouse and for the last couple of months have prolifically flowered. Forgive my indulgence in bringing them to you today!

The specific name of C.stapeliformis is derived from its similarity to stapelia, another succulent plant whose signature is a foetid smell.

Peculiar pollination

I have told you before it’s called drop pollination. And you still have not treated the aphids!

All the ceropegias featured today have peculiar flowers with long tubes to the base where anthers and stigma(s) await innocent insects. Ceropegias are mainly pollinated by dipterans (true flies). The size of the narrow entrance is the only control the flower has over which species of fly will be the unwitting pollinating agent. Foetid carrion smells are the attractant. Downward pointing hairs ensure visitors move in a single direction -down. The flies are trapped there for perhaps a complete day when as they try to escape become pasted with pollina. As the flower ages the hairs relax and the insect escapes. Enough flies get caught in another flower to achieve cross pollination. Ceropegia flowers possess inhibitory mechanisms that prevent self pollination.
I must confess I have never noticed any foul odour!

In our conservatory - I wonder if Brenda dislikes the flies more than the spiders!

 Cultural notes

My current neglect may correctly lead you to conclude that ceropegias are easy to grow. Their succulent nature suggests that they might like sharply drained potting compost but in fact any standard compost when watered as for normal houseplants will do. They do like some sunshine. An occasional liquid feed or light top dressing with NPK fertilizer as I do, will provide for their small nutritional requirement. If you forget to water even for several weeks, especially in winter, it will do little harm as many ceropegias in nature withstand a dry season. It is foolish however not to water when they are in active growth and in flower.

I shudder when I read in gardening encyclopedias precise temperature requirements and fancy compost formulations made up to special specifications. On reading such nonsense, often recycled from older encyclopedias by inexperienced researchers, I fear that new gardeners will be completely daunted or will spend money and time trying to find magic ingredients.
It’s a bit like my old lecture notes, transferred to the student notebook without going into my head or their own!

I have recently updated my two year old post on Salvia 'Black and Blue'. It contains another monster


  1. Very interesting post again, this time about Ceropegias. A very long time ago we had one of them as a houseplant.

  2. Fascinating but I'm afraid I'm with Brenda on its house room value, I think that the parachute plant should be renamed elephant plant it even Dumbo plant (just missing some ears)

  3. I am a sucker for anything unusual – this certainly fits the bill! Although I am sure I have had one of those ‘waterfall plants’ in ancient times, not sure its full name or British common name, but I am thinking of your photo number 2 and the plant to the far right. Can’t remember it ever flowering though. Now, where could I make room for a crocodile….

    Oh, and I so agree with you on the precise requirements for this and that plant. Reading encyclopaedias is one thing, add in online searches and one could go crazy. I tried to do a search for how to get my 1 year old Dendrobium nobilis to re-bloom, now that it is shooting new spikes. 5 different sites gave 5 different advices on water and temperatures. I have decided to do my own thing on this one too – as where would I find a place with 20 degrees during the day and below 10 degrees at night – in my house?! If it blooms in January I will be very happy, if not I will blame it on my house being too warm at night during the winter (despite the heating being off at night) :-)

  4. You are a gardener after my own heart Helene.
    If your orchid is the one I think it might be, it is rather difficult. Best of luck!

  5. Fascinating! As usual Roger you put together a great post, based on your own experiences. Personally, I'm not a house plant fan but sure I can remember my father having something similar in his house. Off now to read the Salvia post, thanks for letting me know about it.

    1. Thank you for your warm words Angie.
      I stumbled on your piece about Salvia 'Amsted' cuttings seconds after placing the link at the bottom of this post. Well, not stumbled , you are on my blogger list of favourite posts :-)

  6. Have you noticed that you feature in my latest post?

  7. What an amusing and interesting post Sue. Very well worth reading although I am not sure my readers should see how much better my plants grow when someone gives them some TLC


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