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Succulent Reflects its Arid Environment

This article was first published on 06 Dec 2013.

Cyphostemma juttae

Cyphostemma juttae

Cyphostemma juttae is certainly one weird and whacky looking plant.  It has a huge swollen truck that often looks oversized compared to the foliage it carries at the tips of the trunks over the summer months.  The trunk is covered in a papery peeling bark, which almost looks as if it has a bad skin disease.

Large leathery leaves have a jagged serrated edge that looks a bit like a carpenter’s old saw. These leaves drop off during winter leaving only the swollen trunks on display.  Flowers are produced in summer followed by fruit that look like grapes but they are toxic.

Care should be taken with most desert plants, whether it is spines, milky white poisonous sap or fruit that looks edible but is often poisonous.  This is the case with the tree grape, the common name for Cyphostemma juttae. Interestingly enough, it belongs to the Vitaceae family, the same family as grapes.

Native to Namibia and South Africa, this slow growing succulent has adapted well to survive in hot, dry climates.  The white, peeling bark helps reflect the sun, keeping the plant cooler.  The trunk stores water and acts as a reservoir during drought.  The leaves curl up along the central mid rib and this may help channel water towards the roots and also to reduce the exposed surface area so transpiration through the leaves is reduced.

Cyphostemma juttae can be seen growing in the arid house of the winter garden glasshouse at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Stephen Bishop is curator of the winter garden glasshouse at Dunedin Botanic Garden.