Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Welcome to this weeks’ “bi-Weekly Plant of Interest”. This week we’re focusing on a member of the Crassulaceae (Crassula) family.
Cotyledon orbiculata (Pig’s Ear in English, Plakkies in Afrikaans & serelile in Sesotho) is a succulent shrublet whose stem may grow to 900mm tall. Many of you will have recognised this widespread plant which tends to grow on sandy or rocky soils. In the grassveld around Clarens you’ll generally find C. orbiculata at higher altitudes on the rocky sandstone mountain slopes (approximately 2000-3000m A.S.L.), occurring from the Western Cape through to Mpum.
The genus name Cotyledon comes from the Greek word kotyledon that means cup-shaped hollow, in reference to the leaves of some species. The species name orbiculata comes from the Latin “round circle”. Beware though, unlike other similar appearing families, such as the vygies (Aizoaceae) and most aloes (Asphodelaceae), the sap from the leaves of C. orbiculata are toxic. The variability of leaf size, shape and colour is influenced by the immediate environment; however 5 variants of this spp. are currently recognised in the botanical society. This specimen was observed on the recently established Sky Contour trail (available on the soon-to-be released, new and improved trail map).
The paddle or pig’s ear-shaped (hence the English common name) leaves of this species measure 50-100mm long X 35-60mm wide, are succulent and fleshy with a grey-green tinge. A characteristic red lip is evident on the leave margin. The branched inflorescence is borne aloft a thick stem with each of the nodding red-orange (yellow varieties exist) and tubular flowers measuring 30-40mm. Flowering occurs from Nov-Feb. Uses:
Cotyledon orbiculata makes a nice pot plant or garden ornamental in succulent rockeries. It’s also a good plant to have as its tubular flowers are ideal for attracting sunbirds, whose long and curved beaks are specifically adapted to feeding on this form of flower.
Used traditionally as a poultice to treat boils, the leaves are heated and applied. The sap is also said to help treat warts, corn and general inflammations. Although toxic (cotyledontoxin), carefully moderated doses of the sap (from one leaf) can be used as a vermifuge. The leaves are also thought to be of use in the treatment of epilepsy. Livestock and domestic animals who eat the leaves suffer from a condition known as cotyledonosis. The Southern Sotho use a dried leaf as a protective charm for an orphan child and as a plaything
The SANBI conservation status for C. Orbiculata is listed as Least Concern
Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve
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