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Loukie Viljoen
Cultivation and Propagation
a first introduction to propagating Stapeliads.

Document Revision 1.0
First Edited December, 23th, 2004
Reads : 8759

We cannot start a brief overview on the cultivation and propagation of Stapeliads, without stating right at the outset:there is no right way, the right way is what will work for you, and the one that you have success with, and the one that does not let you loose your prized possessions, plants that is. I am sure, that as many collectors or nurserymen, that there are, there are different cultivating media, and each one has success in raising, and propagating his/her Stapeliads and will swear by it. Like a member remarked that it is an alchemist recipe for each person. So let's go for some alchemy.

In general, the cultivation of Stapeliads is neither difficult nor a complicated matter. If you are fortunate to be living in the area where the type specimen was collected, you can plant them in your garden, and they will be perfectly happy and grow without a problem, but then we don't live there, we take the plants out of their natural environment and bring them into an environment completely alien and hostile to them. With these plants, your results will be in proportion to the amount of intelligent care given to them, they are living things and lets treat them as such, remember there is a quality known as plant sense, also known as "Green fingers", by which one naturally cares for plants in "just the right way", this will bring rich rewards to him who possesses it.

We basically have three methods of propagation: raising plants from seed, cuttings and grafting.

Raising from seed

This is perhaps the most interesting. Plants are difficult to transport across borders and countries due to a myriad of rules and regulations in each country, basically there to protect the plants in the country, may that be natural or farming crops. There are very few reputable nurseries that specialize in Stapeliads, and can give you the assurance that they are what the labels say it is. The drawback is simply the limited number of species from which seeds of type plants in habitat are available. Cultivated plants often never set seed, because they are pollinated by very specific insects, mostly flies, but they are very specific for a plant, so if you don't have the flies, you won't have the seeds. Seeds are often the outcome of cross pollination and may produce very colorful and interesting hybrids, this often occurs in hot houses.

Time to maturity is often cited as a drawback, but then some cuttings can take up to two years before they flower, and seedlings of the quicker growing varieties can be faster. Fresh seed gives better germination and faster growth. Some seeds retain their vitality for a long time. Remember conditions of heat and moisture must be ideal, don't try and plant the seeds in the middle of winter and expect results, it won't happen. Wait for onset of spring and if the temperatures are low, wait with your seeds before you plant.

Planting instructions and results will vary from country to country, speak to experienced nurserymen, they will give good advice when to plant. I always wait until first summer rains have fallen; I feel they have a better chance it there is moisture in the air. Precautions against excessive moisture must be on your mind all the time.

I use my mixture for adult plants for seed growing. Nurseries often stock seedling mixes, chose one with good drainage. A universal good bet is just a mixture of 1/3 good garden loam, 1/3 well rotted leaf mould [in habitat Stapeliads often grow under trees in naturally occurring leaf mould] and 1/3 coarse sand, with a sprinkling of crushed charcoal. Scatter or arrange seeds evenly in or on top of mixture, cover with about 1 to 2 mm sprinkling of sifted sand, a mosquito net is about the size. To avoid problems a few years down the line, write the date and specie on the side of the pot, labels get pulled out and then you are lost.

Now what to do with the pot or pan full of seeds. After soaking the pot/pan in some water until sand on top is moist, you can cover the pot with a pane of glass; cling wrap will also do the trick, and set in a warm sunny spot, or a warm room. As soon as seedlings start to show you must lift the glass or cling wrap to allow air circulation. Be careful don't set seedlings in direct sun put thin mash or cloth over seedlings the first few days. Don't let the seed pan dry out at any time. The seed pots can also be put into the big plastic freezer bags, and closed with a clothes peg, this has the advantage that you are creating a microcosm in the bag, you don't have to water at all, because there is no evaporation. They can remain in the bags until firmly established.

The biggest problem with raising seedlings is to know when they are established, they are kept moist, but you run the big danger of damping off, ie the seedling rots off just above soil level, much to your dismay. I use some fungicide to prevent this, propriety "sporekill" "folicur" [very dilute], "bravo" with active ingredient Chlorotalonil 720 mg/l.

When transplanting individual seedlings keep them in small pots till much bigger, it also helps transplanting them when they are bigger. They can often remain in the pot for a year or two. Damping off is the biggest problem. If you are trying seeds for the first time, don't plant them all at once, do a few and see how they react, in some of the colder climates where summer is often just a day or two, you have a problem. The best way out of the problem is to sacrifice the fish from the big square fish aquarium in the lounge, keep the light under the canopy, get 1 or 2 under soil heaters they use for reptile tanks, they are water proof, level some sand on the base over the heaters, this will provide bottom heat, connect the thermostat to these heaters and adjust the temp to around 24 Celsius degrees. You can keep the light under the canopy, with this you can extend your daylight hours, and help heat the box.

Cuttings

This method is by far the quickest and also easiest. Remove the portion that you want as a cutting at a joint with the parent plant. Dust both cut ends with Flowers of Sulphur. Will prevent infection, most drug stores will have Flowers of Sulphur. After removal and dusting, let the cutting lie for a day or two to dry the cut ends; some will plant them immediately, good luck to them after 48 years in the game I have had my misfortunes; now there are some that just lay the cutting on the sand/growing medium, with a small stone to keep it down and in place, others plant it upright. You can often judge, if the plant has some roots, cover them, you know the parent's growth pattern and follow that. Don't be clever and use sea sand, it has no beneficial properties, it will only kill your cutting, but maybe that is what you had in mind. Keep the growing medium moist, not wet, when sufficiently rooted some now remove it from the rooting medium, if they used sand they will have to, otherwise you end up with a hydroponic sand culture of Stapeliads, if you used my mixture they can keep growing for as long a you like.

Grafting

Grafting is the union of the stem of one plant with that of another. Used if the plants are known not to do well with their own roots, especially Genus Quaqua, or if you think your cutting or piece of stem is to friable to root on its own.

It may be done with a flat or oblique cut. In the flat cut you simply make a cut at 90 degrees with the stem of the donor stem, and also the graft, so you have 2 flat surfaces. Wait for a short while for the sap to stop oozing from the cut surfaces, clean off excess sap, and stick the two cut surfaces together for a few moments, dust the join with Flowers of Sulphur to prevent infection. The stock must be of same diameter as graft it is easier. Often the bulb of Ceropegia linearis ssp woodii is used, a nice flat surface can be established, and one seldom has problems that the root stock shoots new shoots that have to be removed as soon as they form.

The oblique curt has the advantage that the two pieces are at a slant and they can be held together by grafting tape, a cactus spine can be pushed through the join. The best grafting time is during active growth, but if you are on the verge of loosing a important valuable plant, you are definitely not going to wait for the next growing season.

An example of a tested growing mixture

As I explained there is no one and only perfect growing medium, but the basis for any growing medium is drainage, I keep on telling friends that Stapeliads don't like excessive moisture around their feet, and please remember that Stapeliads can't swim, so sparsely with the water.

The mixture that I prefer is the following (a photo will help)


Back row, left to right: Vermiculite, Perlite, Ground Peat Moss;
Second row: well rotted stable saw dust, coarse ground sandstone, silica sand, used in swimming pool filters.
Front row: Bone meal, Fertilizer, green powder + Virikop.
Front right what the mixture looks like when finished.
  1. Vermiculite helps loosen soil, retains moisture, I only water once in 2 weeks;
  2. Perlite better water retention, more water in Perlite that Vermiculite, helps long term;
  3. Ground acid peat moss, Stapeliads prefer slight acid content in soil;
  4. Well rotted saw dust from stables, rich in urea, manure;
  5. Crushed sandstone, most Stapeliads grow on rocky outcrops or near to granite sandstone formations, I think there may be some trace elements etc. in the stone, and it keeps the soil loose.
  6. A very sterile silica sand, used in sand filters of swimming pools. Keeps soil loose helps drainage.
  7. Good general garden compost, nutrients ++
  8. Ground bone meal fertilizer additive, a small hand full consists of N 4%; P 9.5%: Ca 20%, with additional Mg, Mn, Zn, Fe, Cu, K.
  9. Fertilizer. Small hand full, contains Grams/kilo of the following: N:75, P:52.4, K:130, C:170.2, Si: 52.4, Mg: 31.5, Fe: 20.0, S: 3.0, B: 1.2, Zn: 9.45, Mn: 3.2, Cu: 0.12, Mo: 0.08.
  10. Virikop powder, Copper oxychloride 850mg/kg, equivalent to 500 mg/Kg. Copper metal, a systemic fungicide, I don't have losses from fungus, just over watering then it may rot.

The above ingredients I take 1 measure of each, a cup, a tin, a wheelbarrow, in other words equal amounts, except the fungicide 1 tablespoon, the bone meal a handful more or less, fertilizer a hand full more or less.

The Magic Viljoen Mixture is a very loose mixture, with plenty of nourishment for the plants, when I water I always use a fertilizer dissolved in the water. Just in case we run short. If I could I would prefer to use rain water, the salts from chemically treated municipal water build up in the soil, so they say, it may be harmful.

Young roots form very easy and very quickly, I often have roots in the first week, depending on the plant. Roots don't have a problem penetrating the substrate

Other growers use a lot of Pumice, I cant even obtain pumice in RSA, in Italy they are more fortunate, especially if you live near Vesuvius.

I don't say this is it, but each individual must adapt to his/her circumstances and virtually play it by ear, you literally "must hear the Stapeliads hum".

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