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History, description, cultivation, soil, sun exposure, care, informations and curiosity about genus Conophytum.

by: Divisione divulgazione12/03/2013

The Conophytum is a genus of succulent plants currently including about 150 species and is a native of South Africa and Namibia. Some scientists tend to consider the family of Aizoaceae, to which this genus belongs, as a subgroup of the family of Mesembryanthemaceae; but the most accepted trend is to consider them as two distinct genera, although there are some similarities between them. Plants are small, common, easily recognizable because of their unique appearance and not so difficult cultivation.

A bit of history

The genus Conophytum was created in 1922 by the British botanist N. E. Brown and initially comprised about 450 taxa of species, subspecies and varieties; the revision came relatively recently (1994) by the hand of the botanist S. Hammer: he unified some species previously identified with synonyms or local micro-variants, and led to the current classification system. The name comes from the Latin word "conus" (cone) and the greek word "phytum" (plant), a representation of the special conical shape of these seedlings. The genus is very diverse and includes species with very different characteristics.


These plants are perennial, the size is small or very small (from a few mm to 2-3 cm), they have a tendency to frequently offset forming compact bushes several tens of cm big and about 10 cm high: this morphology takes the name of "pulvini" and is the form most efficient to live in arid environments and very exposed positions (the low ratio of exposed surface area and volume maximizes moisture retention). Other species instead tend to develop under the surface of the soil and only their apex, often transparent, is visible: these species do not form the pulvini and the bodies are cylindrical or conical with the apex pointing upwards. The stems are short, fleshy, sometimes covered by protective hairs and the epidermis may be unicolor, spotted or striped. All species have a central fissure from which the flower grows (day or night blooming depending on the plant, often resembling a daisy) and new foliar pairs.


The Conophytum vegetate during the winter season. They must then be kept dry during hot, gradually wet upon autumn arrival: the moisture stimulate the release of new root hairs and the plant will grow for the entire winter season, foliar issuing new pairs from inside the existing ones. Flowering usually occurs in autumn and the color of the flowers is extremely variable from species to species. The cultivation is quite easy, but care must be taken to avoid excess water and to prevent rot: the plants themselves communicate their water needings with a slight wrinkling of the epidermis. They do not particularly fear the cold weather and can resist also at temperatures of -5°C, as long as the soil is completely dry and the temperature returns rapidly to rise. Propagation can be made from seed or by cuttings: seed germination is quite easy (see the germination rate of our seeds), but the young seedlings are very sensitive to humidity and need a special and constant care and constant to raise them correctly.


The types of soil suitable to this genus are various and different for each species because of the great diversity of different specimens; the common feature is, however, the high drainage capacity and good porosity. The plant emits short, thin, branching roots, which possess a good ability to regenerate themselves: hence the size of the pots must be minimized.

Sun exposure

The Conophytum require a very bright environment and even a few hours of full sun, in cooler moments of the day to avoid sunburn. At the end of the dormant season the plants must gradually accustomed to the increase of brightness. Is also necessary to allow good air circulation to dry any excess moisture and prevent collar rot.


There are still extensive studies on genus Conophytum, especially on the pollen and the capacity of roots to deteriorate and regenerate quickly. In addition, gender is typically mountainous and many of the endemic areas are still inaccessible or unexplored, so that many tens of species are thought to be still undiscovered.


Conophytum ConophytumConophytum






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