Members of the genus Ceropegia are characterized by tubular
flowers specially adapted for the temporary capture of insects for
pollination purposes. The variety of structures and hairs, the coloration
and the pollination strategies make this a fascinating group of
Ceropegia woodii is probably the best-known climbing house
plant from South Africa and is cultivated world-wide as a container
plant. It produces tubers above ground that make it easy to reproduce
vegetatively. In contrast, C. ampliata produces fleshy roots
from a rootstock. Although C. ampliata has flowers at least
three times longer and about four times as wide, like most other
ceropegias, it is seldom cultivated and is grown mainly by collectors.
Auriol Batten (1988) has illustrated this exquisite plant magnificently
in her book Flowers of southern Africa.
Ceropegia ampliata is a perennial twiner or scrambler with
a succulent stem arising from a fleshy, tuberous rootstock. Plants
occasionally branch at the nodes and can grow up to 2 m and more
in length. The stems are hairless and sometimes have longitudinal
grooves. The plants have fleshy tuft roots from germinating seed
or fibrous roots form at the nodes where the stem touches the soil
surface. Leaves are borne on terminal growth; they are very small,
up to about 3 mm long, and are lanceolate or heart-shaped. The leaves
are shed early and the stem is the main organ used for photosynthesis.
Flowers are produced at each node, 2-4 together, opening one after
the other. The corolla is tube-shaped, with segments at the end
of the tube. These segments are joined at their tips to form a cage-like
structure. The tube is straight or slightly curved, with an inflation
at the base. The tube is pale green to white or white with green
longitudinal stripes and with a narrow purple band around the mouth
of the basal inflation on the inside. The corolla tube and segments
are 50-70 mm long. Plants flower mainly between December and March.
Fruit bodies (follicles) are rarely produced and are usually green,
sometimes speckled purplish. The follicles are usually in pairs,
but very often only one of them develops and the other is aborted.
Each follicle contains numerous seeds and as the fruit bursts open
when it dries out, the seeds are dispersed by floating on the wind
with their tufts of silky white hairs.
Distribution and habitat
Bushman's pipe is commonly found on dry, stony hillsides, twining
in other vegetation. The plant is found in the Limpopo Province,
Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and southern parts of
the Western Cape, extending northwards as far as Tanzania. It also
occurs in Madagascar.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus name Ceropegia is derived from the Greek words
keros, which means wax, and pege, which means streams
or fountains, alluding to the fact that many species have waxy flowers.
The epithet ampliata is derived from the Latin word that
means to be enlarged.
In 1830 J.F. Drège was the first person to collect Ceropegia
ampliata. The specimen came from the Peddie area of the Eastern
Cape where the plant was found in bush scrub of the Lower Great
Fish River Valley. It was subsequently described by E.H.F. Meyer
in 1837. On the same collecting expedition, Drège collected
at least two other new ceropegias as well.
Ceropegia ampliata is one of the more common and more easily
recognizable species in the genus. At the northern distribution
limits (Tanzania) the variety oxyloba H.Huber and in Madagascar,
the subspecies madagascariensis Lavranos, are separated.
In South Africa, only the typical species are recognized, with considerable
variation in robustness, size of the flowers and shape of the corona.
Other species with attractive flowers and foliage that could also
easily be grown, include Ceropegia radicans, C. carnosa and
Flies generally pollinate ceropegias. The special tubular structure
of the flowers is specifically adapted to capture the pollinators.
On the inside of the tube (especially at the mouth before the basal
inflation) hairs are found, all of them directed downwards. When
a pollinator enters the cage and moves down the tube, the stiff
hairs make it difficult, if not impossible, to move out again. The
insect is thus almost forced to move further down where a very specialized
structure containing the pollen mass is housed. In the flower, pollen
sacks get attached to the bodies of the pollinators. After about
four days, the flowers start to wilt. When this happens, the hairs
become lax and the pollinator can leave its cage, pollination taking
place when it enters another flower.
The few follicles that form are evidence of the specialized pollination
strategy. Each follicle, however, produces a large amount of seed.
The seeds are mainly wind-distributed and are dispersed by floating
on the gentlest breeze with their parachute-like tufts of white
This species, like most ceropegias, are widespread but with low
population densities. When not flowering, the plant is very difficult
to detect among the surrounding vegetation.
Uses and cultural aspects
No information is known on the natural use of this species by indigenous
people. Many other members of this genus, however, produce tubers
that are edible and used as a survival food.
This plant is mainly a collectable and grown as a container plant.
Growing Ceropegia ampliata
ampliata is best used as a container plant under roofed patios
(lapas), on verandas, balconies of flats or any other place in and
around the house where space is restricted. Unfortunately, despite
their beauty, the flowers do produce an unpleasant scent, which
attracts flies acting as pollination agents. The strength of the
scent is very variable and in some plants it is undetected by the
Like most indigenous species, except C. woodii, C. ampliata
is not generally available at nurseries. It is produced mainly by
collectors of these novelty species and is available from a few
nurseries specializing in succulent plants.
In its natural environment, root development is stimulated when
the nodes touch the soil. The plant is thus easily grown from cuttings.
Make sure the cutting contains a few nodes, let it dry out for a
few days after which it can be planted. If available, plants can
also be easily grown from seed. Make sure that the seeding medium
is well drained and keep the seed wet until they germinate after
about two weeks. Be sure to treat the seedlings for damping off
and fungal infections.
A light sandy soil with a little compost and good drainage will
give satisfactory results in growing the plant. Take care not to
be too lavish with artificial fertilizers and water plants sparingly.
It naturally occurs mainly in summer-rainfall areas, so be sure
to give it a resting period by withholding water in winter.
As with most stapeliads, ceropegias are also prone to infestation
by mealy bugs, woolly aphids and red spider. Woolly aphids usually
attack the roots and this causes secondary infection by a fungus
(black) rot that may easily destroy plants. Environmentally friendly
or chemical treatments for all these diseases are described and
listed in the Kirstenbosch Gardening Series on growing succulents.
References and further reading
- Batten, A. 1988. Flowers of southern Africa. Southern Book Publishers,
- Dyer, R.A. 1980. Asclepiadaceae (Brachystelma, Ceropegia, Reocreuxia).
Flora of southern Africa 27, part 4. Botanical Research
Dyer, R.A. 1983. Ceropegia, Brachystelma and Riocreuxia in
southern Africa. Balkema, Rotterdam.
- Fabian, A. & Germishuizen, G. 1997. Wildflowers of northern
South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
- Oliver, I.B. 1998. Grow succulents-a guide to the species,
cultivation and propagation of South African succulents. Kirstenbosch
Gardening Series. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Onderstall, J. 1984. Transvaal Lowveld and Escarpment including
the Kruger National Park. South African Wildflower Guide 4.
Botanical Society of South Africa.
- Van Jaarsveld, E. 1999. Indigenous house plants-climbers and
trailers. Veld & Flora 85: 34-36.
Stoffel Petrus Bester
National Herbarium, Pretoria