Ceropegia ampliata


Family: Apocynaceae (Asclepiadaceae)
Common names:
Bushman's pipe (Eng.); Boesmanpypblom (Afr.)


Ceropegia ampliata

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 plants.

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.

Close up of flower 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 C. rendalii.



C carnosa


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 hairs.

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

Plant growing in pot.Ceropegia 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 human nose.

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, Johannesburg.
  • Dyer, R.A. 1980. Asclepiadaceae (Brachystelma, Ceropegia, Reocreuxia). Flora of southern Africa 27, part 4. Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria.
    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.

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