This somewhat ferocious-looking succulent gets its name, tiger jaws, from the appearance of the toothed, triangular shaped leaves which seem to drip with ‘saliva' and are held ajar in a menacing poise. The eye-catching leaves, together with the large yellow flowers, certainly make this plant a striking addition to the home as a potted plant or as a feature in a rockery garden.
Faucaria tigrina is a small, stemless succulent, about 80 mm in diameter. The triangularly shaped leaves arise in pairs from the centre of the plant and bear long soft, threadlike teeth along the margins. The leaves vary in colour in response to sunlight, from light to dark green, or pinkish red to purple. Small white spots decorate the leaves and give it a rough surface. Sometimes the old leaves can form a kind of stem in older specimens.
The flowers are large, yellow and appear from autumn to winter. Seeds are borne in hard fruit capsules, characteristic of the Aizoaceae family.
Faucaria tigrina has only four remaining subpopulations left in the wild and is facing continued threat due to urban development and over-grazing. It has therefore been listed as Endangered in the Red List of South African Plants .
Distribution and habitat
Faucaria tigrina is found only within the Albany Thicket of the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. This subtropical vegetation type is comprised of thorny, impenetrable thickets, interspersed with small open areas, where F. tigrina occurs, growing among rocks in the shade of surrounding vegetation. Temperatures rarely drop below 0°C in winter, and summer and autumn maximum temperatures are between 22 and 32°C with plenty of sunlight hours.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The first documented discovery of Faucaria tigrina was during an expedition in 1789 by Francis Masson, who was sent to the Cape by the King of England to collect plants for Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. The specimens of F. tigrina were sent to Adrian Haworth, a gardener at Kew, who recognised them as a new species. The genus name comes from the Latin word faux meaning jaw and tigrina for tiger. The genus has 33 species in total, all occurring within the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa.
The long, white, sabre-like teeth of Faucaria tigrina are actually not used for defence at all. The threadlike structures are special adaptations that help to collect water vapour from the surrounding air and direct it down toward the roots of the plant. Fog blows in from the coast to provide water vapour, a precious water source for plants surviving in the hot, subtropical thickets of the Eastern Cape.
Uses and cultural aspects
Of all the Faucaria species, F. tigrina is the most popular horticultural subject, due to the fact that it is really easy to grow and its unusual, quirky appearance.
Growing Faucaria tigrina
The genus is a popular choice for the novice succulent grower, as it is easy and very satisfying to grow, with Faucaria tigrina being hailed as most rewarding of them all.
Propagate F. tigrina from seed by using a soil mixture comprised of two parts sterilised potting soil, one part pumice sieved to 3 mm, and one part sand. Before sowing, the soil mixture should be heated for two hours at 70°C and left for a week. Place the soil mixture in small pots of about 60×60 mm. Sow the seeds in autumn and cover very lightly with river sand, no deeper than the length of the seed itself. Soak the pots in distilled water and cover the tops with a transparent sheet of plastic to create a moist environment for germination. Loosen the plastic cover after four days and after the sixth day remove the cover completely. Seedlings will start emerging within seven days. Water the seedlings twice daily with a fine mist to which a diluted amount of fertilizer has been added.
Transplant the seedlings only once the first true leaves are nicely established and make sure the taproot is transplanted straight and not twisted. Once fully established, water lightly but frequently, however, allow the plant to dry slightly between each successive watering as F. tigrina does not like prolonged dampness.
In winter the plants go dormant, therefore only water very occasionally and lightly during this time, mostly just to dust off the leaves and to help keep red spiders away.
Faucaria tigrina should be pest free if looked after and grown in a peatless soil mix. The medium recommended for fully grown plants is two parts loam, one part coarse sand and one part pumice. Red spiders will be kept at bay if the plants are misted every day. To prevent seedlings being attacked by burrowing insects, mulch the seedlings with grit. This also helps to prevent algae. To be on the safe side, it is recommended to spray your plants twice a year with a systemic insecticide. As for fungal problems, F. tigrina should not succumb if given correct water and good air circulation. However, if part of the plant does rot, it is best to cut this part off entirely to stop the rot from spreading.
References and further reading
- Herre, H. 1971. The genera of the Mesembryanthmaceae. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Hammer, S. The New Mastering the Art of Growing Mesembs. Available online: https://files.nyu.edu/ms689/public/AGM.html. Accessed: 24/07/2020.
- Smith, G.F., Chesselet, P., Van Jaarsveld, E.J., Hartmann, H., Hammer, S., Van Wyk, B-E., Burgoyne, P., Klak, C. & Kurzweil, H. 1998. Mesembs of the world. Briza, Pretoria.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical garden