polita is a recently discovered species that is both attractive
and easy to grow.
Gasterias are aloe-like plants, in fact they belong in the same
family, Aloaceae. They are drought-tolerant, leaf succulents, and
most species are confined to the south eastern part of South Africa.
Description: Gasteria polita plants are small, solitary,
stemless rosettes up to 120 mm high and 250 mm in diameter, occasionally
proliferating from the base to form small clusters. Each rosette
is made up of short, shiny, distinctly keeled leaves, each one triangularly
strap-shaped, first ascending then becoming spreading, 60-120 x
The leaf margin and the keel are studded with prominent white tubercles
(wart-like growths) and the blunt leaf ends also have tubercles.
The juvenile leaves are smooth, strap-shaped and presented in opposite
The inflorescence is a simple raceme up to 600 mm long, although
some adult plants may bear a pair of side branches. The individual
flowers are tubular, 35 mm long and 6 mm in diameter. They are reddish
pink with the upper half white with green striations (fine lines).
Flowering season is in summer (end of October to December). The
fruiting capsule is 24 x 7 mm, and the seeds it produces are black,
3-4 x 2-3 mm.
Distribution: Gasteria polita is the only gasteria
solely confined to afro-temperate forest habitat and is known only
from the Plettenberg Region in the eastern end of Western Cape.
Most other species are confined to thicket, succulent karoo and
dry savannah. G. polita occurs on rocky outcrops in scrub
forest and grows in sandstone rock crevices in the shade of thickets
or in humus-rich rock pockets. It shares its habitat with other
succulents such as Aptenia cordifolia, volstruisnek (Euphorbia
clava), brosplakkie (Adromischus inamoenus), rooistingelplakkie
(Crassula rubricaulis), C. nudicaulis, C. cultrata,
sosatieplakkie (C. perforata), money-plant (Plectranthus
verticillatus), fransaalwyn (Aloe pluridens) and the
kraal aloe (A. arborescens). Non-succulent shrubs and small
trees include baviaanskers (Euclea polyandra), gonnabos (Passerina
falciformis), Psyderax obovata, Ochna serrulata
and Maerua raemulosa. It is closely related to G. acinacifolia,
a larger coastal species from the Strandveld regions between Knysna
and East London. It is the small size of G. polita that immediately
distinguishes it from the larger G. acinacifolia.
Derivation of the name: The genus name Gasteria is
from the Greek, gaster, meaning belly, and alludes to the
swollen base of the perianth tube. The specific epithet, polita,
literally means polished and refers to its dark, mottled leaves
which have a polished appearance. Gasterias are locally known by
the common name ox tongue (beestongblaar in Afrikaans), because
of their tongue-shaped leaves.
Gasteria polita was only recently discovered by the forester
Mr Rynhard Kok at Whisky Creek near Plettenberg Bay in Western Cape
and was described by Van Jaarsveld (2001). It is one of the 19 known
Gasteria species, all of which are endemic to southern Africa.
Growing Gasteria polita
Although most gasterias perform well as pot plants in cultivation,
Gasteria polita is particularly easily cultivated, thanks
to its native habitat. It occurs on sandstone outcrops in slightly
acid, humus-rich soil in an area that receives a high rainfall throughout
the year. To survive here, plants have to tolerate disturbances
by forest herbivores such as bushpig, porcupine and bushbuck. As
a result, broken leaf fragments root readily when dropped on the
forest floor, proliferating to form new plants. The plants are also
adapted to low light intensity which makes them perfect to grow
in our homes. Gasteria roots are usually sensitive to fusarium root
rot brought about by excessive watering, but G. polita is
remarkably resistant to this fungus, again thanks to its adaptation
to the moist forest habitat and fog from low clouds, and will tolerate
over-watering as long as the pots are well drained.
Gasteria polita can be used as a pot plant on window sills
or on verandas, or outside in a rockery provided that frost is not
severe. They prefer partial or dappled shade, so plant them on the
shady side of rocks or underneath shrubs. They grow well in combination
with other succulent plants. Plants can be given an annual dressing
of compost placed on top of the soil. Any organic fertilizer may
be used if compost is not available. Gasteria polita is tolerant
of a wide range of soil and also grows well in the winter rainfall
Western Cape gardens where it should be occasionally moistened during
the dry summer months.
Propagation: Gasteria polita is easily propagated
from leaf cuttings or seed.
Seed: Cross pollination of Gasteria polita flowers
is essential for the production of viable seed. In habitat the nectar-rich,
tubular flowers are pollinated by sunbirds but in cultivation, particularly
in a nursery, cross pollination must be done by man. To pollinate,
mimic the action of the sunbird, i.e. find a small stick, like a
sharpened match-stick, gently insert it into a flower on one plant
then transfer the pollen that rubs off onto the stick onto the stigma
of a flower on another plant. Capsules abort very soon if the flowers
are not pollinated or if pollination was unsuccessful. Seed should
be sown during spring or summer. Sow in a sandy, well-drained potting
soil using standard seed trays. Cover with a thin layer of sand
(1-2 mm), place in a warm, shady position and keep moist. Germination
occurs within 3 weeks. The seedlings are slow growing, and can be
planted out into individual bags as soon as they are large enough
to handle. Flowering occurs within 3 to 4 years.
Cuttings: Gasteria polita can also be propagated by
leaf cuttings. After removing a leaf from the adult plant, let it
lie for about 1 month for the leaf to form healing tissue. Then
lay it on its side with the basal parts in potting soil. These should
root within a month or two and small plants will form at their bases.
These can be planted out as soon as they are large and firm enough
- VAN JAARSVELD, E.J. 2001. Gasteria polita, a new species
from the Western Cape. Cactus & Succulent Journal (US)
- VAN JAARSVELD, E.J. 1994. Gasterias of South Africa.
Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
Ernst van Jaarsveld
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden