Huernia pendula

Family : Apocynaceae
Common names
: bootlace huernia (Eng.); skoenveter-aasblom (Afr.); imitya (Xhosa)

Huernia pendula growing on a shale cliff near Bolo Reserve along the Kei River
Huernia pendula growing on a shale cliff
near Bolo Reserve along the Kei River.

Huernia pendula is a cliff hanger with rope-like leafless branches and bowl-shaped pendent flowers confined to dry river valleys in the Eastern Cape. It thrives in cultivation (containers, green walls) in light shady conditions.

Stems succulent, leafless, very obscurely 4-angled, cylindrical, 5–8 mm in diameter, up to 900 mm long, jointed (articulated) at nodes, sparsely to densely branched, initially erect or prostrate, becoming pendulous, growing pendent from rock faces, often filling crevices and rooting where stems touch the ground, green sometimes purplish-mottled, becoming greyish green. During the dry season, the stems become light brown to purplish. Inflorescence 3- or 4-flowered (subsessile cymes) towards base of stem and lateral branches. Flowers pendulous, opening successively; pedicels short, up to 8 mm long. Corolla bowl-shaped 10-15 x 8-10 mm, lobes ascending to spreading, up to 5-7 mm in diameter, 5-6 mm long, dark maroon on inside, densely papillate. Fruit paired, fusiform (spindle-shaped) follicles.

Close-up of the flowers of Huernia pendula (cultivated plants)
Close-up of the flower of
Huernia pendula (cultivated plants)

Conservation status
Classified as Rare (Raimondo et al. 2009), this species is well protected by its cliff-face habitat. It is also well established in cultivation (ex situ conservation).

The Kei River and its cliffs habitat
The Kei River and its cliffs habitat
of Huernia pendula

Distribution and habitat
Confined to the Eastern Cape, growing in dry river valleys from the Kei River in the south to the Mbashe River in the north. The habitat consists mainly of inaccessible sheer shale cliffs (Emakwezini Formation, Beaufort Group, Karoo Supergroup), and the plants grow in crevices sharing their habitat with other species such as Cotyledon woodii, Gasteria excelsa, Haworthia glabrata, H. cymbiformis var. setulifera, Cotyledon orbiculata, Bulbine natalensis and B. thomasiae. Summers are hot with cooler winters (frost absent). The average daily maximum temperature is 28°C and the average daily minimum 12°C. Rainfall occurs mainly in summer (thunder showers), ranging from 300 – 800 mm per annum. Huernia pendula grows in the Eastern Valley Bushveld of the Savanna Biome (Mucina et al. 2005).

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Huernia was named (and misspelt) by R. Brown in 1809 in honour of Justus Heurnius, a Dutch missionary who recorded the first two succulents on South African soil when he briefly visited the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Peninsula) on the ship Gouda in 1624. These were Cotyledon orbiculata and Orbea variegata (see Gunn & Codd 1981). The spelling of Huernia, instead of Heurnia, is irrevocable due to international nomenclature ruling.

Huernia pendula was named by Eileen A. Bruce in 1951 from plants collected by Mr. G.G. Smith and Miss C. Latimer at the Bolo Reserve near Ngancule along the Kei River in 1938 and again in 1949. According to Miss Bruce this plant was first noticed in 1919 by Mr. King, a storekeeper at Ngamakwe and keen grower and lover of indigenous plants. Miss Bruce also recorded the Xhosa name for the plant: “Imitya”, meaning bootlaces. The species epithet 'pendula' (Latin) pertains to the pendent growth of the stems. The cylindrical rope-like pendent stems are unique in the genus Huernia in South Africa. Many of the about 70 Huernia species have square or angled stems and are confined to Africa and Arabia. Other Huernia species recorded from sheer cliffs in southern Africa include Huernia leachii (Mozambique, Malawi) and H. procumbens (Limpopo Province, South Africa), all having roundish rope-like stems.

Flowering from spring to midsummer. Flowers with scent of decaying meat and mainly pollinated by flies. The seeds borne in follicles, when opening release many seeds, each attached to its own parachute and dispersed by wind.

Huernia pendula flowers
Close up of Huernia pendula flower

Uses and cultural aspects
Used mainly as a pot plant or occasionally grown out-of-doors in rockeries.

Growing Huernia pendula

Close up of the stems of Huernia pendula of a plant grown in a container
Close up of the stems of Huernia pendula of a plant grown in a container.

Huernia pendula is one of the easiest stapeliad species to grow. They require partial shade for best results. Ideal for steep embankments, hanging baskets or rockeries in Thicket and Bushveld Gardens (Van Jaarsveld 2010). Water well but allow soil to dry out before watering again (spring to autumn). Huernia pendula can also be grown in miniature succulent gardens, thriving when growing together with other succulent plants.

Plants easily grown from cuttings or by division and thriving in a sandy, humus-rich soil in cultivation. Use a general succulent mix such as 2 parts sand, 1 part garden loam and 1 part compost. Add ample bone meal, and the plants can also be fed with an organic fertilizer. Cuttings are best rooted in sand. The best time is during spring or summer, and plants should be kept partially shaded. Once rooted, plants can be transferred to containers. They can also be grown from seed planted in a well-drained soil. Broadcast seeds on the medium and cover with a thin layer of sand 2–3 mm thick.

Plants are relatively disease-free but rapidly succumb to fungal rot when kept too moist. Mealy bug can also be troublesome but is easily controlled by an insecticide. When grown as a pot plant, it is best to replant annually in fresh soil at the end of the resting season (early spring).

References and further reading

  • Bruce, E.A. 1951. Huernia pendula. The Flowering Plants of Africa 28: t. 1108.
  • Bruyns, P.V. 2005. Stapeliae of southern Africa and Madagascar, vol. 1. Umdaus Press, Hatfield.
  • Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. 1981. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Mucina, L. & Rutherford, M.C. (eds) 2006. The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Strelitzia 19. South African National Biodiversity Institute. Pretoria.
  • Pilbeam, J. Stapeliads. 2010. The British Cactus & Succulent Society.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helm, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A., Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Van Jaarsveld, E.J. 2010. Waterwise gardening in South Africa and Namibia. Struik Cape Town.


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