Ruschia maxima is one of the largest species in its genus. It has characteristically larger leaves than most other vygies and is crowned as the giant mountain vygie.
This large erect perennial shrub can spread more than 1 m. The branches are woody and tough with short internodes. It also has very large, opposite, three-side leaves with a reddish tint on the leaf tips.
The flowers are small with purple petals with a cone of stamens. When flowering, the plant is covered in sweet-scented flowers. Flowering can take place at any time of the year, but most Ruschia species flower from September to November.
Mature fruits of this plant are small, hard and contain 4 or 5 locules.
The root system is fibrous and shallow, an adaptation for the uptake of moisture from mist or a light drizzle.
This species is not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
This species is widespread in South Africa, ranging from the south of Namibia to the east of South Africa, including Gauteng. It also occurs in the Western Cape near the coast and inland towards Clanwilliam and the Bobbejaansberge, at altitudes of 300–800 m. A lot of specimens have been found on north-facing slopes and they can tolerate rainfall ranging from less than 100 mm to 800 mm per year. Ruschia maxima can tolerate frost and fires. It is found in different habitats and grows in all kinds of soil, derived from sandstone, quartzite, clay and shale.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Ruschia was named after a farmer, Mr. Ernst Rusch, of the farm Lichtenstein, near Windhoek (Namibia). There are more or less 51 species in this genus. Ruschia can easily be mistaken for Lampranthus or Drosanthemum, which all fall under the same family, Mesembryanthemaceae (Aizoaceae). Lampranthus and Drosanthemum have much bigger flowers and a wider colour range than Ruschia . Ruschia maxima, however, is the largest amongst the Ruschia species.
The showy bright colours of these plants attract their main pollinators which are insects (bees, butterflies and beetles).
Mature seed capsules are hard and have a unique way of dispersing the seeds. The capsules are adapted perfectly to desert conditions, as they only open when conditions are favourable for germination. The capsules are hygrochastic, in other words, when it rains the capsules open and the rain drops disperse the seeds a distance away from the mother plant. This method of dispersal results in a higher rate of germination.
Ruschias are not known to be grazed by livestock and dominate parts of the Succulent Karoo. The leaves turn rusty-brown in dry periods of the year, preventing the plant from overheating. The thick and fleshy leaves also store water in time of drought.
Uses and cultural aspects
Little is known about the medicinal value of these plants.
Ruschia maxima is a good water-wise plant and is suitable for arid or semi-arid gardens. It does well in cultivation and can make the ideal pot plant.
Growing Ruschia maxima
Ruschia maxima can easily be propagated from cuttings or seed. Heel cuttings (where a piece of stem tissue is attached) must be made during the warmer seasons with sterilized secateurs and in a medium which is well aerated, like coarse river sand. Apply a rooting hormone to stimulate root growth.
Sow seeds in February or March in a well drained medium consisting of 2 parts coarse river sand, 2 parts fine, sieved compost and 1 part perlite. When sowing, do not overcrowd the tray that you are sowing in, so that your seedlings do not have to compete for nutrients. The transfer of fungal diseases is also minimised. Treat the soil medium with a antifungal agent for maximum results.
Ruschia maxima looks great in a rockery or desert garden and can also be used as a border. The whole plant is covered in flowers during the flowering period; this makes it an ideal plant as a focal point in the garden. Care should be taken, because root hairs can die off if not watered regularly.
References and further reading
- Cowling, R. & Pierce, S. 2002. Namaqualand: A succulent desert. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.Herre, H. 1971. The genera of the Mesembryanthemaceae. Tafelberg-Uitgewers, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Nichols, G. 2005. Growing rare plants: a practical handbook on propagating the threatened plants of southern Africa. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 36. SABONET, Pretoria.
- Rowley, G.D. 1980. Name that succulent . Stanley Thornes, Cheltenham, UK.Smith, G.F. & Van Wyk, B.-E. Garden succulents . 2008. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Karoo Desert NBG