Tinospora fragosa is an amazing and peculiar succulent-stemmed
twiner with attractive heart-shaped leaves and red fruits. It is
easily grown and thrives in containers in partial shade or outdoors
in dry, frost-free, subtropical conditions in full sun.
This is a twining, succulent-stemmed, fast growing deciduous climber
with tuberous roots. Its branches are grey-green, up to 40 mm in
diameter, becoming brown with age. The green to grey-green leaves
are heart-shaped and 100 x 100 mm. The inflorescence consists of
false, drooping racemes up to 40 mm long. Its flowers are tiny creamy-greenish
and male and female flowers are formed on different branches. It
flowers in spring ( September to November). The female flowers are
followed by oval red fruit up to 10 mm in diameter. These ripen
during summer and autumn and are dispersed by frugatory birds. The
plants are long-lived and often locally abundant.
Aaron's rod is confined to dry subtropical regions of the northern
parts of Mpumalanga, Limpopo [Northern Province] and the North West
in South Africa as well as northern Namibia and Botswana. It occurs
in various soil types and is well suited for cultivation but should
be protected from frost. Although it can be grown in shady situations,
it prefers sunlight.
Tinospora fragosa was described by Dr Inez Verdoorn in 1962
from plants collected by Dr F. Z. van der Merwe (1894-1968), medical
inspector of schools, with an interest in Aloe, Ledebouria and
other indigenous plants. Its species name fragosa pertains
to its fragile stems. The latter have a tendency to produce weak
and thinner parts in its stems, fragmenting the plant into various
vegetative units, each of which can re-root and form new plants.
fragosa is a twiner in bushveld vegetation, often growing 10
metres or higher, hanging like a snake in trees. The habitat may
vary from flat, mountainous to dry river valleys. Temperatures are
high during summers with an average daily maximum of 28-29°C
and average daily minimum 16-17°C. Winters are cooler but frost
is absent or very light. Rainfall is mainly during summer and autumn,
ranging between 350-450 mm (mainly thunder showers).
Tinospora fragosa plants have the amazing ability (when detached
from the mother plant) of forming an aerial root which can grow
down from 10 m and more above ground before re-rooting and thus
re-establishing the plant. In their native dry bushveld habitat
the plants are often disturbed by big game such as kudu and elephants.
Instead of dying, the plant simply drops or grows a new "life
line" re-establishing itself. The root will only appear during
the rainy season and the rest of the plant will remain dormant,
as its first priority is rooting during the warm, wet season. This
solitary root is initially thin (1-1.5 mm in diameter) but once
established soon thickens.
growth rate is also very fast and can reach up to 10-250 mm per
day. When a branch is cut up in fragments of 200 mm and longer and
hung on a string during the summer or autumn, it should rapidly
form a survival root. The common name 'wonder plant' derived its
name from this vegetative survival ability. The name Aaron's rod
was given by Limpopo farmers. They observed the plant sprouting
from the air and it reminded them of the Biblical verses in Numbers
17:1-8 where the Israelites disputed the leadership of Aaron. Moses
ordered the rods of the 12 tribal leaders to be placed in the tabernacle.
Aaron's rod sprouted within a day upon which his leadership was
Tinospora fragosa is immediately distinguished from other
Tinospora species by its grey-green, thick, fleshy stems
bearing heart-shaped grey-green leaves. It is related to both T.
caffra and T. tenera which occurs in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
The stems of both these are much thinner, striated in T. tenera
and knobbly in T. caffra. The genus Tinospora consists
of about 40 twining species from tropical and subtropical regions.
They belong to the Menispermaceae family and all have this amazing
ability to form aerial roots.
Aaron's rod makes an unusual and interesting pot plant for verandas
or windowsills. Parts of the plant are also boiled up and used locally
as a medicinal bath for rheumatism and body pains.
Growing Tinospora fragosa
Tinospora fragosa is of horticultural importance and can
be grown as a pot plant on verandas or windowsills. Grow in a sandy
mixture, adding ample of bone meal and compost. Water only during
summer and provide a support for climbing. Aerial cuttings (deciduous
at this time) of about 250 mm and longer can be grown during late
winter. Hang or tie with string in a warm sunny situation. Usually
a single root will appear at along the lower end. Once the root
reaches the ground, level a normal container with potting soil can
be placed below and the plant will root itself. The root may take
some time to appear (summer to autumn). Seed can be sown in shallow
trays in the standard way. Cover lightly with a layer of sand (1-2
mm). Germination is within 4 weeks and the young plants can be planted
out as soon as they are big enough to handle. Plants can be seen
in the Botanical Society Conservatory at Kirstenbosch National Botanical
Tinospora fragosa thrives out of doors where frost is absent
or very light. It can be grown in dry bushveld gardens, along fences,
pergolas, rockeries or simply grown in trees. In frost-prone, colder
regions it thrives on windowsills, greenhouses or warm verandas.
VAN JAARSVELD, E.J. 2002. Tinospora In U. Eggli, Illustrated
handbook of succulent plants. Dicotyledons: 313. Springer,
Ernst van Jaarsveld