Tylecodon paniculatus is a stocky, caudiciform, arborescent
succulent that occurs over a wide area. The plant is found from
Eastern Cape near Steytlerville in the Little Karoo, along the southern
and western Cape coastline and as far north as the Auas Mountains
in central Namibia. Tylecodon paniculatus is common in the
Worcester/Robertson Karoo, the Bushmanland area and northern Namaqualand.
The plant appears to have wide tolerance of growing habitats, growing
in weathered rock in the north to coastal sands in the south. The
plants can reach heights of 2 m making them the largest of the tylecodons.
Tylecodon paniculatus is summer deciduous. The plants conserve
energy by photosynthesizing through their "greenish stems"
during the hot dry summer months. The yellowish green, papery bark
is a very attractive feature of this plant and has given rise to
the common name. During the winter, plants are covered with long,
obovate, succulent leaves clustered around the apex of the growing
long reddish orange, tubular flowers are borne in upright racemes
at the onset of summer in November each year, just as the leaves
turn yellow and drop off. In nature the plants tend to grow in groups,
making a spectacular show when they flower. The seeds, which are
very fine, are released from seed capsules during the autumn (March/April)
just in time for the winter rains. In summer rainfall areas, flowering
times and subsequent seed maturation may be delayed by a few months.
The shrub is reported to have a surprisingly weak and shallow root
system for its size.
The attractive, bright flowers are bird pollinated. The flowers
contain nectar protected by a tuft of hairs halfway up the inside
of the corolla tube. These hairs are easily pushed aside by the
bird's beak, and lesser double-collared sunbirds have been observed
visiting the flowers. Hybrids of T. paniculata and related
species have been reported.
The genus Tylecodon is an anagram of the original genus
Cotyledon. It was the taxonomist Tölken who described
this new genus in Bothalia 12 (1978). The genus Tylecodon,
of which there are 45 species, is divided into two groups: dwarf
to small shrubby species and the medium to large species. The various
Tylecodon species are endemic mainly to the dry western areas
of South Africa and Namibia.
The botterboom is poisonous to stock, causing 'krimpsiekte'. In
the past, the smooth, slippery stems were sometimes used to slide
or ski at great speed down smooth rock faces or dam walls, adrenaline
rushes before the days of bungy jumping!
Growing Tylecodon paniculatus
Tylecodon paniculatus makes a wonderful pot plant. They
are striking feature plants, ideal subjects for sunny, dry courtyards
and water wise gardens.
This species can be cultivated either by seed or by cuttings. Growing
from seed (sexual propagation) is a long process and it will be
many years before one has plants of any size.
The seed is very fine and light brown in colour. The seed takes
about 4 months to mature. The easiest way of harvesting seed is
to cut the branched fruiting bodies in late March (autumn in the
southern the hemisphere). Allow the seed capsules to open in a closed
paper bag. This will ensure the seed is not lost through wind or
Sow the seed in a seed box. DO NOT cover the seeds. Simply sow
the seeds in a coarse sand topping, with a well-drained substrate
underneath. Water with a fine mister or a fogger once a week during
winter and once a month in summer. The seeds will germinate readily
during the cooler period of the year. After about two years, the
young plants will be about 2-3 cm in height and can be pricked out
and planted in bags. Always ensure that plants are grown in a well-drained
To grow from cuttings (asexual propagation) select cutting material
at least 3 cm in diameter. Place cuttings in a sharp quartzite substrate
and use bottom heat if the winters are very cold. The cuttings usually
take about one year to form a strong root system. Plant these cuttings
in well-drained soil. Give them a sunny position.
- COURT, D. 2000. Succulent flora of southern Africa, revised
edn. Balkema, Rotterdam.
- BARKHUIZEN, B. P. 1978. Vetplante van Suidelike Afrika.
- HENDERSON, M. 1953. Cotyledon paniculata. The Flowering Plants
of Africa 29: t. 1142.
- BURGER, S. 2002. Poisonous plants 2: Botterboom. Farmers
Weekly,1 March: 28.
- GESS, S. et al. 1998. Birds, wasps and tylecodons: pollination
strategies of two members of the genus Tylecodon in Namaqualand.
Veld & Flora 84: 56, 57.
Ian Oliver & Yvonne Reynolds
Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens