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Plant Highlight: Othonna capensis

Othonna capensis

January 2010

There are many methods employed by plants for coping with dry conditions, and storing moisture in swollen leaves or stems (that is, being a succulent) is one of these.  However, this strategy is little used in the daisy family, now called the Asteraceae, but formerly known as the Compositae.  This is a very large family found all around the world, with well over a thousand genera, but succulence is notable in only two of these:  Senecio and Othonna with plants such as the Othonna capensis.

Othonnas are mostly native to southern Africa, and they are particularly concentrated in the winter-rainfall areas of western South Africa and adjacent southern Namibia.  Many of them have succulent stems, with plump bases that make them attractive as bonsai subjects, but a few have succulent leaves.  One of the latter is Othonna capensis, a ground-hugging creeper with fat green leaves and small bright-yellow daisy flowers.  The term “capensis” means “from the Cape”, and is frequently used for plants originating in the southwest corner of Africa, near the Cape of Good Hope. This is the case with Othonna capensis, but it should be noted that some plants bearing this title come from other capes in other parts of the world.

Othonna capensis has branching slender stems which trail outward, rooting where they come into contact with soil.  The newer leaves look like light green jellybeans, while the older ones lower down on the stem are longer (up to about an inch, or 2½ cm) and resemble miniature chubby fingers.  This species is very free-flowering and is in bloom most of the year, but the flowers are particularly abundant in the winter months.  As with other daisies, the floral heads give the appearance of being a single flower, when in fact they are a cluster of tiny flowers.  These heads are about ½ inch (1¼ cm) across.