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Plant Highlight: Titanopsis calcarea

February 2016

The Ice Plant Family (Aizoaceae) is full of botanical marvels and oddities. A case in point is Titanopsis calcarea, from the arid interior of South Africa. With its bumpy-textured leaves, this species looks almost reptilian.

Titanopsis calcarea is a small plant, with compact rosettes of leaves measuring up to 2 inches in diameter (5 cm). In time, it forms a compact clump to 4 inches wide or more (10 cm). The spatulate leaves are often blue-green or grayish, but they can take on tinges of purple, orange or tan in strong light. Their texture is truly remarkable, with rounded warty bumps covering both surfaces of the upper portion of the leaves. This species is winter-flowering, and like many other kinds of ice plants, its flowers don’t open until the middle of the day. The flowers are yellow and about ¾ of an inch across (20 mm).

T. calcarea occurs in nature in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province and the Orange Free State. The plants are found in gravelly flat places with a limestone substrate, and they can blend in remarkably well with their pebbly surroundings. The rainfall is concentrated in the summer months, which is when the plants are in active growth.