Thursday, March 28, 2024

Chlorophytum angulicaule


Chlorophytum angulicaule is a local indigenous plant that belongs to the plant family Agavaceae. It is virtually unknown to the horticultural industry although it is closely related to the globally very well-known and popular Hen and Chickens or spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum, which is also native to the same region.

Flowers of Chlorophytum angulicaule 


Chlorophytum angulicaule is a fairly large plant that is easy to distinguish from the other local Chlorophytum species by its much lighter waxy green leaves, under the leaves the parallel veins are very well defined which are interspaced with light silverish bands of wax.

The leaves on my plants average out at 500mm in length and 30 mm wide. 

The flowers which are numerous that a borne on 1.2 m inflorescences measure 30 mm in both height and width.


Chlorophytum angulicaule  is mostly in found growing in the provinces Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northwest  Province,  in South Africa and has also been recorded from Mocuba in Mozambique.


Grows in full sun in grassland.

History of my plants

Way back in 2008 I was given an un-named tray of Chlorophytum seedlings of this plant, the mother plant having been found growing in grassland near to the Africa Centre the home of the  Africa Health Research Institute in Mtubatuba, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

I recently positively identified these plants at the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium which is located adjacent to the Durban Botanical Gardens as Chlorophytum angulicaule.

These seedlings which I planted in my garden in Mount Moreland grew very rapidly and soon I was able to propagate numerous plants by dividing the large robust rhizome.

Over the years I have given plants of  Chlorophytum angulicaule to a number of people who in turn have multiplied them and have passed them on in turn.


I have noted that in cultivation if watered Chlorophytum angulicaule will remain vegetative throughout the year but if allowed to dry out they do not die but simply become dormant in the winter until the spring rains arrive.

I have noted that Chlorophytum angulicaule grows equally well in the heavy black clay soils in Mount Moreland as they do in sandy soils provided that they are supplied with enough nutrients either in the form of compost or fertilizer.

Chlorophytum angulicaule produces large amounts of large white flowers throughout the year if they are watered and are provided with enough nutrients which attract a huge variety of native bees.


Chlorophytum angulicaule grows easily from seed, they can also be easily and rapidly multiplied by division of the large rhizome into fairly small pieces.

Use in ornamental landscaping.

Chlorophytum angulicaule is a ground cover plant that is very well suited to be used in ornamental horticulture in both gardens planted solely to local indigenous plants as well as to exotic ornamental plants.

Chlorophytum angulicaule is a neat and tidy plant that grows quickly and suppresses weeds very well.

It is also a very valuable addition to a wild indigenous garden and rehabilitation projects because of the large numbers and varieties of indigenous bees that it feeds.

written by Michael Hickman on 28.03.24

Friday, February 23, 2024

Aerangis mystacidii

 Aerangis mystacidii


Aerangis mystacidii is a fairly robust, small epiphytic angraecoid, with woody stems up to 30 mm long. Leaves spear-shaped, unequally bilobed and up to 150 mm long. They produce one to several lateral inflorescences, horizontal or hanging, up to 200 mm long.

Distribution and habitat.

Aerangis mystacidii is found in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. The plants are found most often in riverine forest, where they can occur in large numbers  often very low down near to, or overhanging water.

Distribution in South Africa

Aerangis mystacidii  if found growing along the east coast from central to northern Eastern Cape coast, up to northern KwaZulu Natal and inland through Mpumulanga into Limpopo.

Typical habitat

Fairly common in subtropical coastal and submontane forests, from sea level to 800m.


Aerangis mystacidii typically flower between February and June.  In Durban flower spikes start appearing with shortening day length in February, followed by  a pendulous inflorescence with white flowers tinged with pink, which open in May  lasting into June. The spur is long and slender, up to 80mm in length. The flowers are fragrant in the evening giving off an exotic perfume.

Aerangis mystacidii seedlings, if well cared for and have vigorous growth, produce their first blooms when they are fairly small.


Aerangis mystacidii  is very easy to grow , ideal for a beginner, which does best in low light conditions with very little or no direct sunlight. In extreme cases if the plants receive too much light or direct sunlight their leaves become very reduced and turn orange. 

They grow best on mounts where the roots get plenty of light and air movement and where the long pendulous inflorescences are free to hang.

Aerangis mystacidii  can also be grown on a grown medium of large chunks of bark in pots preferably the clear plastic pots used for growing Phalaenopsis. I have had great success growing then on cubes of both teak wood as well as balau wood when grown in pots. Unfortunately, when it comes to flowering time the pots need to be  placed on a stand to allow for the long pendulous inflorescence to develop fully without damage.


Aerangis mystacidii  will grow without feeding but will not flourish. On the other hand given regular feeding they put on strong lush growth and produce more flower spikes with more flowers per flower spike.

I feed my plants a regular feeding with a variety of liquid feeds being, Nitrosol, Seagro, Marinure Seaweed fertiliser which I feed at one quarter of the recommended dose rate, as well as black tea and rooibos tea.


Aerangis mystacidii  are very hardy plants that are very difficult to kill by poor cultural practices. For instance sometime between March 2021 and June 2021 I accidently watered my plants with rainwater contaminated with a herbicide that must have leached in minute amounts from the micropores in a plastic bucket I was storing it in.

By the time I saw the signs of herbicide poisoning on fast growing Begonia dregei and established the source of the poisoning most of my orchids had been contaminated. Slowly the affects of the herbicide poisoning became evident in particular the roots began to die and new roots were badly deformed. 

Photo of root damage  taken on 04 May 2022 plant one

Photo of root damage taken on 04 May 2022 plant two

Later flowering was affected, the plants producing deformed flowers that were dropped before opening. Slowly but surely most of my plants have begun to recover producing the first undeformed roots and un-deformed flower spikes.


Photo of root damage taken on ‎23 February 2024 plant one

Photo of root damage taken on ‎23 February 2024 plant two

 Lesson learned

The lesson I learned from this is that the growth of orchids are affected by very low dose rates of herbicides therefore also clearly very low dose rates of nutrients must also have an effect on the growth of orchid plants.

 written by Michael Hickman on 23.02.24

Friday, December 22, 2023

Peperomia retusa

 Peperomia retusa

Peperomia  a retusa is a small growing, creeping, succulent perennial herb belonging to the plant family Piperaceae.

Natural Distribution

The native range of Peperomia retusa is Tropical and Southern Africa and Madagascar.

In South Africa they occur in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Western Cape.


Peperomia retusa is a tiny ,succulent, creeping perennial herb, rooting at the nodes, often forming a dense carpet of glossy simple green leaves without stipules. The flowers are thread-like fleshy spikes, pale green in colour that do not at all look like flowers.

Both the flowers and seed can be seen on this inflorescence 


In South Africa Peperomia retusa is found growing on or near to ground as lithophytes on sheltered rocks covered with humus or as an epiphyte on trees covered in moss primarily in cool wet forests.

The genus Peperomia

Many Species of Peperomia are grown around the world mostly as house and green house plants . Peperomia is one of the two large genera of the family Piperaceae. It is estimated that there are at least over 1,000 species, occurring in all tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

The genus Peperomia is concentrated in South and Central America. However they are also found in southern North America, the Caribbean islands, Africa, Oceania, and the southern and eastern parts of Asia.

Peperomias vary considerably in appearance and there is no universally accepted method of categorizing them. Most species are compact and usually do not exceed 30 cm in height.

Most Peperomia plants in cultivation have decorative foliage. Their natural habitat is mostly in rain or clouds forests as epiphytes. They are adapted to living in small shady crevices on, for example, trees, with small root systems. As they do not have access to ground water they are typically succulent to a certain degree which in many species shows as thick, fleshy leaves, which have a waxy surface and are sometimes rippled.

Peperomias are largely considered non-toxic and are often recommended for households with children or animals.

Peperomia plants can be propagated from seeds, by cuttings, or by division. Peperomia cuttings of most species root very easily.

Growing Peperomia retusa.

Peperomia retusa needs an airy, well-draining substrate which must dry out to some extent or even completely between waterings. I have had the best success growing them in net like pots that are used for growing plants in hydroponics, half filled with sphagnum moss or moss collected in the forest where they grow. Moss allows good air movement to the poorly developed and sensitive root system, drain well and dries out relatively quickly. The main reason for a Peperomia retusa to die, is because of root rot caused by waterlogging.  I also have had reasonable success growing Peperomia retusa in a growing medium of equal parts of coarse silica sand used in swimming pool filters, perlite,  and medium sized bark pieces.

They require well-ventilated shady conditions but with plenty of humidity.

Peperomia retusa grows extremely well in these pots that I fill between a quarter to one third with moss

Peperomia retusa care indoors

Does best in medium to bright indirect light but should be protected from direct sunlight. I have found that they grow well under ordinary daylight LED lighting given a photo period of 12 - 16 hours at a light intensity of 3500 Lux.

Choose moss or a potting mix that is loose and well-draining but still retains moisture well.

Allow the moss or soil to dry slightly between waterings. Be very cautious of overwatering.

Peperomia retusa can be grown in a glass container or other container without drainage, but does take considerable care, the roots and growing medium must be closely monitored. Any excessive water that collects at the bottom of the glass after watering must be immediately tipped out.

The healthy roots can clearly be seen trough the glass

Prefers cool temperatures and medium to high humidity. 

During the hot humid summer months in Durban, South Africa where I live, I have a fan connected to the power source that automatically switches it on and off together with the lights. I use another fan that I switch on mostly much later in the day and if very hot leave running all night, this ensures good air movement in the room for my orchids and most probable also benefits the Peperomias as well.

to increase humidity place it on a tray of pebbles and water to increase ambient humidity, mist the plant regularly.


When it comes to fertilizing peperomia plants, less is more. As a slow-growing epiphyte, Peperomia retusa does not need much fertilizer. My plants get fertilized frequently but only with a very weak solutions of  organic fertiliser, such as Seagro and Nitrosol as well as plant growth stimulants such as Marinure of Kelpak. It is however important to regularly flush out the growing medium with plenty of fresh water to remove any build up of salts in the growing medium that will quickly kill the roots.

Peperomia flowers

The minute green flowers that if fertilized bare a single seed, are arranged along a stalk like inflorescence and are barely able to be seen.

If the plants are not doing well

The probable cause it that the plants are growing in waterlogged growing medium. Remember they are lithophytes or epiphytes which generally are not found growing in soil but in a very thin layer of detritus and mosses where the roots get plenty of air and do not get the opportunity to be in waterlogged oxygen poor soil.

They do require plenty of light but too much light causes the leaves to become small, hang down and to turn a yellowish green which is not at all attractive. They will not tolerate direct sun.

Common Pests

Peperomia plants are subject to common pests that can affect most houseplants such as mealybugs, spider mites. These pests can be controlled by regular pesticides from your local garden shop.

 written by Michael Hickman on 22.12.23

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Polystachya pubescens The Fine-Haired Polystachya


Polystachya pubescens

The Fine-Haired Polystachya

amabelejongosi (Zulu)


Polystachya pubescens is a small compact orchid species which is common in South Africa, from the Eastern Cape in the south to Zululand, it is also found in eSwatini (Swaziland) and Eastern Zimbabwe where it is rare. This is a summer rainfall region where the plants may in some areas experience a prolonged dry season during the cooler winter months.


Polystachya pubescens is found growing in coastal forests as well as a lithophyte out in the full sun or partial shade on sandstone outcrops. In the Pondoland region it can be found growing in large mats on sandstone rocks in the full sun, these plants are generally very small and have leaves that are a pronounced purple colour because of the intense light. In the lower light conditions of forest the plants grow much larger and are a dark green. This delightful fragrant epiphytic orchid produces bright yellow flowers in early summer. Polystachya pubescens grows in a region that has neither very high or low temperatures and is recorded as having a low tolerance for extreme cold.


Because of its showy flowers and relative ease of culture, Polystachya pubescens is a popular orchid plant amongst specialist orchid growers .

Polystachya pubescens is used extensively by the amaZulu people as a protective charm and as a love potion.

Growing Polystachya pubescens

Polystachya pubescens plant grows easily in the milder regions of the country if it is attached to a branch of a tree.

Polystachya pubescens is very easy to grow and is ideal for beginners to start with. It grows well in a small plastic or ceramic pot filled with fairly large pebbles, placing larger pebbles at the bottom of the pot and smaller ones at the top. Over a period of at least 50 years I have successfully grown them on river pebbles or crushed stone in particular sandstone as well as decaying granite. Bark may be used but it breaks down far to quickly and causes the roots at the bottom of the pot to rot.

As with all orchids never be tempted to over pot them, the rule of thumb is to put orchids and most other plants into as small a pot as possible. They can also be mounted of a slab of wood, bark, fern fiber etc. however they grow best in pots.

Light requirement

In cultivation if grown outdoors they do best in light to medium shade, under lights indoors I have found that they do well at 3500 to 5500 lux with a photo period of 16 hours in summer and 12 hours in Winter.


They require good ventilation, when grown indoors I have the windows open and fans running 24  hours a day during the growing season when it is hot and humid and for a few hours a day during the middle of the day in winter.

Watering and Feeding

Like most living organisms orchids tend to like to be fed daily during the growing season to remain healthy and to grow well. For those plants that need a rest period in the winter months l reduce both the amount of feed and the frequency of watering watching carefully that the plants do not desiccate.

I am a firm believer in giving a very varied diet to my plants, which I feed at very low concentrations with every watering, which is usually daily on my epiphytes and lithophytes. Once a week I give my plants a drenching with pure water to remove any buildup of harmful salts on the plants and in the potting medium.

Here is a list of what my plants get as feed and growth promoters, every day a different feed, on occasion I mix a feed and a growth promoter.

1.      Water soluble mineral fertilizer used for growing plants in hydroponics, here I used formulations for flowers and fruits.

2.      Nitrosol

3.      Seagro

4.      Fulvic acid

5.      Rooibos tea

6.      Black tea

7.      Green tea

8.      Cinnamon tea

9.      Banana skin tea

10.   Leaf mould tea

This is certainly not the only way to grow Polystachya pubescens but has worked well for me over many years to grow hundreds of strong healthy plants.

General information

The name Fine-Haired Polystachya refers to the fine hair on the lip of the flower.

About one third of orchid species possesses deceptive pollination mechanisms where no rewards are provided to the pollinators

However, many species of Polystachya appear to give rewards in the form of pseudo-pollen in the form of food hair on the lip.  Inside of pseudo-pollen food hair, Polystachya species provide protein, starch, and or lipids. Different species provide different combinations of these nutritional rewards.  The hair on the lip of Polystachya pubescens could be a reward, the main nutrients in the hairs are proteins. Although it is known that the hairs are rich in proteins, we do not know if the pollinators are in fact attracted to them because the pollination system of this species is not well studied.


 written by Michael Hickman on 28.11.23

Monday, November 20, 2023

Tropical Chickweed


Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra

Description and Natural Distribution

Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra, is a diffuse prostrate herb, which roots at the nodes closely related to the common Chickweed Stellaria media in the pink carnation family Caryophyllaceae, which is native to moist habitats in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa. Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra is an indigenous plant in South Africa occurring naturally in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Western Cape.

See the natural distribution of Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra here on the SANBI website

Invasive weed

Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra is known as one of the most aggressive weeds of the tropical and subtropical parts of the world which has been introduced to many places in the tropics and subtropics, including the southeast US, the Caribbean, the Indian Subcontinent, southern China, Japan, and a number of islands.

Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra was not a problem plant in the Durban area until recently. This situation changed a few years ago, I first saw it invading lawns and flower beds at Westbrook Beach, on the KwaZulu Natal north coast, a year later it became a problem at Mount Moreland both north of Durban. It is now becoming a serious pest plant  invading lawns and flowerbeds in the central and greater Durban area.

The rapid invasion of Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra is aided by the production of vast numbers of  sticky seedpods that stick to shoes, clothing, pets, birds, lawn mowers and edging machines belonging to garden service companies.


Important medicinal plant

Apart from being a highly invasive weed Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra is one of the most important medicinal plants used by various tribes throughout India and the world. It is a traditional herbal medication that is used to treat peptic ulcers, female sterility, headaches, glomerulonephritis, sleeping problems, convulsions, and febrile illnesses in children as an ingredient in many local poly herbal formulations, as well as other major or minor ailments such as cold, headache, coryza, bronchitis, leprosy, tumors, and so on. Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra has been shown to contain a variety of secondary plant metabolites such as alkaloids, flavonoids, tannins, saponins, phenols, and terpenoids which have been proved to show Anti-bacterial, analgesic and anti-pyretic, anti-tussive, anxiolytic, anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, sinusitis and cytotoxic activities.


Drymaria cordata subspecies diandra can be controlled in lawns by the application of a selective herbicide formulated for use on lawns. Make sure to follow closely the instructions on the label.

In flower beds it needs to be hand weeded.

HLEM specializes in weed control

Written by Michael Hickman on 20.11.2023

Chlorophytum angulicaule

  Chlorophytum angulicaule is a local indigenous plant that belongs to the plant family Agavaceae. It is virtually unknown to the horticultu...