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Turquoise Puya

Dermatobotrys saundersii

Here's one you don't see every day.  Dermatobotrys saundersii is an unusual, rare species from coastal forests in southern Africa.  It's an odd member of the Snapdragon family that makes a caudex-like base and terrific flowers.  Even without blooms it's a first-rate house plant, with its woody stems and attractive leaves that have an interesting scent when rubbed.  The scarlet, trumpet-shaped blooms light up the plant throughout winter, when most other plants are drab.  The plant is rare in the wild, and is at risk of becoming extinct.

Dermatobotrys saundersii

In the wild, Dermatobotrys is usually found growing in the fork of decaying trees.  In fact, because of its fondness for dead trees, it was once believed to kill trees!  Despite its epiphytic habit, it adapts well to soil in my experience.  The plant develops thick, woody rhizomes that resemble a caudex.  From the base emerges a wavy mass of upright, woody stems, each about 2 to 4 feet long.  The leaves are terrific in my opinion.  They are 3 to 5 inches long and have a rubbery texture, with new growth that is tinged red or purplish.  When rubbed, they have a scent that is hard to describe, but it is sort of like lemon furniture polish!  It is not a bad scent, just an unexpected one for a plant.

The bright red flowers appear in late autumn here in San Francisco, and can continue through late spring.  If grown indoors under lights, it can flower any time of year!  The curved, 2 inch blooms emerge in a ring formation among the leaves.  After flowering, it makes edible, sweet fruits that look like figs, and supposedly taste like figs.  This is the only species of Dermatobotrys.

Dermatobotrys saundersii

It comes from a mild climate, without extremes in temperatures.  In cultivation it has survived temperatures in the mid-90s (35 degrees C), but such conditions may be stressful for it, particularly if nights are warm.  It can probably survive a few degrees of frost, but i recommend protecting it from all frost.  It grows great indoors as a houseplant.  It prefers filtered sunlight or morning sun.  Protect it from strong afternoon sun.  It likes a well-draining soil mix, such as 2 parts potting soil to 1 part perlite or pumice rock.  It's fairly drought tolerant, but it looks the best when the soil is kept consistently moist (but not soggy).  It can stay evergreen if grown indoors, while outdoors it may defoliate briefly in winter.  Over about 40% humidity is best.

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Germination tips for this plant

 

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