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cotyledon orbiculata

Cotyledon Orbiculata

Pig’s Ear, Elk’s Horn, or Round-Leafed Navel-Wort

Succulent plants are still extremely popular in the garden fashion stakes, especially during periods of below average rainfall. A favourite of many gardeners is Cotyledon Orbiculata that is found growing naturally in many parts of South Africa.  

Cotyledon Orbiculata is a shrubby succulent with thick, fleshy leaves that can vary greatly. Some are typically ear shaped, others are slender, and others are ruffled or wavy. The colour of the leaves varies from green to blue-green or even silver, and some have a red margin on the leaf.  The plants has five varieties, with differences in both leaf and flower shape, often influenced by the plant’s immediate environment.

In most parts of the country the hanging, tubular red-orange flowers appear mostly in winter, but in winter rainfall areas such as the Western Cape, they often flower in mid-summer. These flowers provide nectar for sunbirds and other pollinators and are also enjoyed by primates.

The flowers are supported above the foliage on stout, fleshy stems and their colour creates a striking contrast against the foliage. The five petals of each flower are fused to form a tube and the tips curl backwards. They hang down like clusters of little bells and are rich in nectar, attracting sunbirds and other pollinators.

Farmers should be aware that C. Orbiculata is toxic to livestock, which can lead to problems during the dry season when grazing is limited and animals eat the fleshy leaves. They contain a substance that causes ‘krimpsiekte’ (shrinking disease), which affects mainly sheep and goats, although all animals, including poultry, are susceptible.

Distribution and Habitat of Cotyledon Orbiculata

Cotyledon Orbiculata is widespread throughout South Africa, but is usually confined to rocky outcrops in grassland, fynbos and regions of the Karoo. 

What Cotyledon Orbiculata need

The plants grow best in dry, sunny positions and will cope with poor or impoverished soil, especially rocky ground.  They will tolerate some shade too.

This textured plant fits into almost any and every landscape style. Use C. Orbiculata in rock gardens, on hot, dry banks, in pots and containers, beds and borders.

Black frost will damage the flowers if planted in an unprotected spot, but the plant itself will tolerate moderate frosts.

In a nutshell

This succulent with its variable forms is one of the most rewarding plants for gardens around the country, even those in colder regions;

It propagates easily from cuttings and is wonderful for filling gaps, especially in dry and difficult parts of the garden where water is scarce;

Flowering times vary. Most flower in winter but in winter rainfall areas such as the Western Cape, the plant often flowers in mid-summer.

Cotyledon orbiculata is a winner in every garden setting with its textured leaves, pretty flowers ranging from a light salmon through to a deep orange-red, and its stature amongst other plants.

The plant enjoys sunny conditions with well-draining soil and is ideal for container gardens. Frost and cold weather can damage the plants. Locusts and grasshoppers enjoy feeding on the leaves.