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Official Bulletin of the London Cactus Club - October 1960 vol. 12 no. 6 p. 49-51
by Bryan Makin (Editor) [Other articles by BM on this web site:
White Adromischus, A. leucophyllus.]

"Although I came across quite a number of species of Adromischus growing naturally in South Africa, the first one I actually set out to find was that listed in the local flora as A. rotundifolius. Since then, I have learned that a complete range of inter-grading forms exists along the west coast of the Union, some of which have been given specific names. But until the resultant mess has been cleared up, I have chosen to stick to the oldest relevant name, Adromischus hemisphaericus, hence the apparent contradiction between my opening remarks and the title.

A. hemisphaericus can be found in a small-leaved, rotund form on Signal Hill, actually overlooking Cape Town itself, and I have a nice pot-full in my present collection. But, being ignorant of this fact at the time, I chose the published habitat of the Twelve Apostles [mountain slopes] as the area for my search. I duly left Cape Town by bus, travelling south along the Cape Peninsula to the limit of its local run, to the little coastal village of Bakoven. This name is pronounced BACK-OOF-N and its literal translation is BAKE OVEN, so chosen because of a peculiar hollow rock which lies off shore shaped like the old Dutch baking oven used by the early settlers. Adromischus hemisphaericus
A. hemisphaericus BM711, collected by H. Hall in 1958.

In 1954, I had started my outing directly after lunch and, in the South African summer even on the coast, the heat reflected up from the dry roadway at this time of day can be very oppressive, and this plus my recent meal, made me feel anything but energetic. However, I turned my nose to the south and continued along the roadway. The footpath finished soon after leaving the bus. So, I had to keep a wary eye and ear for traffic on the twisting road. It unfailingly followed the contour of the hills from which it had been cut and fell away to the sea below on my left, clothed in long trailing streamers of the giant Mesemb, Carpobrotus edulis. The water below was clear blue except where it lapped the rocks. The door in the Oven was no longer visible from where I stood. I looked around and the sandy clay bank across the road rose sheer in parts for ten, twelve, fifteen or more feet, but at others showed possible footholds for an aspiring ascendant.

Varying succulents presented themselves at intervals, namely shrubby Mesembs, occasional weedy-looking Crassulas, etc. The most attractive was an Erepsia which was a solid blaze of pink flowers and occurred frequently along the roadside. My eyes were constantly searching for succulents and especially the Adromischus and suddenly I spotted a plant on the edge of the vertical bank above the road. Surely it was a Stapelia of some sort and I cast about for a way up. It was a little while before I found the plant again but, sure enough, it was the well known S. variegata to be precise, growing in short grass on the very edge of the bank with its flower buds overhanging the drop. None was open, but an investigation of a large bud showed there was no doubt about its identity. A few yards further along the road, I found another S. variegata, on the other side this time, growing deeply buried in almost pure coarse sand in full sun! No sign of Adromischus though and the sun was beginning to weary me, so I turned and. retraced my steps, having decided to explore higher up the lower slopes of the Twelve Apostles range, as soon as I could find a way up from the road.

These slopes were covered in scrub bushes varying in height between one and three feet with occasional clumps of the withered leaves of bulbous plants that transform these same hillsides into a pleasant colourful scene in the beautiful Cape spring. But right now it was the hot dry Cape summer and the only flowers were those on the Erepsias and Carpobrotus, the latter a pale straw yellow instead of the more attractive magenta form. I scanned the slopes somewhat forlornly now with the sun behind me sinking lower into the western sky. A few isolated boulders and rock outcrops gave a last glimmer of hope and I picked my dusty way towards each of them in turn. The first was bare and unfruitful, but the second had a long crack across the top overhung by a spreading bush. In the shade of this bush and with its roots delving into the crevice, was a beautiful blue mound of that succulent composite, Kleinia repens. How lovely it looked in its unblemished state growing there on that hard granite-like rock of Table Mountain Sandstone, but as I looked round my exultation fell as I realised I had only a couple of other rocks still to investigate. The first was higher up the slope but seemed worth the scramble since it was a sizeable boulder with a few smaller rocks in attendance round it. I finally stood before it and swept it with a searching look. It had appeared grey and bare as I approached, but now I could see a long sloping, crevice some three or four feet in extent running down the western face, and all along this crevice were the thick stems and fleshy grey leaves of my Adromischus. No opulent beauty this, no colourful seeker after attention, but silvery-grey, scaly leaves matching the colour of the rock itself and asking for no-one's notice but that of the sun and the rain in season.

In my album is a photograph of that crevice with its Adromischus and in my greenhouse is a pot with two labels. The newer one reads "BM790 Adromischus hemisphaericus", but the other says "Adromischus rotundifolius, collected Bakoven, Cape Peninsula, 1954". The plant grows a little taller in cultivation, up to about 5 in. and the leaves are less heavily scaled and a bit larger than in the wild. They vary according to age up to about 1 x 1 in. long, slightly concave on the front and rounded on the back clothing the ascending stem. The flower spikes rise in spring and open their small, tubular blooms in mid-summer, the pale "petals" being joined together and fully recurved to clasp the tube. The species is related to such other Adromischus as A. bicolor, mammillaris, tricolor and the recently named liebenbergii and fragilis.

I have several forms now, collected in different localities, including one that becomes almost white in the summer and another that is covered in fewer scales but a multitude of red spots. This latter came from a place called Darling and makes a very attractive plant. I have purposely avoided all technicalities in this account since the species and its inter-grades are very much sub judice in the taxonomic field. I would like however to refer here to another plant so often grown in collections as A. hemisphaericus, but quite different in appearance from the description I have given. This is the low, squat, almost stemless plant which is possibly the commonest Adromischus in British collections but which has thick, fleshy, pointed leaves, much longer than broad, tightly clustering and rarely, if ever, blooming and certainly I have never seen it in flower. In America, this used to be known as "old mamillaria" although not at all like the true A. mammillaris. For years this plant has remained an enigma, but it was recently found again in the wild and has been equated with A. vanderheydenii n.n., which name I earnestly commend to your attention. Adromischus hemisphaericus
Possibly the spotted A. hemisphaericus from Darling, BM655, collected by H. Hall, plentiful on granite outcrop.

Finally, a word on cultivation: A. hemisphaericus is a very accommodating plant but does best with a restricted diet and the maximum sunshine to encourage the production of the silvery scales on the otherwise green leaves. I like to grow mine in an open cold frame in summer and find they propagate easily from leaves."

Last Updated: May 2003
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1960 Bryan Makin, UK