August Plant of the Month (2006) Gasteria excelsa

A more in-depth look at individual succulent species, a new one is added each week.
Posts: 1198
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 2:57 pm
Location: Leeds, England

August Plant of the Month (2006) Gasteria excelsa

Post by templegatejohn »

Gasteria excelsa Baker


Growth Habits: Gasteria excelsa is a very attractive plant with leaves that often have quite interesting patterns - these patterns are composed of light and dark colouring, sometimes bordering on striping like a tiger. Other leaf types are more concolorous. In many forms the leaf margins have a horny edge that is quite sharp. The cultivar called 'Nqancule' is notorious for the sharpness of its leaf edges. Excelsa is indeed a fine Gasteria and is the largest species in the genus. Gasteria acinacifolia has longer leaves but excelsa exceeds it and all other Gasterias in sheer bulk! Fully grown plants can be 60 cm in diameter, a bit smaller than acinacifolia, but the leaves and plant body are very thick, heavy and robust, giving the plant an overall appearance suggesting massiveness.

Scientific name: Gasteria excelsa

Common names:
A common name for many of the Gasteria genus is Ox Tongue, which I suppose is self explanatory

Gasteria huttoniae, Gasteria fuscopunctata and Gasteria lutzii.

Etymology: The generic name for Gasteria was established in 1809 by Duval. It is derived from the Greek word gaster meaning belly and refers to the swollen base of the flowers, which makes them belly shaped. This species is named "excelsa" because it was seen by its author as "excellent".

Gasteria excelsa is found over a wide area in the Eastern Cape Province, from near Port Alfred in the southwest, to Queenstown in the north and thence eastwards almost to the coast. There is little real variation from one colony to the next, with the exception of a form named 'Cala' which is very squat, short-leaved and otherwise smaller in size. Cultivar 'Cala' is found near Queenstown in the Cala Pass area northeast of town.

Light: Gasterias prefer light shade in the greenhouse, very much like the Haworthias.

A light compost is ideal for Gasterias. One that contains plenty of pumice (if you can get it) or perlite.

Gasterias do not like wet feet so err on the side of caution with the watering can.

Flower: When Gasteria excelsa blooms the owner is in for a real show. The plants often send up more than one inflorescence and each inflorescence is usually branched as well. The resulting flower stalk is, as you would expect, very impressive. The stalk may ascend 60 cm. in height and all told the number of individual flowers reach into the hundreds. It is quite a sight in full bloom. The flower shades to what I can only describe as a dusky pink.

Fruit: In cultivation Gasterias must be cross pollinated to produce seed. Capsules soon abort when not pollinated. The capsule is a smooth, green pod.

Min. temp: The plant is hardy to 30°F. (-1°C).

Cultivation: Gasterias are not difficult plants to grow as long as you do not overwater them. They will reward to grower by throwing offsets on a regular basis. Always good things to be able to have one or two young plants in case anything happens to the parent plant. As with many other succulent plants the leaves will turn red if the plant is stressed.

Habitat: The plant is found over a wide area of Eastern Cape Province. The Eastern Cape is a relatively large area with many differing changes of terrain and vegetation, including a number of nature reserves.

The plants were used in medicine in the native habitat and also placed on the roof of houses in the belief that it stopped lightning from striking the house. Also warring factions used parts of the plant in the belief that it made them invisible from their enemies. I tried some but the missus could still see me.