Huernia zebrina

Iztok Mulej

Huernia_zebrina.jpg (42551 bytes) Huernia zebrina ssp. zebrina (left) and Huernia zebrina ssp. magniflora (right)
Iztok Mulej

25 years ago, when I became interested in collecting cacti and other succulents, the stapeliads were my “love at the first sight”. I came across them in the book Pocket Encyclopaedia of Cacti in Colour Including Other Succulents by B. and E. Lamb, which was then the only non-Slovenian book on succulents in our country. Orbea variegata, Huernia zebrina and Duvalia parviflora caught my eye immediately. I bought the first Huernia zebrina from a local grower, and then the second and the third one… Due to harsh winter conditions, they didn’t survive. When I built a greenhouse, my stapeliads were enabled to grow in better conditions.

Huernia zebrina is one of the most beautiful species of the genus. It is easily recognisable. Only zebrine form of Huernia insigniflora (H. confusa) is similar to it. The most similar is zebrine form of Huernia insigniflora (H. confusa). Two subspecies are described: Huernia zebrina ssp. zebrina N.E. BROWN and Huernia zebrina ssp. magniflora (PHILIPS) LEACH. They differ in size of the stems and flowers.

Huernia zebrina ssp. zebrina

Plants spread and make clumps with the side rooted stems. 5 cm long and about 1 cm wide stems usually have 5 or rarely 6 ribs with rather strong teeth. The corolla is 35-45 mm wide with a distinctly embossed shiny annulus. It is covered with red to dark purple-brown spots on a cream coloured background. They merge on the topside of the annulus and give an impression that it is entirely dark purple-brown. Corolla lobes are transversally striped with reddish to red-brown or purple irregular zebra markings (name of the plant). As with other plants of the genus, H. zebrina has an intermediate lobe. The basic colour of corolla is variable. Creamish is predominating, but last year I sowed seeds marked as greenish colour of corolla.

The outer corona lobes are cream coloured with a dark purple margin. The inner corona lobes are of the same colour with purplish spots.

Distribution of H. zebrina is in SE Africa in lowland areas of Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and South African Republic (Natal and eastern Transvaal) on the altitudes under 400 m.

Huernia zebrina ssp. magniflora

H. zebrina ssp. magniflora is taller, more robust and clump forming. Stems are mostly 4-angled. Its flowers are usually twice as big as than those of ssp. zebrina and can reach up to 85 mm. Corolla is more variable in colour, markings and size than with its smaller relative.

Distribution of ssp. magniflora is more scattered than with ssp. zebrina. They can be found on the eastern as well as on the western side of South Africa. The widest distribution is in Zimbabwe and Transvaal; some isolated habitats are in Botswana and in Namibia on the western side of the continent.

The plant isn’t so difficult to grow as I initially thought. In the growth season, it needs regular watering just like other members of our collections. The plant need winter temperature over 10 °C. It musn’t be drained up too much. Periodical careful watering in warm days is recommendable.

Huernia zebrina needs to be grown in a well-drained soil mixture. I use one part of commercial soil without peat and two parts of perlit. Sharp sand or pumice can be used, but quartz sand isn’t recommendable.

Pests and diseases are the same as with other stapeliads. Black rot is the most frequent bacterial disease and it bereaves the collection of many plants. I have read somewhere that it was successfully suppressed by antibiotic Streptomycin or its plants equivalent Agromycin. Black rot appears when the soil is too wet. Characteristic blackish spots spread upon the cambium. Infected black parts of the plant must be cut away, the rest of the plant then dried and rooted. The worst pests are mealy-bugs. Brush and alcohol can be used in case of a minor attack, for stronger attacks only systemic insecticides are effective. Occasionally red spider mites can attack it, too. They can be chased away by regular spraying of the plant with water.

Propagation of Huernia zebrina is possible with stem-cuttings, which root very quickly and with seeds as well. They are often not easy obtainable. Seeds are oval, about 5 mm long and 3 mm wide. They germinate in a few days. Young plants grow very rapidly and could become about 2 cm tall in one month’s time.

Distribution of H. zebrina ssp. zebrina SymHZebr.gif (914 bytes) and H. zebrina ssp. magniflora SymHZebrM.gif (902 bytes)
Drawing by:
Iztok Mulej

HuzebJA.gif (4425 bytes)


Leach, L.C., 1988: Excelsa Taxonomic Series No. 4, A Revision of Huernia R. Br. (Asclepiadaceae). Aloe, Cactus and Succulent Society of Zimbabwe. P:103, 138-142