The genus conophytum gathers dozens of species of small succulent plants, native to southern Africa; these species are very different from each other, but in general they are presented as colonies of small succulent leaves, without stem, which develop tufted, close to each other, to form a kind of pillow; the size is usually very modest, from a few millimeters to several centimeters; a colony of conophytum can reach a width of 10-20 cm and a height of 7-10 cm.
The leaves are paired, very fleshy and have a small orifice in the centre, from which the flowers usually bloom and the new leaves begin to develop.
In contrast to most succulent plants, the conophytum develop during the short day months, so between the end of summer and late winter, they are plants with a very particular development: in summer the leaves of the previous year tend to dry up, slowly and then more and more quickly; from the space between the two leaves at the end of summer begin to develop two new fleshy leaves, which tend to grow quite quickly.
In the following months, a small bud begins to develop between the leaves, which in winter will produce daisy-like flowers, white, orange, yellow or pink.
In the middle of winter, a healthy conophytum colony, under the right conditions of cultivation, is made up of a cushion of coloured flowers.
After flowering, the leaves begin to decay slowly, until they dry out in the summer, and then produce more new leaves. At the beginning of the vegetative cycle of the new leaves, the colonies often produce new pairs of leaves on the sides, widening the colony.
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How to cultivate them
Unlike the succulent plants to which we are accustomed, the conophytum therefore need little watering in the autumn and winter months, and no watering in spring and summer.
As soon as we begin to develop the new leaves, at the end of summer, we begin to water the plants sporadically, only when the soil is well dry; we continue until the end of winter, and then we leave the plants to dry until the end of summer.
These plants fear very much the excesses of water in the soil, therefore, besides growing them in a very well drained substratum, it is advisable to avoid watering too frequently: it is better to forget once more rather than watering them once too often.
Usually the small leaves tend to wringe slightly when the plant needs water.
In the places of origin the plants vegetate with temperatures between 2 and 10 ° C, so we can also grow them outdoors, provided we can control the amount of moisture they receive, more commonly conophytum are grown in cold greenhouses, in a bright place.
During the spring and summer months they are left dry, possibly not exposed to direct sunlight, especially when the season is very hot.
We avoid repotting them too often, every 2-3 years is more than enough; repotting is done at the beginning of spring, when it is also possible to remove some pairs of leaves to try to develop them individually, to give rise to new colonies.
Even during the vegetative period let’s avoid fertilizing excessively; a pair of specific fertilizers for succulent plants can be more than enough.
The conophytum are often called living stones, seen that many species, with almost brown foliage, with clear dots and with a very compact development, may recall real pebbles.
Many other species of succulents are called living stones, we remind mainly the lithops, the frithia, the fenestraria; it differentiates them from the conophytum the fact that their development is, for the most part of the species, spring and summer, whilst in the cold months these plants are in total vegetative rest.
Conophytum – Conophytum: Plant sheet
Origin: Nabibia, grow between the stones forming dense clusters.
Leaves: they have a curious shape and grow in pairs, thick and smooth, fleshy and rounded, green-grey to light blue in colour. The pairs of leaves, fused together, take on a heart-shaped shape.
The flowers: they bloom in summer with peeps, they are orange-pink, violet and red in colour. They appear among the pairs of leaves that enclose the stem. They open with the sun and close at night.
Leaves: from May to July new leaves form inside the old leaves and in this phase it is necessary to water to avoid the death of the new leaves. In December, when the plant retires, the leaves are covered with a paper membrane and the bodies of the plant wither and open.
Exposure : it needs a lot of light but not direct rays of the sun.
Temperature: The minimum temperature in winter must not fall below 13-15 degrees Celsius.
Watering: from the end of July to the beginning of October, it is watered when the soil is dry. The compound wets occasionally only if the room temperature exceeds fifteen degrees, otherwise we proceed to a single watering at the end of March to stimulate the awakening.
Fertilization: from July to October, once a month, with liquid fertilizer.
Multiplication: it is sown between the end of March and the end of April, on a compound from sowing integrated with coarse sand for one third, and kept humid at a temperature of fifteen – twenty-one degrees. After germination, it is watered more abundantly and thinned.
Soil: prefers universal soil mixed with a third of coarse and grainy sand, for good drainage.
Parasites: Excess water causes rottenness of the roots and can spread to the entire plant if no immediate action is taken.