Dorstenia contrajerva

If the preceding species was little known but did not escape the notice of the keen observer in the botanical garden, the genus Dorstenia is even less known. However, it is to be found in probably every botanical garden, for the shape and arrangement of its flowers make it an extremely interesting plant.

The genus Dorstenia includes some 120 species distributed in tropical America and Africa (one species, perhaps, in the East Indies). Most are herbaceous plants or low subshrubs, often with decorative foliage. Flowers of both sexes grow from a flat spreading receptacle of widely diverse shape. The male flowers are numerous, markedly simplified, usually with two anthers; the female flowers are far fewer, nearly closed, with a prominent style. The whole cluster is often enclosed by bracts that are fringed, thread-like or of some other unusual shape. Very attractive are the succulents Dorstenias with the thick stem.

Dorstenia contrajerva is found in Central America and the Antilles, its range extending into South America as far as Venezuela and Colombia, where it generally grows in damp tropical forests alongside waterfalls and rivers, sometimes also on moss-covered rocks at elevations of 300 to 1,000 m (960 to 3,300 ft). It always seeks deeply shaded places, which is a very important character from the viewpoint of cultivation, for plants with similar requirements are relatively few. It needs a relatively high temperature and moist substrate as well as a moist atmosphere throughout the year and is thus suitable for growing on ‘dry land’ in a paludarium or in the ‘undergrowth’ in a larger combined arrangement.

Dorstenias may be propagated from seed and also, fairly readily, by cuttings in a warm, closed propagator.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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