Gasteria baylissiana


Family : Asphodelaceae
Common names
: Suurberg ox-tongue (Eng.); Suurberg-beestong (Afr.)

Flowering stem

Gasteria baylissiana is a beautiful, dwarf, aloe-like, succulent-leaved perennial, endemic to the rocky Wittetrivier Gorge (Suurberg) in the northwestern corner of the Addo Elephant National Park, in the Eastern Cape Province. It is popular, and thrives in cultivation.

Plants stemless, 5–40 mm high, prolific from the base to form small dense clusters 80 mm in diameter, rarely solitary.

The roots are succulent, up to 4 mm in diameter.

The leaves grow in two vertical rows on opposite sides of the stem (distichous), 25–55 mm long and 20–23 mm broad at the base, belt-shaped (lorate), ascending, firm, often becoming spreading or recurved (the leaf ends incurved during the dry season); the upper leaf surface (adaxial side) is plane to convex; the lower leaf surface rounded (convex); both surfaces are covered with dense white leathery (cartilaginous) tubercles; the leaf margin has small rounded teeth (crenulate), becoming entire (even, without teeth) towards the leaf end which is blunt (obtuse), truncate or notched, bearing a small hard point (mucro).

Growing in habitat

The inflorescence is a raceme (an inflorescence with flowers on stalks, arranged along an unbranched axis, the terminal flower being the youngest) 80–350 mm tall, ascending; occasionally with a pair of side branches, bearing 15–25 flowers; the inflorescence stalk is 3–4 mm in diameter at the base and reddish-pink; the bracts are 5 mm long, 1 mm broad at the base. The flower stalks (pedicels) are 5 mm long.

The flowers (perianth) are 14–16 mm long, bright red-pink and tubular, with an inflated basal portion and a cylindric end portion 5 mm long. The inflated basal portion is about 6–7.5 mm in diameter and the cylindric portion 3–4 mm in diameter. The floral leaves are fused, their ends free and greenish-white with dark green median striations. The stamens remain included; the anthers are oblong, 1.5 mm long. The ovary is 4 mm long, 1.75 mm in diameter. The style is 5 mm long; the stigma is capitate and included.

Illustration by Ellaphie Ward-Hilhorst

The capsule is 14–17(–20) mm long and the seeds are oblong, 4 mm long, 3 mm wide.

Conservation status
Although only known from the Witteberg Gorge in the Suurberg (Eastern Cape), it is well protected by occurring within the borders of the Addo Elephant National Park as well as by its inaccessible steep remote habitat; furthermore the plants are well camouflaged amongst leaf litter and sandstone rocks and are thus difficult to spot. The species has been well established in cultivation (ex situ conservation) and is grown by succulent plant growers all over the world. Its status has been given as rare (Victor, Van Jaarsveld & Dold 2009).

Distribution and habitat
Most Gasteria species are confined to the Eastern Cape. Gasteria baylissiana is one of about 12 Gasteria species with a restricted distribution. It is found in the Witteberg Gorge in the Suurberg and is related to G. doreeniae, from the Swartwaterspoort to the east, which has a smooth leaf surface and pinkish flowers.

Witteberg Gorge habitat of this plant

The Suurberg Mountains consist of hard quartzites (Witteberg Group, Cape Supergroup). They range from about 600–800 m in altitude and are situated just north of Port Elizabeth, running east–west. The vegetation consists of Fynbos on the more exposed sites, Albany Thicket in the dry river valleys as well as elements of Afro-temperate forest on its southeastern slopes. The habitat of Gasteria baylissiana (along the Witterivier Gorge) consists of Groot Thicket of the Albany Thicket Biome (Mucina & Rutherford 2006). Rain falls during summer and winter, and ranges from 400–500 mm per annum, but there is a tendency toward winter aridity. The average annual daily maximum temperature is about 24°C and the average daily minimum about 11°C. G. baylissiana grows at an altitude of 350–500 m, on quartzitic sandstone. The soil is mineral-poor and acidic. The species grows on steep rocky slopes among leaf litter in dappled shade and shares its habitat with the following succulent and bulbous species: Crassula intermedia , C. cotyledonis, C. perforata, C. cordata, C.cultrata, C. lactea , C. orbicularis , C. pellucida subsp. marginalis , Bulbine suurbergensis , Delosperma truteri, Euphorbia polygona, Haemanthus albiflos, Haworthia angustifolia var . baylissii, Haworthia glauca, H. cooperi, Ornithogalum longibracteatum, Pelargonium zonale, Senecio pyramidatus, Othonna lobata, Aloe tidmarshii, Plectranthus verticillatus and the epiphytic succulent orchid Polystachya pubescens. Larger trees and shrubs in the habitat include Loxostylis alata, Cassine tetragona, Schotia latifolia, Portulacaria afra, Searsia lucida, Diospyros scabrida, Passerina rigida, Polygala myrtifolia, and Encephalartos longifolius.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The specific epithet honours the late Colonel Roy Bayliss (1909-?) a succulent plant collector and enthusiast originally from Cranebrook, Kent, London, who settled in Grahamstown (South Africa) (Glen & Germishuizen 2010). He collected the plants on the farm Oudekraal. However the plant was first discovered by the farmer John Truter on his farm in the Zuurberg and was sent to Mr Brand van Breda of the Worcester Veld Reserve from where it was distributed (Van Jaarsveld 1994). The plant was named by Professor Werner Rauh, well known succulent authority of Heidelberg (Germany) in the Journal of South African Botany in 1977 (Rauh 1977).

Gasteria baylissiana is pollinated by sunbirds. It flowers during spring (September to October), but sporadically at other times as well. The seeds are wind-dispersed. Seeds ripen during summer, coinciding with the rainy season. Like in many other Gasteria species its leaves are brittle and will proliferate when fallen to the ground.

Uses and cultural aspects
Apart from their horticultural use, the plants are not used medicinally or otherwise.

Growing in a pot in Kirstenbosch

  Growing Gasteria baylissiana

Gasteria baylissiana is a slow-growing charming plant with horticultural appeal. It is characterized by its decorative warty (tuberculate), lorate (strap-shaped), erectly spreading leaves and the reddish-pink much inflated basal portion of its perianth. New plants will also proliferate from leaf fragments lying on the ground. The plants are variable in tubercle density as well as leaf size. Plants in light shade or sunny situations have short compact leaves but those in dense shade develop longer, linear, lorate leaves.

 Gasteria baylissiana thrives in cultivation (on window sills) and does best as a pot plant or grown in miniature rock gardens. It is a prolific grower and its stoloniferous nature soon ensures dense clusters. It grows fairly fast and thrives out-of-doors, but is best cultivated in Thicket Gardens (Van Jaarsveld 2010), or similarly dry Mediterranean-type gardens in other parts of the world where frost is not too severe. Plants prefer partial shade, and in hot climates should therefore be protected from full sun. Plants should reach flowering size in about three years. To obtain pure seed it is best to hand-pollinate, which can be accomplished with a sharpened match stick and by transferring the pollen from a genetically different plant to the stigma, ensuring thus that the species breeds true.

Gasteria baylissiana is easily propagated by seed, division or leaf cuttings. It is best to apply a fungal inoculant or fungicide when growing from seed. Sow seed during spring or summer in a warm, shady position in a sandy slightly acidic soil. Cover with a thin layer of sand and keep moist. Germination is usually within 3 weeks. Seedlings grow slowly and are best planted out about a year after sowing.

Propagation from leaf cuttings is best undertaken in spring. Allow the leaf cutting to form a heel by placing it on a dry window sill for a week or three. Cuttings are best rooted in clean sand. Once rooted, plants can be planted into individual containers. Plants react well to organic feeding (compost or any other liquid fertilizer). G. baylissiana can be watered at any time of the year. Watering during winter should be reduced, but during long dry hot spells a good watering should be provided.

References & suggested reading

  • Glen, H.F. & Germishuizen, G. 2010. Botanical exploration of southern Africa, edn 2. Strelitzia 26. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Mucina, L. & Rutherford, M.C. (eds) 2006. The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Strelitzia 19. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
    Rauh, W. 1977. Gasteria baylissiana Rauh. A new dwarf Gasteria from south-east Africa, Journal of South African Botany 43,3: 187–191.
  • Van Jaarsveld, E.J. 1994. Gasterias of South Africa . Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
  • Van Jaarsveld, E.J. 2007. The genus Gasteria , a synoptic review. Aloe 44, 4: 84–103.
  • Van Jaarsveld, E.J. 2010. Waterwise gardening. Struik, Cape Town.
  • Victor, J.E., Van Jaarsveld, E.J & Dold A.P. 2009. Gasteria baylissiana . In D. Raimondo, L. Von Staden, W. Foden, J.E. Victor, N.A. Helm, R.C. Turner, D.A. Kamundi, & P.A. Manyama (eds). Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.


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Ernst van Jaarsveld

Kirstenbosch NBG

May 2013







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