Lampranthus tenuifolius

Family : Aizoaceae (subfamily Mesembryanthemoideae) sometimes placed under Mesembryanthemaceae
Common names : None


Lampranthus tenuifolius is the ideal plant for the harsh conditions experienced on the Cape Flats. Its waterwise nature and beautiful flowers will provide the home gardener with immense satisfaction.

It is a creeping succulent herb, relatively fast growing and long-lived. It branches diffusely, with branches up to 20 cm long. The erect leaves are long and narrow, 15–40 mm long and 1–2 mm in diameter.


It produces large purplish pink flowers in late spring, i.e. October–November which, like most Lampranthus species, open during the day and close at night. The flowers produce capsules filled with pinhead-sized seeds. When wet, the capsules open and the seeds are released.

Conservation status
Lampranthus tenuifolius, like many species that occur in Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, was once common but is now seriously threatened due habitat loss as a result of encroachment by humans and invasion by alien plants. It had apparently been reduced to two populations, both of which are small and fragmented. However, two other populations have been identified and further searches could yield more. It is currently listed as Critically Endangered on the Red List (Raimondo et al. 2009).

Distribution and habitat
Its habitat is flat sandy areas in Sand Fynbos. It once occurred on the Cape Flats but is now extinct there. It is now mostly confined to small areas on the Cape Peninsula. In cultivation it is best suited to winter-rainfall areas with well-drained sandy soils.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Lampranthus is derived from the Greek words lampros meaning bright, and anthos meaning flower, referring to the showy flowers displayed by some of the species. Tenuifolius is derived from the Latin words tenuis meaning slender, and folium meaning leaf, referring to the slender leaves.

With 120 species, the genus Lampranthus is one of the largest genera in the Aizoaceae family. It is also one of the most cultivated genera of the family, with species such as L. amoenus being used widely in gardens. The genus Lampranthus has a wide distribution, with species occurring in the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape provinces as well as in southern Namibia.

Lampranthus tenuifolius is insect-pollinated, and its brightly coloured flowers help attract insects. Like most other Lampranthus species the flowers open during the day and close at night. Like in most other mesembs its seed is distributed by rainwater. During rain the capsules open and the seeds are then washed out by rainwater.

Uses and cultural aspects
No uses or cultural aspects have been recorded.

Growing in tray/pot

Growing Lampranthus tenuifolius

Little is written about the cultivation requirements of the species and the author will refer primarily to his own experiences in its cultivation and growth.

It is ideal for gardens with sandy soil. Plant it in areas with full sun and well-drained soil. The importance of soil with sufficient drainage cannot be overemphasized, as the plants will not grow in soil with poor drainage. Use it alongside other fynbos plants and/or succulents such as Crassula dejecta and Cotyledon orbiculata var . orbiculata.

It is absolutely essential that watering is done correctly, as the plants are very sensitive to over-watering and will quickly die if watered incorrectly. In summer water the plants no more than once a week and allow the soil in which the plants are growing to become dry between watering periods. In winter keep the soil moist but not completely waterlogged.

Sow seeds in summer (December–January) or in winter (July–August). Sow them in a sandy growth medium and cover them lightly with sand and, at first, watering should be carried out only when necessary, i.e. when the seed trays start to look dry. After the seed has germinated, slowly decrease watering frequency, as the seedlings develop, and once they have reached maturity, water only if the soil is completely dry, and only once weekly. It can also be grown from cuttings. After taking the cuttings, dip them in a suitable rooting hormone and root them in a sandy well-drained medium. Water the cuttings only when they are dry.

The main pests to look out for are caterpillars, slugs and snout weevils. These can be dealt with by spraying. Caterpillars and slugs can also be manually removed.


The author would like to thank Ernst van Jaarsveld and Victoria Wilman for allowing him to accompany them on fieldtrips enabling him to view the plants in habitat and obtain propagation material.

References and further reading

  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants: A conspectus of the Cape Flora of southern Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
  • Hartmann, H.E.K. (ed.). 2002 . Illustrated handbook of succulent plants : AIZOACEAE (F–Z). Springer, Berlin.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria. Smith, G., Chesselet, P., Van Jaarsveld, E.J., Hartmann, H., Hammer, S., Van Wyk, B., Burgoyne, P., Klak, C. & Kurzweil, H. 1998. Mesembs of the world. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Van Jaarsveld, E.J. & De Villiers Pienaar, U. 2000 VYGIES. Gems of the veld: a garden and field guide to the South African mesembs. Cactus & Co., European Union. Van Wyk, B.-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa . Briza Publications, Pretoria.


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