Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tylecodon opelii

There's big excitement (for me, at least) in the latest issue of the Cactus and Succulent Journal: Ernst van Jaarsveld of Kirstenbosch and Steve Hammer of the Sphaeroid Institute have named a new species of Tylecodon in my honor. Tylecodon opelii is a winter-growing geophyte, with dark marble-sized and marble-shaped leaves, endemic to fields of broken quartz in the northern Knersvlakte in South Africa's Western Cape.

Tylecodon opelii in cultivation, late winter.

The new Tylecodon is set apart from its relatives by spheroid leaves that are dark green to nearly black and almost glabrous, with just a few fine hairs. It's probably most closely related to T. occultans, though that species has more flattened leaves and less elongated tubers.

The quartz field habitat of Tylecodon opelii.

The corner of the Knersvlakte where I first ran into what is now T. opelii back in the austral winter of 2000 is loaded with little geophytes and succulents. The white quartz covering the ground reflects and disperses sunlight, creating a microhabitat where dwarf vegetation can thrive. In places without the quartz, darker soils absorb light and heat up to the point where small plants at ground level get cooked. I have fond memories of hiking through this strange landscape, scanning the ground for interesting plants, finding round black leaves coming up between the pebbles and thinking: "Hmm, what Tylecodon is this? I've never seen it before." I'm very grateful that it wound up getting named after me, years later.

van Jaarsveld, E.J. and S. Hammer 2011. Tylecodon opelii, a new obligatory quartz-gravel species from the Northern Knersvlakte (Western Cape, South Africa). Cactus and Succulent Journal (US) 83: 140-145.

There's a short blurb on Tylecodon opelii on the University of Connecticut website, too.