Saturday, January 30, 2016

Conophytum Commercialism

Three Conophytum maughanii plants, and possibly a seedling of C. subfenestratum at lower right. Promotional material from Zhao Caizhu Succulents Garden.
 I recently became aware of Zhao Caizhu Succulents Garden, which claims to be the largest succulent plant nursery in China, with annual sales of US $400,000 and a mailing list of 50,000 customers. They seem to deal mostly in "living stone"-type mesembs (family Aizoaceae), like Lithops and Conophytum, which stands in contrast to the situation among collectors in the United States, where  mesembs have been something of a neglected niche market in recent decades.  Maybe we need more marketing with cute animal characters based on immaculately groomed conophytums?

More advertising illustrations from Zhao Caizhu Succulents Garden, featuring four different Conophytum species.

I like how the carefully peeled Conophytum burgeri (Burger's Onion!) is the only plant in these illustrations that doesn't require any googly eyes or bling to hype it up. The chalky gray plant in the montage above is probably Conophytum pageae, which has a fissure (the vestigial gap between the fused pair of leaves that make up the plant body) that often strikes people as resembling a mouth, even without cartoon sunglasses. Some forms of C. pageae even develop lipstick-like red markings around their fissures, naturally and with no photo editing required.

Conophytum pageae with "lipstick" pigmentation, in Steven Hammer's greenhouses in Vista, California.
It's hard to imagine Conophytum plants--temperamental winter-growers that no wholesale nursery in the west has ever generally distributed--could ever become a popular mass-market commodity. But, who knows: a quirky advertising campaign could make conophytums into a 21st century pet-rock-type fad.