Aptenia (2019)

PhotoBy Bob Williams (February 2019)

When planning our rock gardens, we carefully choose plants that we hope can survive our St. Louis winters. For the start of 2019, it seems that wet and cloudy is the norm, with a blast of extreme cold. Cheer up, it could be worse. As some of you may know, I have a cabin just north of Bemidji, Minnesota. As I wrote this article, the forecast for Jan. 29 there was for a high of minus 23 degrees F with wind chills in the minus 50s.

We all know that rock gardens are not maintenance free. Besides replacing the few plants that throw in the towel every year, you can add succulent ground covers for a splash of color and that “new growth” green that accents the cacti and larger succulents in our gardens. Apentia is one genus of accent plants that one should consider planting in the spring.

Apentia is a member of the Aizoaceae family. It is a small genus with only four species. In 2007, the genus was transferred into Mesembryanthemum. Two years later, other authors proposed that the move be reversed. So back it went.

Apentias are native to South Africa, mainly the Eastern Cape region. They are found mainly along the coastal areas. The genus name is from the Greek “a” (not) and “ptenos” (winged), and refers to the wingless seeds.

All four species remain low to the ground, growing no more than 4 to 5 inches tall. The low stems root rather easily when touching the ground. The plants can take full sun but grow well under trees and shrubs where they get bright light. The leaves are thick and fleshy with a waxy look. Apentias like well-draining soil, but can take heavy rains.

Once they get established in the spring, they can spread quickly, forming a thick mat. In our area, they can grow to about 2 feet in diameter. Keeping the plants in check is fairly easy; you can snip the stems, which break off easily.

Apentias provide ground cover that is hardy to 20 degrees F. Where they can survive year round, they are used as a ground cover in traffic islands. If you wanted to overwinter in this area, a good cover mulch may keep the root crowns from dying. In the spring, new growth will emerge. Placing a hot box over a small section could also work.

Taking a few cuttings, putting them in a pot and overwintering indoors is most likely the best way of having plants for the next year. It is probably a good thing that they are an annual in our area, as they are considered an invasive species in California and said to outgrow vinca.

As noted above, there are four species in the genus. A. cordifolia is the most common species. The plant has solitary, daisylike pink or purple flowers. In African lore, this species is used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory, a dressing and a deodorant. It is also used as a love and good luck charm. Zulu medicinal uses include a mild enema for babies. The black powder is used for vaccination and against witchcraft. Burnt stems and leaves are applied to aching joints.

A. geniculiflorais has white to pale yellow flowers. A. haeckeliana has flowers that are pale yellow. A. lancifolia has magenta flowers with narrow or lance-shaped leaves. As you can see, you can have a wide variety of color from these four species. Some variegated hybrids are also available. These plants flower all summer.

From what I can tell, apentias are widely available in the spring. They go by various names, including baby sun rose, noon flower, heart-leaf iceplant, dew plant, red apple and rock rose.

It is not too early to start thinking about ground covers for our rock gardens. For a hardy plant that can provide a range of color and that “succulent” look we want, apentias are an excellent choice.

Llifle Encyclopedia of Cacti – http:// S/Family/Aizoaceae/28876/Aptenia_cordifolia –
The Plant List – nia