Avonia papyracea (2010)

By Chris Deem (July 2010)

It is always quiet here. There are no trees, there are no shrubs. Each morning at dawn the sky caresses the stones.

The sunrise this day, like the beginning of many other mornings, cast a soft pastel brightness of blue amd pink over the cool, quartz-rich gravel.

This morning’s air was quite still, and the temperature had risen quickly. By 10, it was no longer warm; the heat had become oppressive.

The four branches – three taller and one shorter – of the Avonia papyracea had grown much too large to be shaded by the small, broken stones. On the branches, the diminutive leaves were barely visible beneath the translucent protection of their thin, white, scalelike stipules.

Sadly, protection is seldom perfect. At noon, a blackened burn appeared on an imperfectly protected green leaf on the tallest branch. Later, at 3:37, a very small, pale-yellow flower opened on the second-tallest branch. It died 42 minutes later. That night, at 7:38, the sky had darkness of blue and pink, and the quartz-rich gravel was cool once more.

In both sizes and numbers, the genus Avonia is rather small. These plants are members of the family Portulacaceae. A new book in the HSCSS library, List of Southern African Succulent Plants, listed approximately 10 known Avonia species found in Somalia, Zimbabwe and unspecified areas of Southern Africa. Other sources listed South Africa and Namibia specifically as the homelands of Avonia papyracea.

The only other Avonia species for which I had information was A. quinaria. From the pictures I saw, it appeared to be a charming little plant with large – compared to its body – red or pinkish flowers capable of self-fertilization.