Cyphostemma juttae (2016)

By Chris Walker (November 2016)

The last time I won a show-worthy attendance prize was October 2010, so I’m really excited to have won an impressive Cyphostemma juttae, which is a member of the grape family, Vitaceae.

The plant grows in habitat in South Africa and Namibia. It’s a summer-growing species that sheds its leaves during winter. My new cyphostemma had leaves when I won it, but lost them and went into dormancy by the time I wrote this article.

Cyphostemma juttae is one of the succulents that develop a wonderful gnarly caudex with fat, fleshy stems that remain soft and can be easily cut. The plant also develops peeling bark on its trunk, which reflects the sun and helps keep the plant cool. The leaves are big, saw-toothed and thick, curling along the edges.

In nature, this plant is a tree that usually grows to 6 feet tall and can reach 12 feet. I’m hoping to keep my “tree” considerably smaller than that, however.

Cyphostemmas grow in hot, arid areas, but can also survive temperatures as low as the 20s with frost protection. I have no plans to test that info. The plants are accustomed to wet summers and dry winters. It is best to keep the plants on the dry side once they go into dormancy. They should always be planted in fast-draining soil to protect them from rot.

The abundant flowers produced in the summer season are inconspicuous and monoecious, meaning they have stamens on some flowers and pistils on other flowers. This makes the self-fertilizing Cyphostemma an easy plant from which to reap seeds (as long as you can get it to flower).

The seeds are in grapelike berries that are an attractive wine color. Although the berries look like grapes and are from the grape family, they are toxic to eat, containing a strong amount of oxalic acid.

The seeds can be sown in winter, although they take a considerable time to germinate. Propagation can also be made from cuttings.

The last CSSA convention that I attended was in Claremont, California, at Pitzer College. The entire campus was beautifully landscaped in cacti and succulents that were totally awe-inspiring. The plants that impressed me the most were the cyphostemmas.

One of them was as least 5 feet tall and probably 5 feet wide. I made it a habit to pass by that plant as much as possible, and it inspired me to buy my first C. juttae, which was much smaller than this plant I just won. The cyphostemmas of Pitzer College also inspired me to buy a beautiful Cyphostemma cirrhosa at the Mid-States Cactus and Succulent Convention in Denver.

I have just fallen in love with these beautiful plants, so it was kismet that I won this plant.