Dendrosicyos socotrana (2009)

By Eric Driskill (June 2009)

Dendrosicyos is a member of the Curcurbitaceae family from the remote island of Socotra. Members of the Curcurbitaceae you have most likely had on your dinner table are cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, cantaloupes and squashes. Other members, gourds, have been used for kitchen utensils, bowls and birdhouses. Curcurbitaceae have likely made it all the way to your bathroom if you have ever used a loofah sponge in the tub.

D. socotrana is monotypic and, unlike most other Curcurbitaceae, does not have tendrils. Plants in age become a rather large tree with a thick pachycaulous trunk up to 18 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter. Thin branches bear prickly, palmately lobed gray-green leaves. The leaves are reminiscent of a miniature version of Cyphostemma uter, which makes this rarely offered plant worthy of making it onto your wish list. Even on a young plant, there is a striking contrast between the cream white-colored bark and the leaves.

D. socotrana was mentioned in Rowley’s 1987 caudiciform book. Gary James later illustrated specimen plants in his two-part series on Socotra in the CSSA journal in 2000. Since then, D. socotrana has appeared increasingly in various books, includiing both pachyform books by Philippe de Vosjoli.

For years, plants have been rare in cultivation or for sale. However, an ISI offering in 2005 presented seed-grown plants for a mere $30.

The plants should be planted in beds or large containers for maximum growth. When in growth, they like daytime temperatures in the 80s, plenty of water and regular feeding. Winter temperatures should not fall below 60.

If kept warm in the winter and watered periodically, D. socotrana can retain leaves year round. This will allow you to enjoy its looks both when carving your Curcurbitaceae o’lanterns at Halloween and when eating your Curcurbitaceae pie at Thanksgiving.

With more plants in cultivation, increasing numbers of seed-raised plants and efforts like the ISI, we will likely see a more regular availability of this plant.