Fockea (2018)

PhotoBy Bob Williams (July 2018)

A signature plant of the Henry Shaw Cactus and Succulent Society is “Bad Hair Day,” Pam Schnebelen’s Fockea edulis. It is pictured in our show and sale ad, and people come to our show in part to see this plant.

For the last of the four plant groups in my ongoing experiment examining the effect of pot size on caudex development, I selected Fockea in part because of Bad Hair Day. I know none of my plants will come anywhere close to its size in three years, but maybe I will get something interesting.

One thing I can say about my plants is that they are going to the dogs. Fockea is a member of the large Apocynaceae family. Per the Plant List, it includes 410 genera and over 5,500 species. Some of its more recognizable members are Adenium, Fockea, Hoya, Huernia, Pachypodium, Stapelia and Vinca. This group of flowering trees, shrubs, herbs, stem succulents, tuberous plants and vines is commonly known as the dogbane family. Dogbane is derived from Greek for “away from dog,” since some plants were used as dog poison. Members of this family are found on every continent, from temperate regions to rain forests.

Fockea is a small genus inside Apocynaceae. There are only six species with 12 synonyms: F. angustifolia, F. capensis, F. comaru, F. edulis, F. multiflora and F. sinuata. Fockea is named after Dutch botanist Charles Focke. These plants are found in eastern and southern Africa. Even though all species within Fockea are known for their caudices, these plants are not found in the driest and hottest regions where they grow. They have swollen, sometimes warty tubers, which grow underground, and branching stems with opposing leaves. The stems readily bleed a milky latex when bruised.

Despite the latex, the tubers of several Fockea species are edible and were roasted and eaten by the Hottentots. Prolonged cooking is said to inactivate the latex. Once roasted, the tubers can be dried and ground into a flour to make bread. The edulis in Fockea edulis means edible. It is reported that raw tubers were also used as a source of water in periods of drought. People would pound the tubers and squeeze out the juice.

Fockea flowers are small and almost inconspicuous. White and yellow seem to be the most common colors. Those in our hobby grow these plants for the caudex, not the flowers. A fockea caudex can reach 30 inches in diameter or more. The vines of fockeas accent the caudex. The vines tend to be slightly thicker than those of most vining caudex plants. The leaves can be over 1 inch long and are “crinkled.” The vines typically need a trellis for support. They can grow 10 feet or more in a season.

Careful pruning is advised. The leaves will fall off in the winter and come back again in the spring. The foliage attracts whiteflies, and periodic spraying with an insecticide or fumigation may be required to control this problem.

Fockeas are fairly easy to grow and tend to be hardy after getting past the seedling stage. A fast-draining soil mix is best. The caudex should be planted below ground level with the top at ground level. Keeping the caudex buried will result in faster growth. At show time, the plant can be raised to highlight the caudex. Subsequent replanting deeper does not affect growth. To help with growth, a high-nitrogen fertilizer should be used with a lower potassium level. Bright, indirect light is recommended.

The plants can tolerate high heat, but do not like full midday sun. This can discolor the caudex, if exposed. They can tolerate temperatures in the upper 30s for a short period of time.

As is normal, watering should be reduced in the winter, but not eliminated. Also, watch out for mice, as the literature says the pests like the taste of the caudex. Propagation is by seed. The plants are dioecious, so a male and a female plant are needed for pollination. I am not sure how you determine which is which.

The plants I am growing are Fockea crispa, which is a synonym for Fockea capensis. This plant was described in 1839 by a botanist named Endlicher and is found in the cape region of South Africa. What differentiates this plant from the others is that the caudex is rougher or “wartier.”

My plants are doing well and showing good growth. I don’t have 10-foot vines yet, but that day may come. These plants are readily available from most suppliers, and starter plants are reasonably priced. Plants like Bad Hair Day may cost more.

The Plant List –
Giromagi Cactus and Succulents–
Khumbula Indiginous Garden –
The Succulent Plant Page –