Fockea crispa (2013)

PhotoBy Barbara Gardner (November 2013)

Fockea crispa is one of the most famous caudiciforms from a historical perspective. Sometime after 1780, an expedition was led to the western cape area of South Africa to find new and exotic plants for Emperor Joseph II of Austria. Fockea crispa was one of the exciting new plants discovered.

The new plant was “potted” in 1794. According to Gordon Rowley, F. crispa is the oldest plant still alive today. There seems to be some disagreement on this, since an Encephalartos altensteinii at Kew Gardens also claims to be the world’s oldest potted plant. In any case, it is quite amazing for a potted plant to still be alive after 200 years! This plant resides at Schonbrunn Palace Gardens in Austria. I think this hints at the great ability this plant has for survival.

Fockeas are dioecious, meaning you must have male and female plants to produce seed. Fockea edulis is another species very similar to F. crispa. The leaves on F. edulis are not as wavy or “crisped” as those of F. crispa, and the latter seems to have more tiny bumps on its caudex.

Fockeas are very easy to grow. They prefer a well-drained soil that allows for the caudex to grow and expand. The caudex can burn from too much sunlight. If the caudex turns a pink or orange-red color, it requires more shade. Water your fockea about once a week during the summer months. Fockeas tolerate light frost, but do best with some protection.

Light occasional feeding is fine. As the plants grow and start pushing out of their pots, it’s time to replant into larger containers, exposing more of the caudex each time with minimal roots left to grow in the soil.

Fockeas make excellent bonsai succulents with the addition of a few special rocks or gravel as top dressing to make them look impressive. I’m sure you have all seen Pam Schnebelen’s wonderful specimen, which has won awards in several of our shows.

I feel blessed to have won this beauty this month, since Martin Schweig passed on it because he already has one. Thanks, Martin!