Fockea crispa (2018)

PhotoBy Marty Altepeter (November 2018)

Charles Fockea (1802-1856) was a Dutch lawyer, botanist and ethnologist. He had a fairly prominent career as a botanist, but I do not get the impression he spent much time as a lawyer. A number of plant species have been named, by others, in his honor.

Fockea crispa plants are found only in the Little Karoo area of South Africa. They grow on the rocky slopes of the mountain range that separates the (southern) Little Karoo from the (northern) Great Karoo. The species can be found nestling among rocks and boulders. Fockeas are members of the Asclepiadaceae, or milkweed family. Fockea crispa has been renamed F. capensis, but it seems most people still call it F. crispa.

Some say that F. capensis has smooth, somewhat wavy leaves, and F. crispa is the crinkled-leaf variety. Others say that F. capensis is a variety of Fockea edulis. So I guess F. crispa is a variety of Fockea capensis, which is a variety of F. edulis. Seems pretty clear to me?

F. crispa is known for its great caudex, which has been known to reach 60 centimeters in diameter. The caudex might like a little extra nitrogen in its fertilizer. The plant likes a well-draining medium. One of my sources suggested 50 percent pumice and 50 percent “organics.” In addition to allowing for good drainage. this mix also allows for easy expansion of the caudex.

The vines and leaves like some sun, but the caudex likes shade. Makes sense, if the caudex is used to being in the ground. If the caudex gets a little pink or orange-red, it is getting too much sun.

F. crispa is a popular plant because it is hardy, easy to grow and tough to kill. Emperor Joseph II of Austria sent an expedition to South Africa looking for new and exotic plants. An F. crispa was brought back to him and potted in 1794. It is still potted, alive and residing at the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens in Austria.

I know you wanted to learn more about the Karoo. The Karoo is on the cape of South Africa. Now bear with me. The Little Karoo is situated north of the southern coast, separated from the coast by the east-west Outerisqua-Langeberg Mountains. The much larger Great Karoo is in turn just north of the Little Karoo. The two Karoos are divided by the east-west Swartberg Mountain Range. The southern slopes of the Swartbergs, in the little Karoo, are the home of the fockeas.

The Karoo has been described as a place of great heat, great frosts, great floods and great drought. No wonder Fockea crispa is hardy! However, the southern slopes of the Swartbergs do get a little more rain than the rest of the Karoo region.