Gasteria (2013)

PhotoBy Brian Wrather (March 2013)

Gasterias originate from South Africa and include at least 34 varieties and numerous cultivars. Many variegated forms are fairly common in the trade. They range in size from an inch across up to a foot or more. Gasterias get their name from their flower shape, which looks like a stomach – hence the Greek word “gaster,” for stomach or belly.

Gasterias prefer a well-draining soil and considerable amount of shade. In habitat, they grow in rock cracks, under shrubs or even on cliff faces.

Some species are smooth, some have tubercles, and some can have either. These raised bumps or tubercles can range from large white spots to having the same color as the leaves. Some have bands or stripes of white, gray, yellow or light green on the upper surface.

Some species are very easily identifiable, and some are a bit more challenging to identify, especially when the juvenile forms and adult forms can look very different. Most gasterias start out distichously, having two leaves – one on each side – and can grow into spiral or rosette shapes.

Gasterias are closely related to plants in the Haworthia and Aloe genera and grow in the same habitats. Hence they can hybridize, mostly in cultivation, and create gasterhaworthias or gasteraloes. The resulting offspring can have features obtained from either parent, which results in some quite stunning plants, as well as some really ugly plants. But beauty is always in the eye of the beholder!

Some gasterias are susceptible to a black spot fungus that causes unsightly dark spots on the leaves. It is rarely fatal, but unsightly, especially on larger show-quality plants. Keeping moisture off the leaves as much as possible is the best defense – sometimes difficult here in the humid Midwest – but using a fungicide can help prevent the fungus.