Dermatobotrys saundersii Bolus.
The genus Dermatobotrys is a member of the snap dragon family (Scrophulariaceae)
which is related to the Tree
Fuchsia, Halleria lucida. Dermatobotrys has only one species. Seeds sent to Kew
in the 1890s germinated well and plants have been grown in cultivation ever
saundersii is an epiphytic shrublet that can reach one metre in height , which grows
in the forks of a variety of trees, on the Pondo Palm or Coconut – Jubaeopsis
caffra and occasionally on the forest floor.
Dermatobotrys saundersii. The leaves are soft and fleshy with
shallow toothed margins and reddish veins. Under natural conditions the plant
is deciduous, losing its leaves in late autumn. The tubular deep red flowers
appear from mid-winter to mid-summer (June to December), followed by smooth
oval brownish fruit filled with numerous small seeds in a sweetish pulp.
It's an odd member of the Snapdragon family that makes a
caudex-like base and terrific flowers.
Even without blooms it's a first-rate house plant, with its woody stems
and attractive leaves that have an interesting scent when rubbed.
Dermatobotrys saundersii develops thick, woody rhizomes that
resemble a caudex. From the base emerges
a wavy mass of upright, woody stems, each about up to one meter long. The leaves have a rubbery texture, with new
growth that is tinged red or purplish.
When rubbed, they have a scent that is hard to describe, but it is sort
of like lemon furniture polish! It is
not a bad scent, just an unexpected one for a plant.
In its natural habitat Dermatobotrys saundersii flowers in late
winter when the days start to lengthen which brings this plant out of its
dormancy to flower before the leaves are fully grown.
The fruits are relatively large, spinning top-shaped
about 25mm long by about 20mm in diameter at their widest. The fruits have a
bitter pungent smell and taste.
The fruits which ripen a few months after flowering are readily
eaten by monkeys, hornbills and other birds in spring and early summer ensuring
that the many hundred fine seeds per fruit, are distributed to germinate in
leaf litter lined tree forks at the height of the rainy season. Like many of
the family Scrophulariaceae the seed capsules and even the leaves when rubbed
have a pungent smell. The fruits are eaten by forest birds which seem not to
mind this acrid taste.
Although it is regarded as not threatened, and assessed as Least
Concern (LC) on the Red List of South
African plants , this is a rare species with a high habitat
Distribution and habitat
This rare epiphytic plant is found in coastal scarp
forests in South Africa on the Transkei coast
on the northern banks of the Mtentu and Msikaba rivers
close to the ocean. It also found growing further north in southern Zululand to
in the canopy of our coastal forests at Ngoye, Nkandla, Qudeni, Ngome and
It is also found in Madagascar.
It is likely that this plant with its red tubular flowers is
pollinated by sunbirds. The fruit has a most unusual scent, which may attract
fruit eating birds and small arboreal mammals, which eat the fruit and
distribute the seed.
These attractive plants are easily grown and
make very good container plant subjects in particular when grown in hanging
baskets. For best results treat Dermatobotrys saundersii as any other epiphyte,
it is however important not to over water. Dermatobotrys saundersii grows best
in a loose well drained growing medium with plenty of organic material such as leaf
litter, compost or chopped coco nut fibre as sold for growing orchids. If grown
outdoors or in a green house in areas prone to eel worm (nematodes) keep the
plants off of the ground preferably in hanging baskets to prevent these pests
from attacking the roots causing the plants to grow very poorly or in extreme
cases killing the plants.
Although Dermatobotrys saundersii will grow in
rather heavy shade it will not flower well, it flowers best in medium to
partial shade and will tolerate full sun.
Dermatobotrys saundersii will grow indoors in
a bright well-lit room or under lights where it will tend to flower at any time
of the year.
When grown indoors Dermatobotrys saundersii
prefers filtered sunlight or morning sun.
Protect it from strong afternoon sun.
I feed a weak solution of liquid fertiliser alternating
between organic and non-organic fertilisers. Every once and a while the plants
need to be drenched with pure water to prevent the build up of salts in the
Pests and diseases
In the close on 50 years that I have grown Dermatobotrys
saundersii I have found them relatively pest free other than being extremely
prone to nematode attack if they are placed on the ground.
For best flowering results dry the plants off almost
completely for two to three months in winter to let them rest as in their
natural habitat. Your rewarded will be a mass of flowers just before the new
small numbers of plants Dermatobotrys saundersii grows easiest from cuttings preferably
taken in summer which grow extremely easy placed directly into growing medium,
sharp sand of a mix of sharp sand and peat.
For growing a large
number of plants one would need to grow them from seed, I have had best results
growing them on peat or coconut peat.
quick growing seedlings are very prone to damping off so they should be treated
with a suitable fungicide at the time of planting the seed then periodically thereafter
as per the instructions on the label. I have always successfully used Benlate
active ingredient benomyl and Previcur active ingredient Propamocarb as a
mixture to control damping off. The seedlings can be prepicked out into
individual small containers from a height of 25 mm. Do not over pot. Repot into
the next sized container only when they have outgrown the one that they are in.
The seedlings should
flower in their second year.
I can supply both
plants and seed