Plant of the Month – Sept 2017

Mesembryanthemum tortuosum
(Sceletium tortuosum) (Linneaus 1753)
AKA: Kanna, Kougoed

One of the oldest mesembs known to the western world. It became known to the early colonizers of the Cape in the 17th century and has been cultivated in England since 1732. The Khoisan people of South Africa, who use the plant in folk medicine, introduced this mood elevating plant to the western world.

In recent years, preparations from Sceletium tortuosum are commercialized as anti-depressants and to reduce anxiety. Although the plants are grown commercially on a large scale there is tremendous conservation pressure on wild harvesting of Sceletium species.

Plants are climbing or creeping. The slender branches become thick and only slightly woody with age. Water cells are flowers conspicuous on the leaves that have recurved tips and 3 to 5 major veins. The flowers are very shortly pedicellate (almost sessile) and of medium size (20 to 30 mm diameter). Petals are white to pale yellow, pale salmon or pale pink. The calyx has four or five sepals.

Fruit is 10 to 15mm in diameter and open when wet (hygrochastic). The species is readily distinguishable by the imbricate leaves with incurved tips.

It ranges from the Klein Karoo north through Namaqualand and commonly occurs in quartz patches and is usually found growing under shrubs in partial shade. Plants are easily grown in cultivation from seed or cuttings. In the Klein Karoo, we need to remember that they should have some shade in the hottest parts of the day.

Calitzdorp is part of the Kannaland Municipality, which was named for this plant

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