Introduction to Astroloba:
A photographic guide to South Africa’s “Karoo Corals”
Expert Talk – Steven Molteno
Sunday 23 September – 13:00


This is a free event. No booking required.

Astroloba are a rather unknown, understudied group of succulents. These tiny alooids are unique to South Africa’s Karoo regions, and they inhabit some of the most remote areas in the country. When we see them in habitat, they are often damaged, overgrazed and tatty – so we do not usually realise how beautiful they can be. Their tiny leaves can form intricate spirals and even their flowers are surprisingly diverse. This talk will use photographs and a range of other information to introduce the audience to South Africa’s “starlobes”.

Steven Molteno has been a succulent plant enthusiast since he first started growing and collecting them on the farm where he grew up. Hobbies can get out of hand if you are not careful, and Steven happily admits that he has a bad case of this.

He now researches and writes on succulent plants, publishing mainly in Bradleya, Haseltonia and Haworthiad. Although it is now a serious area of study for him, he insists that succulents still feel like a hobby. Maybe this is necessary, to stay passionate about a subject?

For the last few years his focus has been on the smaller alooids such as Haworthia, Gasteria, but especially Tulista and Astroloba. At the moment he is finishing up a revision of the genus Astroloba, while collecting locality data to model their distribution as well as looking at patterns of rainfall, geology, soil types and any other habitat info that he can get his hands on.

Astroloba has historically been a bit of a mystery, with very poorly defined species. They are also badly cultivated and conserved, so we are used to seeing the plants damaged and tatty. This is a shame. A healthy Astroloba’s leaves weave a latticework of patterns around its stems. They can even look like chubby, colourful crystals! With his photos and other info, Steven tries to show that his “Karoo Corals” are not only interesting in many ways, but can also be extremely beautiful.

Steven’s interests cover all aspects of whatever plant he is studying – distribution, ecology, evolution, taxonomy, cultivation, conservation, etc. However, he gives a special emphasis to observation of the plants in nature, as a sort of foundation for any ideas. During the week, Steven works for an international organisation, based in Cape Town, that promotes local biodiversity and sustainable development projects. On weekends he takes any opportunity to drag his long-suffering wife out into the Karoo to explore remote areas. In the evenings he writes his snippets on whatever plants he is obsessing over at the time. When he’s not botanising, he also enjoys gardening, Argentine tango, tortoises and learning foreign languages.