What is Cyphostemma?

Vasanth S.

Cyphostemma is a plant genus that is part of the Vitaceae family. It consists of several species that are native to Madagascar, Namibia and South Africa. Some of the plants within this genus are small shrubs while others are considered small trees. They generally have very thick trunks. Larger species can tolerate frost, but small and developing plants should be kept in temperatures above 40°F (4°C).

Several species of cyphostemma are native to Madagascar, Namibia, and South Africa.
Several species of cyphostemma are native to Madagascar, Namibia, and South Africa.

One species within this genus that is an outstanding open garden specimen is Cyphostemma juttae. This plant is native to Namibia and is commonly referred as the tree grape. Growing to a height of six feet (2 m), the tree grape features succulent green leaves that are toothed and a very thick trunk. The stems are covered with a papery layer of white bark in the summer time, which helps to cool the plant. At the end of the plant, there is a cluster of berries which ripen in late summer.

The tree grape does well in loamy or sandy soil, as long as the drainage is good. Succulents such as the tree grape do not require regular watering to survive. They are accustomed to dry climates and have adapted to thrive on a limited supply of water. The leaves and stems of the tree grape store water, which can be used by the plant during periods of drought. During the winter months, the tree grape should be watered sparingly.

A smaller species within the cyphostemma genus is Cyphostemma betiforme, which is native to Kenya and Somalia. It grows to 12 inches (30 cm) in height and features succulent leaves. This plant is suitable for containers indoors or outdoors in xeriscapes, which are landscapes that are populated with drought tolerate plants. C. betiforme is not cold tolerant, so it should be moved indoors during the winter months.

Both the tree grape and Cyphostemma betiforme are propagated through seeds. It is best to allow the seed heads to dry on the plant before removing, and the fleshy exterior of the seed should be removed before storing. The seeds of the tree grape are generally sown in the winter, while the seeds of C. betiforme are sown in the fall. Germination may take longer than for other plants, but is generally successful. Propagation by cutting, on the other hand, is very difficult and not generally successful.

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