The Other Mesembs – What You’re Missing by Focusing on Lithops and Conos

Agyroderma pearsonii

Written byJen Greene

Animal lover, plant enthusiast, and addicted to the sunshine and warmth in San Diego.

November 30, 2022

My visit to Steve Hammer’s greenhouses included a number of amazing mesembs that weren’t the typical lithops or conophytums most people think of. Like Steve, I love these other mesembs! There’s so much to discover in the Aizoaceae family, which is much, much larger than the dimunitive little rock plants we all know. 

Ice plants are in the Aizoaceae family, as are Pleiospilos and a number of other species. They are equally as well adapted to their harsh environment, and there are a ton of them. Most are found in the Greater Cape Floristic Region, the most plant-diverse temperate region in the world. 

In the greenhouses at Steve’s, he had a selection of Aizoacea I had never seen before – and I find myself newly obsessed with them. 

muiria mesemb

I called these “Dinosaur eggs”, but they’re actually Muiria hortenseae, which comically is referred to as the “mouse head” mesemb. 

I am of the strong opinion that whoever named this has clearly never seen an actual mouse, but who am I to judge. I need these. I’ll be hunting for seeds all through 2023. They’re utterly ridiculous. How is this even a real plant? I mean look at it. 

muiria hortenseae

If you just focused on lithops and conos, you’d completely miss this gem of a bizarre plant. Steve had crossed these into some other species, creating one of a kind and amazing looking hybrids. 

muiria agyroderma hybrid

The plant above is older than I am, and looks absolutely unreal. There’s a soft velvety coating on each plant body, and it develops a neck and stem like an Agyroderma, which I believe is what it was crossed with. I want to say Steve said the cross produced few viable seeds, but those that did grow looked like this. #goals.

monilaria moniliforme

Are you one of those people who’s tried to grow the “bunny ear succulent” or “bunny ear conophytum” from seed, thanks to seeing them on Pinterest?

They’re not conophytums. They’re Monilaria moniliforme, not even the same genus. Steve’s all bloom prolifically and hopefully I convinced him to sell his seeds! So rarely are they seen at this age, I loved getting a good look at them.

bunny ear conophytum
agyroderma pearsonii

An enormously underrated genus, in my opinon, is the Agyroderma genus. Above is an ancient Agyroderma pearsonii, showing its extreme age in the long necks formed from old absorbed leaves. Well cared for, these can live for decades, and follow the same growth pattern as Lithops and Conophytum – but in my experience, they’re more forgiving of your mistakes. Young plants are, at least. Something as old as the plant above, probably not so much. 

Agyroderma pearsonii

Another Agyroderma pearsonii, this one also older than I am. Their slow, predictable growth makes them ideal in pots, and you can enjoy them for years before needing to repot them. 

agyroderma pearsonii bloom

One of my favorite aspects of the species is that in a sea of commonly white or yellow blooms, they produce big, showy pink flowers. 

Worth noting that even the legendary Steve Hammer experiences plant loss – seen in this pot!

muiria globosa

These are sleeping Monilaria globosa, a species that develops bunny-ear like leaves after it wakes up, then sleeps again with the dinosaur-egg appearance. They are in the same genus as the other bunny-ear species, just a different appearance and leaf-body size. 

Cheiridopsis speciosa

These are Cheiridopsis speciosa, a species I wish I’d caught blooming because it is spectacular. Brilliant pink or orange flowers, large, and showy. 

Cheiridopsis is a genus, much like Agyroderma, that is woefully underrepresented in our hobby. Looking like thick, chunky ice plant leaves, but much slower growing, their blooms are attractive and brilliant. They are easier than other mesembs to grow, depending on the species, and their frosted-looking leaf pairs make for a goofy but attractive plant even when they are dormant in the summer. 

cheiridopsis pearsonii

Above is a Cheiridopsis pearsonii, a species I’ve grown myself for a few years now. I love seeing the old clumps, and what I can expect from my own plant with time. They have very chunky, fat leaves, and once rooted and established, I find mine easy to maintain. In summer, I water when it’s wrinkly, and in winter, I water it when I water the other mesembs. My plant had one head when I bought it in 2019, and now has 4 – I’m looking forward to what this winter’s growing season brings! 

cheiridopsis albiflora

I picked up seeds of this species from the Mesemb Study Group, and after seeing what Cheiridopsis albiflora looks like in Steve’s greenhouses, I’m very excited to see mine develop. The angles are somewhat unique in Cheiridopsis, very similar to a Lapidaria. They produce huge flowers with pink-edged petals and a white center, very attractive. 

mesemb bloom

In my infinite wisdom, I forgot to get the species of this tiny little mesemb and its funky little flower. 

tanquana hilmarii

Pretty little clump of Tanquana hilmarii, the smallest species of the genus. Most are larger, and often look more closely related to Pleiospilos. Another genus commonly overlooked for the easier to find Lithops, but just as neat and as easy to grow. If you can grow a Lithops, you can (probably) grow a Tanquana

Cheiridopsis harata

I’ll conclude with this clump of Cheiridopsis harata, a compact species that forms clumping mounds like the one above. 

It was amazing to visit Steve’s and see these plants grown so well – and to get validation of my own failures in seeing some of his “failure to thrive”pots. We’re all human, we’re all trying, and plants are living things themselves. You might not always succeed, but each plant is a chance to learn. 

One of the most impressive aspects of visiting the greenhouses was the sheer age of so many of the plants. Sure, he and Oakes are planting plenty of seeds and growing plenty of young plants, but his collection was full of plants he’d been maintaining for decades. When it comes to mesembs and their cultivation, it’s that scale of time that’s worth keeping in mind. Some growers are incredibly successful, and may grow many from seed (myself included!). 

But it’s worth acknowledging the experience and skill involved in growing these plants for an extended time, through various weather events. Here in Southern California, we had an unusually humid summer, and cold weather has come in earlier than usual. Wet winters, dry winters, wet summers, dry summers, temperature extremes or lack thereof are all conditions that are worth admiring someone for being able to cultivate their plants throughout. 

Visiting Steve Hammer was a huge treat, and I am incredibly grateful I was able to go! Thank you for joining me for the showcase of my favorites from the trip. 

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