Gasteria variegated are neat, compact, easy-to-grow succulents from South Africa that are very common in the nursery trade, but probably should become even more so. This article serves as an introduction to this wonderful genus.
In a previous article I discussed Aloes, and one of the Aloe relatives, Haworthias. Gasterias are also related to the Aloes, being in the same family. Which family they actually belong in depends a lot one what source you follow. Currently Davesgarden puts them in the Aloaceae, but nearly as many sources put them in Asphodelaceae. The World Checklist of Plants, a well respected English taxonomic resource puts these in the Xanthorrhoeaceae, which personally confounds me (Xanthorrhoaceae includes some amazingly dissimilar genera, with the main one being the Australian Grass Trees which look about as much like Gasterias as they do roses).
The common names of most Gasteria include names like Ox Tongue, Cow Tongue or Lawyer’s Tongue (the leaves tend to look tongue-shaped, though not sure if they look more an ox’s, cow’s or even a lawyer’s tongue than those of any other animal or profession.)
A general description of these South African natives is that they are succulent-leaved, stemless (most), rosettes or distichous (leaves in two ranks) in array, suckering with flattened, stiff, thick leaves ending in a gentle rounded end (few exceptions of course). Leaves are straight are slightly arching and vary in surface consistency to smooth and shiny (most common) to rough and sometimes even pebbly. Leaf colors range from dark green (nearly black) through various shades of dull green, to greys and are either mottled or, less commonly, striped or solid in color. They range in size from 2 to 3 centimeteters in diameter (or about the size of the average Haworthia species) to several feet in diameter (similar to a large aloe).